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Maldives's unconventional president takes on dominant role in climate battle

"The president's background is activism," said Ramie, in one of the many newly opened cafes in the capital. "Maybe that makes us feel we could really make change and that it's not just naive."

Nasheed has also encouraged the country's luxury resorts to hire marine biologists to rejuvenate dead coral reefs and study erosion and changes in fish migrations.

At the Huvafen Fushi resort, resident marine biologist Ulrike Kloiber is trying to restore "bleached" coral beds by re-growing broken corals.

"When there is coral bleaching, it means these corals are literally starving to death because of rising temperatures," she said inside the resort's underwater spa, where hundreds of colorful rudderfish and parrot and giant rabbit fish raced by an artificial reef. "But we do feel there is a lot of hope right now for these kinds of projects. Replanting coral is like replanting trees underwater."

The president has visited Kloiber's work site; the project has re-grown 3,000 corals.

People here said they have mixed feelings about Nasheed. Some said they were impressed that he took time to listen to them and had tea with workers. More conservative elders said they weren't used to such a young president and were worried about him scuba diving in public without any of the pomp and ceremony his predecessor was known for.

Mohamed Hussain Shareef, who worked in the environmental office during the previous administration, said Nasheed's projects are too gimmicky.

"The president grabbing all these headlines is good for us. But it's not something new at all. We have been working on this for a long time. We were the ones at the forefront of climate change," Shareef said. "I'm a strong believer that climate change is very close to our people, and many of our islands are eroding at an alarming rate. But the issue that concerns me is that it's all public relations. That's where it starts, and that's where it ends. There aren't many practical ideas."

But Nasheed said his stunts might help push developed countries to act.

"Some will want to ridicule me," said Nasheed, who is married and wants his children to grow up snorkeling the reefs of the Maldives, as he did. "But the bottom line is that we don't know what will happen to us tomorrow. We have to talk about this now."

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