The Maldives archipelago is located atop the Chagos-Laccadive Ridge, a vast submarine mountain range in the Indian Ocean, which also forms a terrestrial ecoregion, together with the Chagos and the Lakshadweep. With an average ground-level elevation of 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) above sea level, it is the world's lowest country, with even its highest natural point being the lowest in the world, at 2.4 metres (7 ft 10 in). Due to the consequent risks posed by rising sea-levels, the government pledged in 2009 to make the Maldives a carbon-neutral country by 2019.
The Maldivian archipelago took to Islam in the 12th century and consolidated as a sultanate, developing strong commercial and cultural ties with Asia and Africa. From the mid 16th-century, the region came under the increasing influence of European colonial powers, with the Maldives becoming a British protectorate in 1887. Independence from the United Kingdom was achieved in 1965 and a presidential republic was established in 1968 with an elected People's Majlis. The ensuing decades have been characterised by political instability, efforts at democratic reform, and environmental challenges posed by climate change.