In the shallow waters of the Maldives, there are some of the largest coral reefs in the world: an area over 4500 km squared that provides a home for an extraordinary biodiversity and almost 300 different species of coral.
Inside the Submarine of Illusions of IllusiOcean you have the opportunity to visit this incredible underwater ecosystem, just a few dozen meters from the surface, and meet the marine species that shelter in the many nooks and crannies formed by corals.
To do so you’ll have to sharpen your senses: seen from the front the submarine may appear to be a normal room, but you’ll soon realize that nothing is as it seems. Walking from one side to the other, you’ll see figures get smaller or bigger, and algae, fish and other organisms change into curious shapes.
At IllusiOcean you can experience the optical illusion of the Ames Room.
Invented in 1946 by the scientist Adelbert Ames and based on an idea by scholar Hermann Helmholtz, this room has a distorted and irregular structure.
If seen from a frontal position through a peephole, the chamber looks like an ordinary rectangular cuboid, but when moving within its space, figures will appear huge or tiny according to their position in space.
In fact, the particular shape of the floor, ceiling and walls produces the optical illusion of an altered perspective. This is due to the influence of our past experiences, which leads us to perceive the image as free of distortions: in this way, figures moving along the back wall appear at the same distance, but with different sizes.
The prosperity of the Maldives is linked to its ecosystems, which are part of the cultural and social lifestyle of the local inhabitants.
Imagine going from Milan to Bari and finding nothing but water and low-lying islands, with a total land area of 300 km squared: almost a medium-sized city in Italy!
Although we have only 1192 islands, there are at least 2041 coral reefs, with an area 15 times larger than the land surface. It is an area that forms the seventh largest coral reef system: about 3% of the world’s coral surface!
Due to the lack of soil, terrestrial biodiversity is limited. However, marine biology is extraordinarily rich, making this ecosystem one of the most biodiverse places in the world. Here we can find about 250 species of corals, 36 of sponges, 285 of algae, 400 of mollusks, 350 of crustaceans and 80 of echinoderms.
And there’s more: the Maldivian waters have a high diversity of cetaceans, with 20 species observed, and are inhabited by more than 1000 species of bony fish, almost 60 species of sharks and rays and 5 types of sea turtles. The Maldives is home to 170 species of seabirds, 103 of which are protected.
White beaches, waters with a thousand shades of blue, an extraordinary marine life, coconut palms, sunshine and stable temperatures. These are just some of the reasons that make the Maldives such a special place. Like an oasis in the desert that provides a source of life and biodiversity, these islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean represent a center of global relevance.
The most fascinating aspect of this location is linked to the coral reefs, which provide the most exhaustive explanation of this success: the Maldives exist thanks to these marine habitats.
How did such a unique place form? What’s the cause behind these virtually perfect geometric shapes?
Darwin provides the most accredited theory. Millions of years ago, volcanoes formed in the present volcanic area of the Reunion Islands, in the south-east of the Indian Ocean. Within this area, corals started to grow, forming marginal reefs.
Over time, volcanoes disappeared due to subsidence, but corals kept growing, forming atolls. The islands are nothing but coral reefs that have disintegrated: indeed corals have a snow-white skeleton of calcium carbonate. Through erosion, the skeleton turns into white sand, then accumulates by wind and sea to form beaches and islands. Curiously, even parrotfish contribute to the formation of islands, as they scrape algae off dead corals, and then excrete the calcium-carbonate reef material as sand.
Inaugurated in 2009 at Magoodhoo Island (Maldives), the Marine Research and High Education Center (#MaRHECenter) has a great purpose: to carry out research activities in the field of environmental science, tourism science, human geography, marine biology and much more.
Through a focus on the environment and its biodiversity, the center aims to educate about the protection of the ocean and coral reefs, which are vital for the local economy. An area characterized by two main activities, directly linked to the health of the marine ecosystem: fisheries and tourism.
In collaboration with the Maldivian Ministry of Fisheries, MaRHE thus aims to promote sustainable development, through the protection of the Maldivian natural environment and the enhancement of human resources, safeguarding the area from risks related to climate change and anthropic pressures.