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How is global warming affecting the climate of the Maldives?

Hannah Brandler By Hannah Brandler

In the space of a generation, the Maldives have rocketed to the top of many tourists’ wish lists. The attractions are obvious: idyllic coral islands set among turquoise lagoons and cobalt seas in the tropical Indian Ocean. Each resort occupies its own private island, offering lavish spa treatments, colourful marine life and fine food.

Like many destinations in the tropics, the Maldives get a lot of rain. And who wants to fly half way across the world to be stranded in a storm-lashed beach resort? So it’s important to know the best time to visit. But is climate change making weather patterns harder to predict?

When is the best time to visit the Maldives?

Temperatures in the Maldives rarely deviate from 28ºC-30°C throughout the year. The standard advice is to avoid the rainy season, otherwise known as the South West Monsoon, which typically runs from May to November, bringing showers, storms and strong winds. See more on the best time to visit the Maldives.

While the climate in the Indian Ocean can be notoriously hard to predict, the Met Office has not found that climate change has had a substantial impact on the climate. Jamie Mitchell, a climate scientist at the Met Office’s Hadley Centre, says: “Climate change is not expected to significantly alter the onset of the south west monsoon season, and so I would suggest that summer will remain the worst season for travel to the Maldives.”

Tourist arrivals tend to fall during June and July when rainfall is heaviest. The safest time to visit remains during the North East Monsoon from December to April for dry weather, sunshine and good visibility for water activities such as diving. March and April are the hottest months, with temperatures usually topping 30ºC.

Is it worth booking holidays in the Maldives in the ‘low’ season to save money?

While the wet season has its drawbacks, there are elements worth considering when it comes to booking your holiday. Sarah Jackson, from Kuoni, says: “There are some great prices available in the monsoon season so holidays can offer added value at the risk of some showers.”

Seven nights full-board in a beach villa at the four-star resort Kuramathi (including flights on Sri Lankan Airlines) costs £1,879 per person during January-March 2019 while the equivalent from May-June 2019 costs £1,399 per person. There’s an added bonus as the latter includes a complimentary room upgrade from a Beach Villa to a Beach Villa with a Jacuzzi.

According to the latest report carried out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is “no evidence that observed climatic changes in small island destinations…have permanently altered patterns of demand for tourism to small islands.”

The report does, however, reveal that “severe weather-related events in a destination country can significantly influence visitors’ perception of the desirability of the location as vacation choice.”

How does the bad weather affect tourist activities?

With 1.3 million holidaymakers visiting the Maldives in 2017, hotels and resorts have had to devise strategies to attract visitors throughout the year.

Gili Lankanfushi, a luxury resort, recommends diving programs during the dry season but also suggests that the higher rainfall in the wet season is better for surfing. March through to October is prime time for surfers in the North Male Atoll but be aware that restrictions can be imposed when there are an excessive number of tourists.

Spa treatments and cookery classes are popular activities on rainy days. Centara Grand Island Resort & Spa offers daily credits of $100 for each adult guest to enjoy spa treatments. Foodies can also get to grips with Maldivian cuisine by signing up to indoor cooking classes with specialist chefs at resorts such as Kurumba.

Divers should head to the Maldives during the dry season as the build-up of plankton during the South West Monsoon reduces visibility, making for a rather dull dive. There is a silver lining for marine life enthusiasts, however, as whale sharks and manta rays surface between June and July to feed on the plankton, particularly in the Baa Atoll. Download the app from conservation charity Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme which lets you know about latest shark sightings. The Four Seasons Landaa Giravaru has a Manta Ray Watch, whisking guests off to spot the animals as soon as they get wind of them.

Are resort transfers affected by bad weather?

Most resort transfers are by seaplane or speedboat, typically included in your holiday package. Seaplane travel can be affected by bad weather with the possibility of delays, cancellations or early departures to avoid imminent storms. With seaplanes only running during the day, afternoon cancellations can result in overnight stays in the capital Malé. Your tour operator will organise this and pay any costs.

Shorter resort transfers are done by speedboat. If the sea is choppy, these can be very bumpy and some visitors arrive at their hotels looking a little green. In extreme conditions, these transfers may also be delayed or cancelled.

Has climate change affected coral reefs?

Diving conditions in the Maldives are under threat due to the degradation of coral reefs and water pollution. Jamie Mitchell at the Met Office says that “rising sea level is an important factor to consider” as it “can cause flooding and increased salinity of coastal soil”, putting the reefs in jeopardy.

When stressed, reefs are vulnerable to coral bleaching, losing their principal source of food and becoming vulnerable to extinction as a result. Not only does this ruin the once picture-perfect scenery but it also threatens the rich marine life reliant on the reefs as a feeding destination. What’s more, coral reefs play a crucial role in protecting shorelines from flooding and land erosion and climate change has hindered their ability to weather the storm.

With 80% of the land lower than 1m above sea level, rising sea levels could lead to the disappearance of the low-lying Maldives by the end of the century. Mitchell elaborates on this, remarking that “changes in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones could devastate a large proportion of the country.”

See our recommended holidays and honeymoons in the Maldives.

Last updated: 17 December 2018

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