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The atolls of the Maldive archipelago form the central and largest part of the Chagos-Laccadive atoll chain in the equatorial Indian Ocean (Figure 1). The north-south-trending Chagos-Laccadive chain extends from the southwest coast of India to south of the equator and is composed of low-lying coral atolls. The Maldive archipelago consists of 22 large atolls whose sizes range from a few km to tens of km in diameter (Figure 1). The atolls are arranged in clusters separated by deep channels. The shapes of the atolls vary from circular to elongate in map view. Numerous smaller atolls called "faros" are commonly present within the lagoons of the large atolls and, in places, form the rims of the large atolls. The depth of the lagoons ranges from 31 m to 82 m (Purdy and Bertram, 1993) and tends to increase from north to south. Although the archipelago extends for 867 km from north to south, the island area is only 298 km2. Approximately 1200 individual islands exist, but only 200 of them are populated.

In the central part of the archipelago, the large atolls are arranged in two parallel north-south-trending chains separated by the Inner Sea (Figure 3). Several large drowned flat-topped banks — such as Fuad Bank between Horseburgh and Ari atolls, with its top submerged in 250 m of water — complete the "broken" segments of the double chain of atolls (Figure 3). The water depth of the Inner Sea ranges from 200 m to 500 m. The combined width of the platform (atolls and the Inner Sea) locally adds up to 130 km.

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