World’s first ever underwater cabinet meeting concludes in the Maldives
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The country, a collection of atolls and islands in the Indian Ocean, stands less than two metres above sea level, and as climate change causes seas to rise it will probably be the first nation to sink beneath the waves.
Under the threat of that looming watery Armageddon, President Mohamed Nasheed has announced plans to hold a cabinet meeting under the sea, ahead of the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen this December.
Ministers clad in wetsuits and shouldering compressed-air tanks, will meet about 20ft (6m) underwater on 17 October. They will communicate through hand gestures, according to Aminath Shauna, an official from the president's office.
"It is to send a message to the world. The intention is to draw the attention of the world leaders to the issue of global warming and highlight how serious are the threats faced by Maldives as a result," she said. "If we can stop climate change, the lowest-lying nation on earth will be saved." The gathering will take place off the island of Girifushi, which lies about 20 minutes' journey by speedboat from the capital, Male. One minister has already had to pull out: scuba instructors said the education minister was not fit enough to take on the dive.
After his election last year, Nasheed raised the possibility of buying a new homeland for the country's 396,000 residents with the hundreds of millions of dollars that tourists spend.Earlier this year, he announced that the Maldives would stop using fossil fuels by 2020. The president is also committed to converting an atoll into a UN-protected biosphere to preserve the unique wildlife and fauna found on the 1,100 islands. Officials say that underwater meetings should not become future fixture of Maldives democracy. For this meeting, the documents will be sheathed in water-proof plates pinned to the table. "If it were to go on the paperwork would be very, very challenging," said one official.
• This article was amended on 8 October 2009. The original said that the ministers would be using oxygen tanks. This has been corrected.