MALE: The Maldives' government held an underwater cabinet meeting Saturday in a bid to focus global attention on rising sea levels that threaten to submerge the low-lying atoll nation.
President Mohamed Nasheed plunged first into the Indian Ocean followed by his ministers, all clad in scuba gear, for the nationally televised meeting in this archipelago known as an idyllic holiday getaway for the rich.
Nasheed and his deputy, Mohamed Waheed, and a dozen ministers sat behind tables arranged in a horseshoe at a depth of six metres (20 feet) and approved a resolution urging global action to cut carbon emissions.
Tropical reef fish swam among the ministers and the nation's red and green flag with white crescent moon was planted in the seabed behind Nasheed.
After surfacing, he called for the UN's climate summit in Copenhagen in December to forge a deal to reduce carbon emissions blamed for rising sea levels that experts say could swamp the Maldives by the century's end.
"We should come out of Copenhagen with a deal that will ensure that everyone will survive," said the 42-year-old president as he bobbed in the shimmering turquoise waters.
He said there was "less talk" during the half-hour underwater meeting, but he had managed to get more work done.
"The Maldives is a frontline state and what happens to us today will happen to others tomorrow," Nasheed said.
Asked how he felt about taking the cabinet for a splash, he replied they had all enjoyed the plunge into the clear, warm waters.
"The president, vice president, and the cabinet signed a declaration calling for concerted global action on climate change, ahead of the UN climate conference," the president's office said in a statement.
The ministers signed the resolution, printed on a white board, using water-proof markers.
They had taken diving lessons for the last two months and were accompanied by their trainers at the unprecedented underwater meeting off the islet of Girifushi.
The dive was the latest publicity stunt by the media-savvy Nasheed to focus world attention on climate change and its effects on the Maldives ahead of the Copenhagen meeting.
In 2007, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that an increase in sea levels of just 18 to 59 centimetres (seven to 24 inches) would make the country virtually uninhabitable by 2100.
Nasheed, the archipelago's first democratically elected president, stunned the world last year when he announced he wanted to buy a homeland to relocate the threatened Maldives.
More than 80 percent of the the tiny nation, famed as a tourist paradise due to its coral reefs and white-sand beaches, is less than a metre (3.3 feet) above sea level.
Only Nasheed and his defence minister Ameen Faisel had any diving experience before the president came up with the plan for the underwater meeting, officials said.
Government spokeswoman Aminath Shauna said the ministers had signed their wetsuits and these would be auctioned on a protectmaldives.com website due to be launched at the weekend to raise money for coral reef protection.
"All the arrangements went ahead well," she said, adding the ministers would ride bicycles around the capital island, Male, next week as a further sign of their commitment to cutting emissions.