The Republic of Maldives is a coral archipelago consisting of 1190 islands, forming a chain of 820 km at its length and 130 km at its width. These islands are grouped into 26 coral atoll sets in an area of 90,000 sq. km in the Indian Ocean. At least 90 percent of this area consists of seas. The islands are small, few with a land area in excess of one square kilometre. They are low-lying with an average elevation of 1.6 m above mean sea level.
The natural vegetation of an island consists of a variety of plants growing in profusion. The vegetation is relatively uniform and follows a common pattern: salt-tolerant bushes at the island edges then large trees and coconut palms further inland. All islands are dominated by large stands of coconut, with coastal fringe forest consisting of Pemphis acidula, Suriana martitima etc. while the low lying richer soil support isolated strands of numerous species such as Cocos nucifera, Terminalia cattappa, Callophyllum inophyllum, Hibiscus sp. as well as Artocarpus altilis. Although no distinct forests exist in the islands these multi-purpose trees dominating coconut fulfills the needs, such as boat and house building, fuel wood, fencing, foods and medicine etc. Within such vegetation, at least 13 species of mangrove exists in the country which acts as wind breaks and combat tidal surge and provide timber for boat building. Fruits of some varieties are edible and is used seasonally as a minor constituent of rural diet. Soils are poor and highly porous rainfall is generally variable.