| || Some 500 kilometers (300 miles) west of Sri Lanka lie the Maldives, a scattering of atolls comprising between 1,120 and 2,000 islands, depending on the movements of the sandbanks. Kalhuhuraa, which supported rich palm plantations one hundred years ago, has disappeared. Kuda Huraa has just been cut in two. Atolls (divehi in the Maldive language) are made of coral reefs that have built up along the edges of volcanic islands. As Charles Darwin correctly hypothesized in the 1830s, atolls begin as fringing reefs around volcanic islands. As the volcanic peaks slowly erode and subside on the ocean floor, the corals keep growing, maintaining depths of less than 20 meters (65 feet). What is created is a thick reef surrounding a lagoon. The Maldives contain a record number of atolls, including the largest on Earth: Huvadhoo is 70 kilometers (44 miles) around, 53 kilometers (33 miles) wide, and its lagoon is 86 meters (282 feet) deep.
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