Thursday, 8 July 2010

The sea level is not rising: Optimism or fact?

This morning came to soon, but I was up and to breakfast at 8am and out the door by 9:30 only to be stood up for my 10 meeting with someone from the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture. I tried to go to the museum to see what I could learn about history and folklore, but it's closed. The museum is moving locations from an old saltan's house to a new more modern building. Many military personnel hang out in front of the building, keeping an eye on the precious contents, bathing in smoke to keep away the mosquitoes. On my way from the government building that houses some ministries, I ran into a face that I'd passed a few days earlier, Shahid. Today, he stopped me to talk. The other time, I think he was telling me I was on the wrong side of the road.

It was the second time I was approached by a local who told me his family had a shop and offered to show me around. I am not really sure what to make of it. Are they just friendly? Or do they want to give a mini tour and then drop you at their shop where they hope you'll feel pressured to buy overpriced items? Well, they haven't asked me for money, so I take that as a good sign. I let Shahid show me around and was actually grateful to have a tour guide, even to the bits I'd seen before. Turns out he was part of the Kyoto Protocol meetings, went to Copenhagen and organized one of the dives for 350. He was also a classmate of Shaahina and Anni's. Small island.

Shahid is about 5'7'', lean, with a kick to his walk. He was wearing a blue button up, jeans and sandals. He has close cut facial hair and short, buzzed hair. He worked for a resort island that was managed by a Japanese company for a few years and has traveled to Japan many times. He went to University in Sri Lanka where he caught the travel bug. His family has owned the shop they have near the fish market since 1973. It's a beautiful 3-story place selling antiques and souvenirs. 

I asked about sea level rise. He said that the coral grows faster than the sea level is rising. He is not expecting to see the Maldives go under water. He's not worried about it at all. (I haven't yet asked what he thinks about his government claiming the islands are drowning if it isn't true and why he thinks they might do that for fear of seeming rude, but I hope to.) When I asked him about Maldivians' attitude towards environment, he said they do care, more now than before.

He took me through the fruit and veg and fish markets and I got to sample some of the smoked fish. It's like fish jerky. Really tough, but flavorful. I got to see a breadfruit and some other things neither he nor I could identify, and a passion fruit. I got to smell the leaves they use to season the curry. They seem wonderful and you can smell them just wandering the streets.

I've been playing it safe foodwise. No typhoid shot for me, so I'm boiling water and eating only cooked or peel-able things. I think it's been successful so far, but as there's a 6-10 day incubation period, I won't find out until I'm either on a plane or home.

From the marina, I went to the dive school to find Shaahina. She was out, so I decided to go for a walk around the rest of the island. I think I've now covered the perimeter. To the east, there's a fake beach. To the south, some crazy breakwaters, the power station, the waste facility, and another marina that stretches for a long ways and then curves around the bend. Some of the streets were flooded.

I walked back down a street that was new to me, past the international school and the Stelco Energy building. From the street side, the power plant looks kind of nice, with a well planted garden and play ground.

I didn't hear from Shaahina, so I came back to my hotel to cool off and do some reading. I ended up napping. I headed out again after a couple of hours to walk the western border of the island. I walked the main street from the east to the west end, and on the western edge, I found many people hanging out on the sea wall, chatting with friends, talking on their mobiles, spending time with family. Couldn't see the sunset due to the clouds, but there were plenty of boats in the water to watch and a few bats flying around. Plus, there were crabs. The sea walls are full of crabs. They scurry at the sight of people. (Also earlier, spotted a gecko. Way cool.)

I came around to the northern edge and ran in to Shahid again. He said he had met an American who was looking at climate change and architecture and offered to introduce me. So he did. The American called on time at 7pm and I spoke with him on the phone. We made plans to meet for dinner. He's staying at the hotel across from mine.

On my way back from the family shop, I found a grocery store and bought myself some cereal, milk, bread, peanut butter and jam and hope to have myself covered for all meals except dinner for the next 4 days. When I got back, the hotel asked me to switch rooms, which made me a little late for my dinner date, but he didn't mind.

SO Buck. The American. He's staying at the hotel across from mine. He studies architecture at MIT and is looking to capitalize on the changes set to occur from climate change by designing buildings that can adapt or adjust with a rising tide or sea level. His research is taking him all over the world: New Orleans, Amsterdam, Japan, China, Dubai, and the Maldives. He's also recently married -- congrats! -- and will be honeymooning with his wife in Europe following his Dubai visit. I really enjoyed chatting with him and exchanging impressions about this city. He has double the length of time in the Maldives that I do and he's been here since Saturday. We talked briefly about restaurants we'd come across. He was having coffee in the Holiday Inn when the Sri Lankan president came by. The Holiday Inn is one of the fanciest hotels in this place. We laughed because back in the US it's considered one of the more economical. To pay $200/night at a Holiday Inn is outrageous! Hotels here are very expensive. The cheapest I could find was $89/night.

I think Buck's project sounds fascinating. He talked about his trip to New Orleans where a house has been designed to rise with any flooding. It's built on steel polls that extend as the house rises, up to 3 meters. He's also concentration on photography while he's here. He has found the same thing I have: Government says sea level is rising; people don't believe it. It's not deterring him though. We shared information and contacts. He's been having a lot of luck just wandering and chatting with people and hanging out by the marina. Tomorrow he and Shahid are going to the industrial reclaimed island nearby where all the trash goes. I hear there's a cannery and a water treatment plant, too. I've been invited and think I might just tag along. Buck blogs at: Hope to see some of those photos soon.

We also talked about a scientist who says that the sea level is not rising in the Maldives. Nils-Axel Morner, a sea level expert (best in the world if you ask him), says it's not rising. Not only has he conducted interviews with locals who tell stories about how they used to have to swim to islands that they can now walk to, but he says it's impossible because of scientific reasons. One being physics: if sea level were rising, that would increase the circumference of the earth and that would slow the rotation.He says sea level rose for a little while and then stopped, and then dropped in the 1970s -- which local fishermen confirmed. He also claims that people from IPCC tore down a palm tree to try to create evidence of sea level rise. He says the claims are based on models which are flawed where as his research is based on observation. His name came up last night, too. I hope to speak with him about his research as I find his logic compelling. I would like to know how the government of the Maldives responds to his statements. (See:

Now it's after midnight and I'm exhausted. Got to be up early if I want to make the ferry.

Photos being dumped at

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