The idea of Atlantis, a lost culture, has fascinated many for generations, what wisdom was there and only there, the places we go are at the tipping point, their existence threatened in a very real way.
We'll explore areas fighting a ticking clock joined by young and passionate locals who won't back down from the challenges to their homeland.
Let's celebrate what's unique, what we should cherish and protect before the whole thing could be washed away.
Welcome to the Maldives, a group of 1,200 islands and 300,000 residents in the Indian Ocean.
It's an Islamic republic where tourists flock from all cultures for sun, relaxation, world class diving and surf.
This turquoise blue ocean is the country's greatest friend, but it could also be its greatest threat.
We're standing on what is the lowest lying nation on the planet, which means one perfect wave or rise in sea level of just three feet makes this nation uninhabitable.
Meaning there's a high probability that the Maldives can soon become modern Atlantis.
I'm Josh Burstein, and we're here to get a last glimpse.
To get to know a place like the Maldives, it's good to have a man on the inside, and I knew just the guy.
He hails from Mali, the capital city, where he seems to be friends with all his neighbors.
More on that later.
Kevin agreed to take me under his wing, and on this trip, leaning on someone like him makes all the difference.
I started to pick up local tricks of the trade.
What do you do with your hands?
But the legs should be like this.
One more, one more.
I got it.
I have no idea how to get down.
I was in good hands with Kevin, but before our journey could go any further I needed to see the way most foreigners experienced the Maldives.
The rest of the world knows this nation as a haven, resort life with picturesque postcard views true to form.
I had to check out what these tourists are getting to know what they're missing.
It was a hard choice, but somebody had to do it.
When you plan your paradise honeymoon you think of those huts that just levitate right above the tranquil water.
This one came with a glass bottom tub.
Tourism is thriving as it may be a last shot for Western elite to enjoy all these amenities.
Amenities like eating with the fish under the sea.
Not a bad view.
Cuisine says a lot about a culture.
And upstairs in the main kitchen, Ishaaq is an award winning chef and considered something of an ambassador to the Maldivian palate.
We sat down to swap recipes.
Maldivian cuisine is strong flavor dish, which has all kinds of curry spices, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander.
We're in the thick of it.
Maldivians tend to like spicy foods.
Everybody likes spicy food.
The chef gave me a quick crash course on Maldivian spices and prepared a few of his favorite dishes for me to sample.
I have Maldivian traditional Garudiya, which is fish boiled with water, adding of raanbaa and curry leaves.
I'm going to add cardamom with pods because then it gets the flavor.
So this is nice coconut flavored Maldivian soup.
We call that Kiru Garudhiya.
They got a good thing going here.
I settled in and enjoyed a full bowl of Chef Ishaaq's Kiru Garudhiya.
It was hard to tell what to enjoy more, the food or that horizon.
In the evening hours, resorts go all out with beach parties so guests can let loose.
The Maldives is a Muslim country, which means no booze, no bacon, no porn, but nightlife accommodations at resorts make plenty of exceptions for travelers.
There are worse fates than this.
Each day I discovered a new form of luxury and pampering.
I had sat in pretty much every hanging comfy device known to man, but it was getting old.
There's a moral hangover to just sitting still and watching the tide come in.
I need something new, I needed a friend.
Fortunately I had Kevin, someone that knew his way around, someone that I could trust.
The way I like to travel doesn't need exclusivity or much itinerary.
I'd rather spend my days the way residents actually live.
This is something we have after every meal, all the Maldivians.
This is Areca nuts, this is betel leafs.
Can I make one for you?
So you're making me a leaf taco.
It's better to learn through hands on experience even if there's some trial and error.
How's the betel leaf taste?
True to form, does the intended effect.
It's like I get an easy feeling, high feel.
I think I know what you're talking about.
Like I just had four cigarettes at once or something.
You want some more?
No, we're good.
I think that was the right amount.
So some customs I wasn't the biggest fan of, but what was most important is that the more time I spent with Kevin the more traditions I would learn and people I would meet.
Kevin kind of knows everyone, which was paramount for where we were going next, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Malé.
Every place has its own unique speed and you must adapt quickly to thrive.
Almost half of the population here packed the capital city of Malé for access to trade and a sense of security from the elements.
Everything in this metropolis is constantly changing.
There's reverence for the old, a sense of history, but the attitude of Malé is in perpetual motion.
There's a bustling fish market where daily catches with the freshest tuna feed both the locals and the resorts, and traffic on water rivals that on land.
In the heart of Malé, Kevin runs a women's boutique.
We swing by as I'm getting my bearings in the neighborhood.
He started the business basically from nothing, one of the few successful entrepreneurs in a country that is mainly motivated by the hospitality industry.
After my studies I came back to Malé and it was difficult for me to get a job so I thought I wouldn't work for somebody, I'll start up my own business.
I got a loan and today I'm here just smiling, happy.
It's clear that Kevin's ability to make friends anywhere and everywhere has been a good part of the success of his business.
So we know you already as the mayor of Malé.
Could you just speak to being this friendly tour de force?
If someone, like, introduced me or if I meet somebody I just keep the friendship, always.
I just go and say hello.
Always I do that.
So do most people in Malé just have their own little bachelor pad, or how's that work out?
Most of the people live with their families.
I'm still living with my parents because I just don't want to leave them.
They gave me the love and care and everything.
Maybe when I get married I might have to go, but I just want to be with them.
Suddenly I felt like I had to call my mom.
My parents are really cool parents.
My mom was a runner.
She was a great athlete.
How far is it around Malé?
But you run marathons.
So how many laps do you got to...
It's 8 and 1/2.
Go for a run with me?
Not going to run the marathon with you, but I'll take a lap.
Just a 5k.
Let's do it.
There seem to be two worlds in the Maldives, one for resort patrons and one for residents.
I could have easily spent my entire trip like most visitors without seeing any local culture or meeting any new people.
Kevin provided me a genuine look at the Maldives.
But I was still a novice to this world and had no idea how deep things were going to get or the heroes I would meet.
The rest of my journey would start tomorrow with a man named Funko.
The next day I synced up with Funko, a photographer that takes high fashion stills and produces street art around Malé.
He's a hard man to track down, kind of the Banksy of the Maldives. Funko's unique vantage point on local culture and style has led him to collaborate with a new partner.
I created this little person Mika.
Mika is sort of like a goodwill ambassador.
He's able to make a little statement very boldly, and people would listen to it.
Why do you think they listened to a cobbled together toy?
If I went out there with a placard and say, hey, don't throw garbage, they'll be like, hey, boo, get out of here.
But when I take Mika out he doesn't look threatening or intimidating or serious, you know?
He's a cute little fellow ...And he doesn't blink
...with goofy eyes and they're like yeah, okay, we like you, Mika.
Mika may be a cute doll, but he has made waves as a stark reminder of current issues, and thousands are tuning into his adventures.
He even found a girl.
So that's him on a bike with his girl.
Yeah, she's cute.
That was during the political uprising.
So he's waiting for the commissioner of police.
He was the first person to protest that day.
A lot of Maldivians are protesting.
And he was the first person.
While Mika has developed a huge underground following in Malé, he's not quite as popular with the authorities.
And because of that, Funko tends to keep a low profile.
A little guy like this isn't so intimidating, but they may not be the biggest fan of you.
How has that affected the way you live around here?
For me more than politics, it's about the environment here.
And why I'm in hiding is because if I touch upon the controversial issues and stuff, there are people out there who would just want to harm me.
It sounds like he speaks for you.
He speaks for me and the people that really does care about the ocean.
I really love the ocean.
I tell these people out here, if you go underwater it's a different world out there.
I've never been diving, but I think I got to here.
You got to.
Funko had a mission for me, a quest of sorts.
Later in the trip he'd take me on a dive to investigate an unseen and undocumented danger, a crack in Malé's coral reef.
But in the meantime, Funko suggested a few other places to investigate.
So you should definitely visit Soneva Fushi.
Waste management is top class there.
It's an example to the whole of Maldives.
They even have this little swimming camp for students out there.
We are surrounded by the ocean and there are still people who don't know how to swim.
I don't think anyone has gone there and highlighted that.
I decided to take Funko's advice and visit Soneva Fushi, an Eco-resort in the north.
But before leaving Malé, Kevin introduced me to one more local artist.
Thank you for participating in the first tiny swingset concert series.
Thank you for having me.
Can you describe the dynamic of being a musician in Malé?
A lot of the motivating artists today, they're based in Malé, though very few girls.
Everyone's very friendly.
We actually have a chance to get together and jam a lot.
So if I have something that I want them to hear I can just go play to them and they'll be like "yeah, that's really good."
Everyone's just feeding off the other one, you know?
That music really chilled me out.
I'm curious what it means in Maldivian.
It starts out as, (SPEAKING MALDIVIAN) saying like, look at how beautiful this is.
When you hear this song you get goosebumps.
I think it's the best part about Maldives, the ocean, you get all these colors.
You can get a deep blue color and then a light blue and then so beautiful.
As I sailed up to Soneva Fushi, Anya's lyrics resonated deeply.
The bathtub warm water had the most uncanny hues.
I had to take a dip.
But first I need to know how Soneva Fushi could go green and still live the good life.
Our intentions and our philosophy allows us to really make sustainability and luxury partners.
We need to give people the luxury of the sports car, but in a much more Eco-friendly way.
If things don't change, the Maldives may well find itself underwater.
Businesses have to solve it.
Governments create the context, but it's businesses who caused the problem in the first place and we have to change the world.
We need to give consumers sustainable options without compromises.
And it didn't take long to find out that Soneva wasn't compromising.
Yeah, okay, this is nice.
We got the swimming pool, but we can just walk right into the Corona commercial.
Well, we got to get inside.
That's the espresso machine, into the bathroom.
This is insane.
This is where great novels are written.
I've never been to an Eco resort before, but it's pretty cool.
And Soneva's doing it right for the environment and soul.
Let's see how they provide all this.
I hopped on a bike to get a full tour with Gordon Jackson, Waste to Wealth Manager at Soneva Fushi.
So we're going to go to Eco-Centro.
So looking at how we can responsibly manage our waste.
That goal that we have is to show that there's a link between environmental sustainability and financial good sense.
So here we are.
This is Eco Centro.
We receive somewhere between 50 and 100 of these boxes every week.
We got a number of ideas how to use them.
What we do at the moment is we collect up the individual panels.
We use them as insulation on new villas.
We are looking to invest in a machine that will shred this up into a powder that could then be mixed in with a concrete mix.
There is no shortage of this material in the country.
There's a lot of building going on.
These are the kind of things we're trying to pioneer and see what works.
These actually have come from another resort.
You're welcoming the waste.
If it's the right kind of waste, if it's what we're looking for.
We'll be bringing a glass artist to come and make utensils for the kitchen, art pieces, and other things.
So you're taking on leftover glass from all the other islands and then you make Chihuly sort of art work out of it.
It's pretty wild.
Behind us, this is our composting area.
Each pile represents a week.
What was a mixture of woodchips and food waste is now good dirt.
When I hear "Eco" and "sustainable" I think a lot of people immediately have this stigma of roughing it, or that this is just something very crunchy and hippie and you would not be able to enjoy the same level of comfort.
You have to compromise.
As part of the Waste to Wealth concept, it's important not just because we want to be environmentally responsible, but we want to show that it makes financial sense as well.
We are now turning the waste to our department, which increases Eco Centro in the gardens into a profit center instead of a cost.
And by showing this to local schoolchildren or local counselors of our neighboring islands we have an opportunity to share that with folks that can develop them further elsewhere.
Perhaps most important about Soneva's conscious capitalism is that they don't feel proprietary and encourage others to copy their tactics.
There is more to learn here, but the swim class Funko told me about had just made port.
So I dropped in to meet Ish, one of the lead instructors.
Ish is passionate about working with Maldivian youth.
The irony is not lost on her that in a country that is literally sinking, most of the children don't know how to swim.
I got a chance to sit down with her and hear about how the ocean connects to the Maldivian identity.
My mom tried to keep me away from the ocean so much when I was younger.
But I remember this one day I couldn't swim then, but I had a life jacket on and I went under and I saw the octopuses and the corals and I just knew I had to learn.
And so that's how my journey started.
Why is it important to teach these local children this skill?
Not only is it a survival technique, but once they actually get to be in the water, once they're comfortable in the water, once they're not scared of the water, once they see what's underneath, all the beauty, then they kind of want to protect it.
And we're hoping to now share that spirit, make them ocean stewards.
Why is it important that we protect these oceans here?
Because we wouldn't be here without it.
If they're giving back to us, we should be giving back to them.
And I want the generations that come after us to realize this was known as paradise for a reason.
Can you talk about how the water and the people of the Maldives have a relationship?
I remember a friend of mine telling me about how her grandmother actually walked across these islands to get to her grandpa.
So star-crossed lovers, we swam across the sea for each other.
I take much pride for being born in such a wonderful place, but the truth is we're living in such a delicate environment.
Our biggest threat will be the ocean.
The ocean was enchanting.
I could forget how the future hinges on such a contrasting force, a threat so beautiful, a relentless power that could not be tamed.
I could have stayed at Soneva Fushi longer, but it was about time I met up with Kevin again.
We had a lot to catch up on.
I shared with him my experience with Ish and Gordon.
He clued me into the latest with his business and some adventures he had in store for us.
We were heading north to the more remote islands in the Maldives, and at sunset we were going night fishing.
Our boat captain was a grizzled veteran of the open waters and spent most of his life as a fisherman, who struck me as a no bullshit tough guy.
Tonight would be my first time fishing, but we hit it off quickly.
And before long I was steering the boat.
Fishing is one of the most fundamental skills in the Maldives.
Give any local a milk jug and some fishing reel and they'll have you a catch in no time.
It's deeply embedded in the national identity and economy.
It's also a great chance to drink in the beauty of the open water.
Our captain gave us a quick crash course.
There it is.
And you just let it keep going until it hits the bottom.
I shouldn't have shaved today.
I should have got small goatee, an eyepatch.
No one on the boat was surprised when he reeled in that first fish, but as nightfall set in Kevin and I were catching up.
All right, take her.
I like it.
I had held my own, catching jackfish and snapper, and it felt like a milestone to partake in a truly authentic Maldivian fishing expedition.
But the night was young.
No outing like this is complete without a beachside barbecue.
Our catch of the day was rubbed in curry spices and cooked over coconut shells, giving it that distinctly Maldivian flavor.
And of course the Boduberu was about to begin.
Let's find out.
Yeah, that was cool.
We continued to bounce from island to island.
And of course as long as I stuck with Kevin, I made fast friends.
There was an undeniable charm to the smaller, more remote communities in the north.
Each island seemed to be its own little world.
The people were welcoming and the pace of life was slower, much slower.
Family is the most precious thing and most activities are centered around it.
Many locals specialize in a craft that been passed down from one generation to the next.
Whether it's fishing, weaving or wood carving, traditions are the fabric of life on these islands.
These remote places most locals will not even make it to.
This whole leg of the trek was captivating, surreal, but it was time to get back to Malé.
Funko had contacted us and was ready to take us on that dive.
I had to get back.
But what we had seen in the north, this lifestyle, hadn't changed in a long time and wasn't planning on changing for anyone or anything.
If this is in fact modern Atlantis, time will tell what Maldivian traditions can be retained if forced to migrate to another part of the world.
The next morning, we set out for Malé.
Kevin's open water road trip felt like endless summer, and he had one last surprise detour.
We were making a pit stop at an uninhabited island.
The water was as vibrant as it was back at Soneva Fushi and there wasn't another soul in sight.
Before long you're crab hunting on the beach.
Arm deep in crabs right here.
Are you worried about getting your hand bit?
I don't care.
That won't bite.
It happened very much like the crustacean itself.
We'll let him back.
But just when I thought we had found an oasis, something wasn't quite right.
This is the most pristine beach I've ever seen.
We're playing with crabs and then everywhere is trash, bottles cans, diapers, yummo. Bottled water, plastic cups.
It was a jarring end to our private getaway.
It got me wondering, what happens to all the garbage in a country that only imports from the outside world?
Kevin explained that all the trash in the Maldives goes to a place creatively nicknamed Trash Island.
It didn't sound like one of the spots they put on the postcards.
I asked if we could go there.
He thought Ish might be of help.
So it was onwards to Malé to reunite with our friends and climb a flaming mountain of trash.
Back in Malé we picked up Ish, the swim instructor from Soneva Fushi.
Trash Island was off limits, but Ish arranged safe passage with the help of the only folks who recycle in the nation.
I feel like we're on one on those nice safari tours, but instead of rhinos or elephants, we got mounds of flaming trash.
Somehow by choice we transported ourselves from some of the most gorgeous islands on earth to a scene out of Apocalypse Now.
Yeah, this is a hell scape.
This is what Mad Max wishes it could be.
Do you remember the Brave Little Toaster?
It's kind of like that here.
I am the blanket, you are the toaster.
This island now has the highest peak in the Maldives.
Probably not where you want to set up camp when sea levels rise.
But we decided to climb to the top and set off in that direction.
No more, no more fun.
You're scared off easily.
Just trash juice, I just don't like trash juice.
Oh, I mean, it's a nice fixer upper.
Lot of space.
You want to get up there?
This is one of those places where you can just get lost exploring.
And then of course you choke to death on all the fumes.
On that note we decided we could go antiquing another day.
Yeah, this is the End of Days right here.
You're a brave soul for joining us on this adventure, let me tell you.
Oh, this is nothing for me.
This is the kind of adventures I like to have.
Oh, look, flames, beautiful.
Let's try not to step on anything that burns.
Yeah, don't breathe too hard.
Don't step too hard.
I'm surprised my sandals have made it this far.
We were picking up trash on one of these uninhabited islands and it was some people would say feudal.
No one's going to see us doing it.
We picked up a couple of bags, put it near the trash can.
But who knows where that's even going.
I actually have a story about that.
This one time a man was walking along the beach, there was a lot of starfish's that had washed onto the shore and he was just picking up one and throwing it into the sea.
And somebody sees him doing it comes and asks him, why do you think you're doing that?
Even if you spend the whole day doing it you're not going to be able to save all the starfish.
So he picks up a starfish, throws it into the sea and goes, "it mattered to that one.:
And that's my belief with cleaning trash.
Ish is not the kind of person who's afraid to get her hands dirty.
And she works closely with Secure Bag, the same organization that helps Soneva Fushi turn their waste into wealth.
That's one week?
30 tons for the (INAUDIBLE).
They compact it elsewhere, bring it here, and this is ready for export.
Secure Bag is finding ways to repurpose and profit from other people's crap.
It may be a drop in the bucket, but it's certainly better than burning the bucket.
I think we had over 900 boxes of this.
Secure Bag help take it all the way.
All this junk can actually be a business.
Secure Bag can identify that why not evangelize sort of field teams where people can do this in their neighborhood and work directly with them, make a small bit of profit so that they can continue what they're doing.
It's just a strategy where everyone benefits.
Ish is just doing just that, organizing trash pickups in her community in Malé.
Even got approached by a bunch of scuba divers.
I would like to help by cleaning in the city.
Do you think that those divers might want to meet with us when me and Funko were thinking about checking out that reef?
Yeah, I think so.
Funko just sent us an email asking me to set that up.
What Ish she had showed me at Trash Island, is that every little thing you do does matter, and what drives people like Ish and Funko to make a difference and inspire people is their love of the ocean and all the beauty that makes up the Maldives.
Even if it is inevitable that the sea levels will rise above the Maldives in our lifetime, Ish and Funko will dedicate themselves to do whatever they can to stop that from happening.
Funko has been working to call attention to a crack in the reef near Malé.
He's been talking with local scuba divers to find the exact location of this damaged reef.
What does this mean?
What does a crack in the reef mean?
The risk of collapse.
With the landslide under water.
And the landslide.
And the reef is what protects Malé from...
All the islands.
All the islands.
A healthy coral reef provides a key layer of protection against rising sea levels and can dramatically reduce land erosion.
Zaheena is a local journalist who also wanted to document this erosion in the reef.
Zaheena has a lot more experience scuba diving and doesn't seem to shy from a good story.
A real mensch named Funko talked about this crack in the reef right here in Malé.
What's the significance?
More and more we're seeing harbors being dredged.
We see a lot of development that doesn't really think about what impact it could have on the reefs.
Who knows, like Malé could be cracking from its weight beneath us and we don't know because we don't keep track of these things.
Our mission was clear, the crack threatened the entire city of Malé.
It was time to assemble the Maldivian Avengers.
So we have a whole convoy joining us.
We got the guys who discovered the crack.
We'll be the ones diving.
Is Ish coming?
Ish is coming.
She's not going to dive.
She's going to hang with Funko up top.
He's never been there before and it's not exactly easy to the untrained eye.
So we're actually going to get to use that Open ROV.
Apparently it's not exactly easy to identify the cracks so we're going to need some trial and error.
And it's got lots of currents in the area.
Also a lot of traffic.
A lot of traffic?
So boat traffic, currents, don't know where this thing is, low visibility.
It's a nice adventure.
Our quest was shaping up to be something special.
And I was going to get to do it with all the friends I had met along my way.
I think people are going to see some really raw footage.
I'm really excited for it.
So first of all, we start with the big overhang, and then after that, straight away we will go to the broken area.
We got ourselves a robot that will help us find this crack under water.
And you guys are the ones who are going to be manning it.
(WATER MOVING SOUND)
(BOAT ENGINE SOUND)
(DRAMATIC MUSIC PLAYING)
We're getting some footage.
Yeah, she's there.
Yep, she's there.
Once we equalized we swam towards the damaged reef and immediately realized that things were off.
Compared to normal healthy coral reef the terrain was drab and lifeless.
Our guide pointed out areas that showed signs of landslide debris and did what he could to warn us to stay alert.
This reef snapped in two and others could break off and threaten us.
We pressed on to the reef nearest to the city, and as we did the current picked up considerably.
Trying to get some good footage.
The current's really...
The visibility is challenging, but right now what you're looking at is a significant crack in Malé's reef.
The crack, the area is completely dead actually.
The reef is dead.
Just as I tried to direct the camera to get a closer inspection of the crack, the current whipped up into a frenzy and Zaheena was nowhere to be found.
(DRAMATIC MUSIC PLAYING)
It went well, actually, except I lost my buoyancy and just shot up.
That was not fun.
So the Malé reef is just really damaged.
There's not a lot of coral cover at all, very little fish.
The crack is about this big and then you kind of go down and it becomes bigger.
I think it's brilliant that we were able to take some footage of the reef crack.
I don't think anyone has brought this to light yet.
Yeah, we saw the crack.
It was deep.
That current though, no joke.
Killer currents and missing persons, the dive had truly been an adventure.
The feeling on the boat was a friendship and deep pride that our mission documented something core to the island's safety.
It was a fitting bookend to my trip.
I dined under water, met an inanimate activist making bold statements, listened to the sounds of the Maldives, learned sustainability could be good on the wallet, swam with the turtles, and witnessed first hand a way of life unique to anything I had seen before, and most importantly, we fostered lifelong friendships.
But I still had one very important person to talk to, former president Mohamed Nasheed, steward and UN representative of all island nations, heralded by Time Magazine as a leader and visionary, the Mandela of the Maldives.
The science is sorted.
The sea level will rise, there's no doubt about that at all.
The sea levels will probably rise over us, but we will find adaptation measures as a society, as a culture, as a community.
What still will be lost?
What are some of those uniquely Maldivian things that you cherish?
My grandmother told me, President, you can look at the people, but they are the sounds and the butterflies and the colors go.
All of these islands aren't for the inhabitants unique islands.
There's nothing like it for them.
We have more than two billion, the world's population living on coastal areas.
We are not just simply talking about the Maldives.
Manhattan is as low as the Maldives.
And so for the people in Malé or Manhattan or Miami, what can people do?
This would become the mainstream political discourse.
And it's happening very rapidly.
But the people have a big responsibility in promoting this idea.
Humanity, we've never had the odds on our sides, and certainly in my life I've never had the odds on my side.
I get a death threat every day from Islamic extremists because of my advocacy on environment.
But there is hope and we must not give up hope and we must move forward.
We will probably stay now because we are all human that's teared to the brink and then pull back.
We will stay to the brink, and of course that has the sad side effect of losing so much that you could have saved.
I hope you agree what's unique about this nation and culture is worth protecting.
Their challenge is not unique, the whole world faces it.
They just have a front row seat.
It's called climate change and it's happening right now.
It's compounding, demoralizing, faceless, systemic, catastrophic, a life changing problem that is not only not going away, it's picking up steam.
We can adapt and innovate and foster a global environment that is ready to take on this test of our generation.
Join us and learn about actions you can take to protect the Maldives at home and change the story. Because we know what the cost is of inaction:
It's self-fulfilling prophecy.
This is why we came here to give you a first glimpse of the Maldives, because we're damn sure we don't want it to be our last.
Thanks for watching.