Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Saturday, 17 October 2009 16:01 UK

Maldives leader in climate change stunt


President Mohamed Nasheed and his cabinet met underwater

By Olivia Lang
BBC News, Maldives

With fish darting amongst them in a blue lagoon, the Maldivian president and his top team have staged an elaborate stunt to publicise climate change.

Billed as the world's first underwater cabinet meeting, President Mohamed Nasheed and 11 ministers, decked in scuba gear, held a meeting 4m (13ft) underwater.

While officials said the event itself was light-hearted, the idea is to focus on the plight of the Maldives, where rising sea levels threaten to make the nation uninhabitable by the end of the century.

Mr Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected president, has become an important global voice for climate change since he won in polls last October.

"We have to get the message across through a course of action which resonates with ordinary people," the president said, as the boat neared our destination.

President Mohamed Nasheed gestures during the dive
The politicians indicated they were OK during the dive

"What we are trying to tell the people is that we hope there is a better deal at Copenhagen."

The presidential speedboat took 20 minutes to arrive in the turquoise lagoon off Girifushi, in North Male atoll.

The cabinet then zipped themselves into diving suits and donned goggles and tanks of compressed air before jumping in the water.

Major Ahmed Ghiyaz, the co-ordinator from the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), said all measures had been taken to protect the president, which included checking the coral for dangerous creatures.

"I am 99.9% sure there will be no harmful creatures," he told the BBC before the dive.

"I'm sure there won't be any sharks. The nastiest thing would be a moray eel, but we have checked the reef".

A horseshoe-shaped table was set up around a dark green coral reef with blue tips and home to an array of sea creatures in one of the world's most famed diving spots.

The president and his team took their seats at 1000 at the bottom of the lagoon, sitting at desks with name tags while colourful parrot fish and black and white damsel fish darted around them.

Using hand signals to gesture that they were OK, ministers then passed round an "SOS" to be signed - an agreement calling for carbon emission cuts.

"We must unite in a global effort to halt further temperature rises," the message reads.

President Mohamed Nasheed
I hope I can live in the Maldives and raise my grandchildren here
Mohamed Nasheed
President of the Maldives

"Climate change is happening and it threatens the rights and security of everyone on Earth."

Meanwhile, a handful of journalists kitted out in snorkel gear and swimming around on the surface tried to get a glimpse of the action below.

Emerging out of the water, a dripping President Nasheed removed his mask to answer questions from reporters and photographers crowded around on the shore.

"We are trying to send a message to the world about what is happening and what would happen to the Maldives if climate change isn't checked," he said, bobbing around in the water with his team of ministers.

"If the Maldives is not saved, today we do not feel there is much chance for the rest of the world."

Curry and coconuts

After the dive, the president told the BBC he had seen a stingray swim nearby during the meeting.

"There was a sergeant fish that was particularly interested in what was going on," he said during a typically Maldivian lunch of fish curry and coconut juice.

"I've never been worried about reef sharks and I've been diving for a long time," the 42-year-old added.

He says other Maldivians had heard about the event and wanted to get involved in some way.

On the island of Kuda Huvadhoo, some islanders reportedly created a sealed box and put their TV in it so they could watch the footage of the meeting underwater.

"They told me, 'if the president is under water, then they want to be too'," Mr Nasheed said.

But he was keen to push the need for action.

The 1192-island chain is at severe threat from rising sea levels, with 80% of its islands less than a metre above sea level.

"What do we hope to achieve? We hope not to die. I hope I can live in the Maldives and raise my grandchildren here," says Mr Nasheed.

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