The South Province of the Maldives consists of the Gnaviyani Atoll and Addu City.
Gnaviyani Atoll is one of the administrative divisions of the Maldives corresponding to the natural atoll, Fuvahmulah. Geographically this is the smallest administrative unit in the Maldives, and it is located in the Equatorial Channel between the Huvadhu Atoll and Addu Atoll. Fuvahmulah is divided into eight wards administratively.
Addu City, also known as Addu Atoll or Seenu Atoll is located 541 kilometres south of Malé, and is the southernmost Atoll of the Maldives. Its inhabited islands are Hithadhoo – the capital of Addu City, Maradhoo, Feydhoo, Hulhudhoo, and Meedhoo. The Atoll also has a number of uninhabited islands, including Gan which is the site of Gan International Airport.
Unlike the other atolls of the Maldives, Addu city features a natural anchorage within the city basin, as the atoll is landlocked with large islands surrounding it. The resulting natural harbour is very calm and safe for sea vessels at all times, and is not subject to seasonal changes. There are four channels that lead into the lagoon: Kuda Kandu and Maa Kandu in the north; Gan Kandu in the south; and the broad Villingili Kandu to the south-east.
There are several unique features in the islands of the Addu Atoll. The islands are often protected from the storms and high waves of the Indian Ocean due to the barrier reefs and it is possible to grow coconut palms, the national tree, almost everywhere on the islands. The islands of the Atoll also feature small lakes, wetlands, and marshy taro fields that are distinctive. There is a great diversity of species to be been found in the Atoll and Addu is also particularly rich in whale and dolphin fauna. White terns known as the "dhondheeni" are also found exclusively in Addu among the Maldivian islands. The Addu Atoll was also the only area in the Maldives that was not affected by the 1998 global coral bleaching caused by the warmer major ocean currents – the El Niño effect.
Fuvahmulah is an island of the Gnaviyani Atoll. Fuvahmulah measures about 4.5 kilometres by 1.2 kilometres and features a submerged reef that extends for about three kilometres in a south-easterly direction. The island was often inaccessible in the past due to the lack of a lagoon and the perils of the ocean swells, but with the construction of a harbour in the early 2000s at the south-east tip of the island, and a domestic airport in 2011, the island has gradually opened up to the rest of the country.
As the second nearest atoll to the Equator and the first atoll of the Maldives in the Southern Hemisphere, Fuvahmulah has many distinctive features making the island unique and some say more beautiful than the other islands. Fuvahmulah is a one-island atoll and the third largest natural island in the Maldives and features a range of diverse habitats that include tropical woodlands, marshlands, wetlands, freshwater lakes, white sandy beaches, pebble and gravel beaches, plus fertile lands of humus that are greater in area than on any other island in the Maldives.
There are many places of interest for those visiting Fuvahmulah. The two freshwater lakes on the island plus the many number of swamps and marshland areas provide a habitat for a variety of plant and animal species that are not found anywhere else in the Maldives. The common moorhen, locally known as Valikukulhu is one such bird native to the island and not found elsewhere in the archipelago. The northern lake is known as "Dhadimagi Kilhi" and the southern is "Bandaara Kilhi".
Also, the dense forest of Syzygium cumini, or Jambul forest, locally known as "Dhanvah Baal" to the north of Dhadimagi Kilhi, contains the largest plantation of Jambul to be found anywhere in the Maldives and is nearly extinct elsewhere in the country. The island is also the largest producer of mangoes in the Maldives and also produces pineapples and oranges that are not found anywhere else in the country.
Other interesting sites include Thoondu, the white sandy beach on the north shore of the island that is very popular and is especially busy on special occasions. There is the traditional harbour of Neregando, a famous landmark of the boat building industry of the island. Gemmiskiy is the oldest building in Fuvahmulah that was part of a Buddhist monastery in the pre-Islamic period and later was the first mosque to be built after the island converted to Islam. The Havitta is an ancient ruin that is probably a Buddhist stupa located within the historical boundaries of the district.
Hithaadhoo is the main island of the Addu City Atoll with the largest population of the atoll that is second only to the capital Malé. It is also physically the second largest island in the entire Maldives with a surface area of over 525 hectares. It is 6.8 kilometres in length and 1.8 kilometres in width at its widest point.
The town is characterised by narrow lanes, leaning houses, dusty roads and dense vegetation, with the northern end consisting of a partially stony scrubland that can only be explored on narrow trails. The south of the island however is lush with vegetation including palms and shrubs.
Maradhoo is located in the middle of the island chain on the western side of Addu City, making it strategically important for the atoll as a bridging point between Hithadhoo and the main industrial island of Gan. Maradhoo is a larger island compared to other islands in the archipelago and as such, its southern part, is a separate administrative division-Feydhoo, and the island as a whole is often referred to as Maradhoo-Feydhoo.
The north-east end of the island is of historical importance, as it is where the British navy had a major slipway and marine maintenance base; this now belongs to a private company. Maradhoo is also the main fishing village of the atoll, and the island features a good reef with several varieties of fish and multi-coloured corals and is a famous spot for divers who come to the Addu Atoll.
In 2013 the first guest house, Stellar Maradhoo, and diving centre, Aquaventure, opened on the island, aiming to provide an alternative tourist experience, allowing guests to stay in a local environment and explore the Maldivian way of living.
Hulhudhoo is an island in the Addu Atoll that is physically adjoined with Meedhoo to the south, but is an administratively separate island. Historically the two communities were separated by a large mangrove tree in a muddy land area that later became a border between them. Differences made the communities separate, but today they live side by side in peace and harmony.
To the south of Hulhudhoo is Hulhudhoo Herathera, an uninhabited area of the island located within the lagoon of Hulhudhoo. These areas are now linked by land and Herathera has been developed as a resort with hundreds of tourists visiting every year.
Meedhoo is the oldest populated island in the Addu Atoll having been settled in 1000 and 500 BCE, and physically connected to Hulhudhoo Island. Meedhoo is historically of cultural importance as in the 12th century an Arab traveller by the name of Yoosuf Naib introduced Islam and built what became the country's first mosque. The island has since been known as a centre of learning and Islamic religious education, famous for the scholars that have come from here.