Maldives is the smallest Asian country both in population and land area. With an average ground level of 1.5 meters (4 ft 11 inch) above the sea level, it is the country in the planet at the lowest altitude. It has the natural highest point in the world of only 2.4 meters. Actually, Maldives is an island nation formed by a double chain of 26 geographic atolls stretching for about 830 km north to south in the Indian Ocean. The country has a total area of 298 sq. km. (115 sq. mi.), with 1,190 coral reef islands. The human population is estimated to be more than 3, 50,000.
The marine environment is dominant in Maldives, with coral reefs forming the major ecosystem. The 1,190 coral islands of Maldives make up less than 1 per cent of the total area of the country. The other ecosystems include sea grass beds, mangroves and swamps. Its bio-diversity comprise of 583 vascular plant species, of which 323 are cultivated, 260 species are native and naturalized plants. There are 13 species of mangroves recognized in Maldives. Terrestrial animals are limited in Maldives, and most species are not unique but are widely distributed throughout the atolls. Marine mammal fauna documented in Maldives by the Marine Research Centre include 9 species of whales and 7 species of dolphins.