Past the sole figure perched atop an ocean wall lies an alluring atoll, a glistening white beach filled with lush vegetation. But the Italian photographer Chiara Goia would rather you focus on that sea wall. "Most people know the Maldives as a tourists' paradise," she explains, "but they don't know the real Maldives – and if we don't wake up, eventually this place will not be here to find out about."
At just 1.5 metres above sea level, this delicate coral chain of 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean is the lowest country on the planet. And with sea levels rising, "global warming is something the locals are already facing. A lot of islands are building sea walls to protect themselves."
But for Goia, the spectre of catastrophe is only half the picture. Tourists had been unable to visit the majority of islands – those that are locally inhabited and non-resort – outside of guided tours until 2008, when 30 years of dictatorship came to an end with the first democratic elections. There has since been an opening up of the society in an attempt to educate foreigners about the atoll community's culture – and Goia has been travelling the country's length and breadth to shoot its rougher edges. "The Maldives is in a real moment of transition," she says, "which I wanted to record to show a glimpse of a conservative society on the brink of huge change."
To see more from the Maldives series, visit chiaragoia.com