The Maldives will begin saving to buy a new homeland in case the island nation is submerged beneath the ocean, the newly elected president said Monday.

Mohamed Nasheed, who won last month's election, says the money will come from the country's annual billion-dollar tourism income.

Most of the Indian Ocean nation's land mass is little more than one metre above sea level and environmentalists believe climate change could cause ocean levels to rise.

"We can do nothing to stop climate change on our own and so we have to buy land elsewhere. It's an insurance policy for the worst possible outcome," Nasheed told the Guardian newspaper.

"We do not want to leave the Maldives, but we also do not want to be climate refugees living in tents for decades."

The country's 1,192 tiny, coral islands are near the southern tip of India and Sri Lanka. Roughly 250 of the islands are inhabited.

Nasheed said land could be purchased in India, Sri Lanka or Australia.

The outgoing president of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, had said residents would likely have to be relocated since building walls around the inhabited islands would be too expensive.