But there's a problem. Until this year, most Maldivian children had not seen a coral reef, could not swim (most still can't), and often held a deep-rooted fear of the big blue. Ghost nets entangling turtles, plastic bags defiling corals, and straws in the guts of fish existed in a different world.
In 2018, that is changing.
A government project called Faru Koe, meaning "Child of the Reef," aims to take all 81,000 students in the Maldives to a reef this year, and is pushing schools to eliminate single-use plastics.
"We're an importing economy and everything comes wrapped in plastic," says Fathmath Hulwa Khaleel, program officer for the project. "So it's a big battle, but we're starting where we think we'll make the most difference: with schools. Showing kids what it is we want them to protect."
For World Oceans Day (June 8), all 212 schools in the Maldives have joined CNN's #zeroplasticlunch
campaign, which has asked students to strip single-use plastics from their lunch.
But how unique is the Maldives' student awareness of plastic pollution? We visited schools from Venezuela to Tokyo to find out.
New York, United States
At High School West, the lunch options are healthy -- perhaps surprisingly so for a nation plagued by obesity
. There's a salad bar, and a wide variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. But for the environment it's not so healthy.
Salads are still served in plastic containers, while breakfast and lunch come on single-use biodegradable trays. The cafeteria uses plastic cutlery.
Some steps have been taken, however, for the better.
"We use self-serve dispensers for condiments and salad dressings instead of individual packets," says Bonnie Scally, school lunch administrator for the local area. "We do not serve foods that come packed in (sheet) plastic. The district also installed water bottle refilling stations."
"We are a lot more aware now of our plastic use than we have been in the past," says Julia Jassey, a junior at the school. "Classrooms have recycling bins and teachers encourage us to recycle our water bottles."
In 2014, the United States produced 33.25 million tonnes of plastic, only 9% of which was recycled -- 75% of plastics ended up in landfill sites, according to the Environment Protection Agency
Words by Kwegyirba Croffie. Pictures by Kwegyirba Croffie and Charles Parker.
Surrounded by high-rise buildings, the Azabu Elementary School is a typical Tokyo school. But lunch today is not very Japanese: Keema curry, naan, nata de coco yoghurt, and milk. School nutritionist Emiko Shiokawa says Monday will be back to rice, miso soup and stewed mackerel. "Children love school lunch," says principal Yasumasa Kuroda. "Some schools even show the menus on their website!"
Four students in doctor-like white gowns, masks and caps serve lunch into reusable porcelain dishes and hand out stainless steel cutle