The Maldives stretch c.500 mi (800 km) from north to south in the N Indian Ocean, SW of Sri Lanka. They consist of about 25 atolls made up of some 1,200 coral islands that are the exposed tops of a submarine ridge. They have a tropical monsoon climate modified by their marine location. The islands, which are mostly very low lying, are covered with tropical vegetation, particularly coconut palms. About 200 of the islands are inhabited, and some have freshwater lagoons. Maldivians are of mixed Dravidian, Sinhalese, Arab, and African stock, and nearly all are Sunni Muslims. The predominant language is Divehi, a Sinhala dialect.
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