Being a country with more territorial sea than dry land, the Maldivians depend on resources almost entirely from the sea. The coral reefs which built the country played a vital role in the economic and social well-being of the country.
Coral rock used to be the main aggregate for most construction purposes in Maldives. Coral blocks have been historically used for buildings and road construction. The coral blocks were extracted from shallow reef flats at 1-2 meters depth, with the help of iron bars to break up the living coral.
Coral was virtually the only building material available in the country and coral mining was widespread.
Historically the local communities used coconut leaves and variously locally available timbers to build houses.
Corals were only used then for more important constructions such as in tomb stones and for mosques. In most cases large Porites heads were collected for such works.
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The old mosques and monuments in the country built a hundred years back indicate how extensively massive corals especially Porites may have been mined.
With the mechanization of the fishing industry in the early seventies with more money being generated within the island communities, construction of coral houses became the first priority for any land owner. It was simply a luxury to have a house built of corals and coral aggregates in contrast to a house of predominantly coconut products.
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To own a coral built house was also considered prestigious and a reflection of good living. As a result coral mining expanded year to year.
Another major use of corals is in the making of lime. For many islanders it was cheaper to produce lime locally than buying imported cement. Coral and coral debris collected from the reefs were burned in a pit in the ground with locally available firewood. Coral rocks were converted to lime by this high heat treatment and were used to bond coral pieces to build houses and other constructions.
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The government was worried about the environmental implications of coral mining. Prior to 1992 there were very few regulations as to where people could or could not mine corals. It was then simply a matter of protecting properties such as islands belonging to individual owners. In 1992 preliminary regulations were introduced to combat uncontrolled mining activities.
This traditional housing is now forbidden since corals are now protected but many coral houses still can be seen in Male and local islands.
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