Red Sea & Indian Ocean
A thousand islands in the kingdom of the fishes
Season: Year round
Visibility: 30-40m/100-130ft, sometimes up to 60m/200ft
Water Temperature: 27-30°C/81-86°F
Special Offer: Save up to 15% on the following Maldives Siren cruises in 2013: 2-12 July and 25 July-1 August!
Diving: Sharks, Manta Rays, Whale Sharks, house reef (Komandoo & Bandos), coral gardens, sea mounts, shore diving/Atoll diving
Snorkeling opportunities: Komandoo Island Resort, Kuredu Island Resort & Bandos Island Resort
Willing to Share option on liveaboards
More than one thousand islands stretch over seven hundred kilometres, beginning southwest of Sri Lanka and ending just below the equator. From the air the islands appear like small green dots scattered across a vast, blue ocean. The tell-tale dark, deep blue water shading to turquoise and then to pale green excites the diver who recognizes the promise of underwater delights. Shallow reefs break the surface and palm-covered islands and islets reveal the line of an immense underwater mountain chain rising from 4000 metres to only 70 metres below sea-level. On this ridge the coral colonies thrived to such an extent that they formed the atolls now known to us as the Maldives.
The Maldives are swept by ocean currents which wash between the islands and bring copious nutrients to feed a rich variety of fish. Manta Rays, sharks, barracudas, Spotted Eagle Rays and other larger pelagic fish are found in good numbers in the Maldivian atolls, but delightful gobies, elegant and exotic Moorish Idols, colourful triggerfish and beautiful species of angelfish and butterflyfish occur in such large numbers that even seasoned divers will be refreshed and delighted by the abundance of life. Gatherings of up to a thousand anthias swarm against a background of Acropora corals. Beneath huge table corals Nurse Sharks slumber during the day, whilst Titan Triggerfish, those vigilant guardians of their nests, patrol ceaselessly in their quest to protect their territory. Large moray eels peep from their hiding places, ‘snarling’ at passing divers, whilst amongst the masses of coral small schools of the delightful black-spotted Oriental Sweetlips glide gently by. A little off the reef the eerie shapes of lean Grey Reef Sharks appear as they move closer to investigate these strangers in their world.
Undoubtedly the Maldives’ most famous inhabitants are the huge and impressive Manta Rays, which are more easily encountered here than almost anywhere else on Earth. These ‘alien’ creatures scoop up hundreds of gallons of water as they glide through the sea, their cephalic fins guiding plankton-filled water over sieve-like plates. It seems to be mostly when the feeding is over and the cephalic fins are in tell-tale relaxed mode that the curious Manta Rays may seek out lucky divers as a diversion. Each dark-backed creature has a unique arrangement of dark spots on its bright, white under surface, thus allowing different individuals to be identified. Manta Rays sometimes travel alone, but are more often encountered in small groups, occasionally performing a graceful ballet of back somersaults in the water. Unlike the Red Sea there is little soft coral in the Maldives and so it is hard coral that makes up most of the coral populations, with soft coral only occurring in patches. It is well worth checking under huge table corals, for these are a favourite resting place for turtles.
Lhaviyani (or Faadhipolhu) Atoll is almost square, being just over 37 kilometers wide and just under 37 kilometres long. There are many fantastic dive sites which offer a super variety of diving, from thrilling narrow channels to fabulous fringing reefs and even a couple of wrecks!
At Hinnavaru Outreef the wall plummets to over 800 metres. This spectacular wall is cut with caves and overhangs and is a great place to see Grey Reef Sharks, schools of colourful Rainbow Runners streaming down the reef and swirls of jacks. Take some time to explore the caves and overhangs on the way back up. There are some fascinating fish to be found here; look out for basslets and dottybacks that like to lurk near crevices and recesses in the reef.
There are a couple of wrecks next to each other at The Shipyard. One of the boats stands 6 metres above the water, with its rusting prow still standing erect. Once owned by the tuna canning factory on Felivaru, the boat caught fire and later sank. It now rests vertically against the reef, with the stern on the sandy seabed at 32 metres. There is good soft and hard coral growth and some pretty swarms of Anthias on the wreck. Just about a 60 metres swim to the southeast is the second wreck that lies intact at 30 metres depth. There can be some strong currents in this area.
There is a wide sandy channel between Felivaru and Gaaerifaru islands, and it is possible to cross this 200 metre channel while observing the large numbers of Grey and White tipped Reef Sharks that cruise the area. This is also a very good spot for tuna watching.
Komandoo House Reef has superb snorkelling and diving, though you don’t need to get wet to see the schools of juvenile Black-tipped Reef Sharks that cruise around the area. The coral is still in good shape, in spite of the 1998 ‘El Nino’ event that affected many reefs in the Maldives, and Bluefin Trevallies and silvery Giant Trevallies hunt baitfish, usually around the east side of the island. Search the sandy sea floor for shrimp and goby partnerships that offer endless entertainment value. Keep a look out for turtles, as these are often spotted here.
NORTH MALE, SOUTH MALE, FELIDHOO & ARI ATOLLS
Away from the tourist resorts and their day boats, Carpe Vita Explorer and Maldives Aggressor can access completely unspoilt diving locations. Carpe Vita Explorer cruises include North Male (Kaafu), South Male (Dhaalu), and Ari (Alifu) Atolls. Maldives Aggressor offers two itineraries: Itinerary I includes Male North and South Atolls plus Felidhoo (or Felidhe) Atoll; Itinerary II explores Ari Atoll. However, the choice of dive sites in the Maldives must take into consideration the local conditions: the weather, the tide and the current all determine which are the best places at any given time. In consequence the skills of the captain and dive masters are of paramount importance.
Rising from the atoll floor, and usually found in the middle of channels, are ‘thilas’ or submerged reefs which can be as shallow as 8-10 metres below the surface. Thilas make great dive sites as they are often small enough to swim around during one dive and have their own compact ecosystems, such as cavelets, overhangs, steep walls or cracks and crevices. Many are pinnacle formations.
Diving in North Male Atoll is characterized by a mixture of ‘thilas’ and channels. One such ‘thila’ dive that draws the larger fish such as Spotted Eagle Rays, Silvertip Sharks, barracudas and Grey Reef Sharks is Rasfari, close to the uninhabited island of the same name. Rainbow, on the southwest side of North Male Atoll, is inside the barrier reef. At 7 and 12 metres deep are two huge circular coral tables about 60 metres apart. Because the current is usually quite mild here, it is often possible to swim around both coral tables. The sea bed falls away sharply to 30 metres. The masses of black and green Acropora coral support a huge population of brilliant little anthias, their mass of moving orange coloration simply adding to the kaleidoscope of colour on the reef. Nurse Sharks slumber peacefully under the table corals and Blue Razorfish dart into their holes at the approach of the diver. It is always worth looking under such table corals for the beautiful but shy sweetlips that can hang there. The Maldives may have more Manta Points than any other diving destination, but that is because it has large numbers of Manta Rays. North Male Atoll has its own Manta Point. This is a Manta Ray cleaning station and these giants of the ocean sail in for a touch of beauty therapy and permit lucky divers to watch them as they hover above the corals allowing the wrasse to set about their task of making sure the mantas are cleaned of parasites and dead skin. Oriental Sweetlips and Napoleon Wrasse also hang out her for a session at the beauty salon.
South Male Atoll diving is characterised by some pretty strong and powerful currents, but equally by some pretty great diving and, of course by some pretty great fish! Drop on to Cocoa Thila when there is a reasonable current running through and you should find an impressively large school of jacks hunt around the reef. When the currents are strong, the elegant forms of Grey Reef Sharks can frequently be observed. A giant anemone provides a home for many Maldive Anemonefish. This beautiful orange-yellow fish with its bright white cheek stripes is known only from the Maldives. At this dive site it is possible to see the unusual spectacle of a group of almost white batfishes. Wait patiently at Vaagali Thila and you could be justly rewarded by stunning sightings of sharks, Spotted Eagle Rays or Manta Rays. Snappers, fusiliers and schooling fish are common here, along with crowds of batfish and snappers. Tucked in a reef basin is a good population of soft coral complete with a mass of reef fish. Here are numerous butterflyfish in fancy livery, impressive Sailfin Tangs and everyone’s favourite, the anemones and their anemonefish friends that always make superb subjects for the underwater photographer.
Felidhoo (or Felidhe) Atoll lies to the south of South Male Atoll and it is here that you can dive such wonderful sites as Fotteyo, known as a photographers’ paradise, where soft and hard coral overhangs shelter schools of handsome sweetlips. A variety of sharks pass through this dive site, but be wary of Titan Triggerfish which also regard this as their territory! Divers frequently request a return to this amazing dive site. At the southernmost tip of Felidhoo Atoll is Rakeedhoo Kandu, a deep channel between Felidhoo Atoll and Mulaku Atoll. Coral terraces line the walls of the channel, but rather than study the coral, divers are often distracted by the pelagic species which use this deep cut as a freeway between atolls. Ambara Thila is characterised by hundreds of gorgeous anemones and a good hard coral population. Elegant White-tip Reef Sharks are frequently found in this area. Currents can be strong at Mulaku Kandu, but when the currents are strong the large fish come in to feed, so it can be a great time to dive. Giant Trevally, White-tip and Black-tip Reef Sharks and turtles come here to feed. Keep an eye out for the steely-eyed Great Barracuda which lurk under the boat, or merely hover as they watch the weird behaviour of the divers.
Ari Atoll has some fabulous dive sites for experienced divers and beginners alike, and is considered by many to be the most beautiful atoll of all. Dotted throughout the area are thilas which offer some easier diving on shallow reef tops with excellent fish and coral life. Broken Rock, named because it looks as if it has been cleaved in two, has a deep gully filled with soft coral and reef fish. The sides of the gulley have many intricate holes and cracks which are home to a variety of invertebrates. Look out for crabs and shrimps hiding away. Blue-lined Snappers can form really big schools. Wriggle as close as you can and try some underwater ‘action art’ by waving your arms and legs to get the school to split and form fantastic shapes as the school pours over the reef. Tinfushi Thila starts at around 10 metres and drops to 40 metres. Caves and undercuts are home to some lovely sea fans that sparkle and flicker with life as the current picks up and brings in life-giving nutrients. Check out the corals for Longnose Hawkfish, tiny lobsters and crabs, then look out towards the blue for a glimpse of a Napoleon Wrasse or some Spotted Eagle Rays. Maybe the most famous dive in Ari Atoll is another Manta Point. This thila, or platform, rises from the bottom of a channel at 30 metres to around 16 metres. This is a dive for advanced divers as the area is subject to strong currents, but from December to April Manta Rays use this site as a feeding station. Photographers can forget their macro lenses and take those extra wide angle lenses with them! Maaya Thila is a small thila with remarkable fish life. The tip of the thila is only 6-8 metres at the shallowest and so makes for great night diving. At only 30 metres in diameter, one can swim right around Maaya Thila, but it is at the point where the current hits the thila that most of the activity occurs. Both hard and soft corals are found here, with Tubastria or orange cup coral ‘flowering’ in the current. Grey Reef and White-tipped Reef Sharks are common here, and batfish, Blue-striped Snappers, vibrant red soldierfish and Zebra Morays can also be found. For the photographer, the choice of lens can be anything from wide angle to macro depending on whether one is going to search the reef for subjects or point out into the blue. During the last two or three years the tropical, nutrient rich water in Ari Atoll has attracted a larger than usual number and frequency of Whale Shark sightings. Wouldn’t it be a great idea to visit them?
BAA, RAA & NOONU ATOLLS
Having the entire sea to yourself and being the only divers on any given dive site is a rarity further south, but is one of the charms of exploring this region that includes the atolls of Baa, Raa, Lhaviyani and Noonu.
Baa Atoll is blessed with a series of varied diving sites including thilas, channels and coral reefs. You can spot schools of hunting sharks hanging out in the current throughout the year at Baa atoll or South Maalhosmadulu. The tranquil atmosphere, warm crystal clear water, rich coral gardens and colourful reef fishes make this atoll one of the stand out diving choices in the Maldives. Maaddoo Giri, Dhonfan Thila, Horubadhoo Thila and Baiypolhi Mas are some of the diving sites with flourishing aquatic life. With tropical flora and a secluded atmosphere, this area has earned its place amongst some of the world’s top dive sites. During July to November Hanivaru located in the Baa atoll comes to life, especially after high tides and in particular at the equinox. Up to 100 Manta Rays and sometimes Whale Sharks congregate in a mass feeding frenzy to feast on dense plankton swept in by the tides. Being filter feeders they thrive on this plankton and in turn provide a truly thrilling and show stopping acrobatic display to delight any diver. The Baa Atoll has recently been designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, a significant achievement for the Maldives. The BAA Aroll project has issued guidelines to help preserve this area and to minimise any disturbance to the creatures that visit the area. A such it is only possible to snorkel inside the Hanifaru Bay.
Raa Atoll is made up of Giris. A Giri is a shallower version of a thila. Thilas are sufficiently below the surface for boats to be able to pass over the top without fear. Gilas are too shallow and can sometimes break the surface. Fenfushi Giri features a sloping reef with numerous spectacular overhangs. Here you will encounter swarms of Fairy Basslets, hunting jacks, tuna and fusiliers. This reef usually has a strong current so is ideal for using your reef hook to just hang back, relax and enjoy the show! Reethi Thila is a submerged pinnacle that offers plenty of caverns and overhangs with a stunning number of fish. Be sure to check all the nooks and crannies for mantis shrimp, nudibranchs and even some playful octopui.
Noonu Atoll’s most famous dive site is Christmas Tree Rock. A site outstanding for many reasons, not least its topography. Unsurprisingly, it resembles a Christmas tree. It is a pinnacle which starts from a broad low base and rises up to a thinner top with a series of ledges and plateaus, all sheltering plenty of life and with ample space for swimming through. Leopard Sharks and White Tip Sharks feed on the sandy bottom. Whole families of Grey Reefs Sharks can also be found at Orimas, a nursery and cleaning station with a convenient ledge for a perfect viewpoint.
Addu Atoll is 450 kilometres south of Male and is the mostly southerly Maldivian Atoll. At the beginning of World War 2, the British built an airstrip on the island of Gan. This is still used today, not for troops but to transport avid divers to the southern depths of the Maldives – only the intrepid few make it down here! There are about 20 uninhabited islands dotted all around the atoll, only a few hotels, even fewer divers and many untouched dive sites!
The best diving is on the outer reefs of the atoll where the reef top is between 5 and 10 metres and the reef slopes down to the abyss of the ocean.
At Gulda Lamago caves and overhangs provide the perfect habitat for green turtles and sleeping nurse sharks. Lobsters take refuge at the back of the dimly lit caves hoping to mingle with the shadows and so avoid predators. Manta Rays, Grey Reef Sharks, Spotted Eagle Rays and tuna glide past in the blue, so keep your eyes peeled.
The wreck of the British Loyalty lies inside the atoll between Hithadhoo and Maradhoo. She has been perched on the sandy bottom since she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1944 and subsequently sunk by the British in 1946. The vessel is an impressive 140m (460ft) long and she lies on her starboard side, with the shallowest point of the hull at 17m (56ft). The wreck is home to a great variety of marine life and the coral growth is abundant.
Dhaalu and Faafu lie just south of Ari Atol and these uninhabited islands were only opened to divers in 1997. Hukuruelhi Faru (Madivaru) is a superb Manta cleaning station. Madi means ‘ray’ in Dhivehi and the Manta Rays hover like spaceships in the current that flows out of this atoll.
Vaavu and Meemu atolls both offer excellent diving. During the northeast winds season the east side of the atolls benefits from the turquoise blue water flowing through the narrow channels. Riding the front of the current are many pelagic species, with Grey Reef Sharks often present in great numbers. The reefs are in pristine condition with very little weather damage. Encounters with Manta Rays and Whale Sharks are more usual on the western side of the atoll, where these animals can be found feeding on the plankton rich currents as thy flow out of the atoll. Cleaning and feeding stations are also situated on the east side, where Mantas are often seen queuing up for the cleaner fish to nibble away at their parasites.
Fotteyo Kandu is probably the most famous dive site in the Maldives. Due to it’s remote location it is worth several dives here to appreciate its stunning beauty. The channel meets the ocean with a vertical drop-off descending into the unknown. Dolphins can often be seen and heard swimming through the channel here.
Remote Addu Atoll is explored by Manta Cruise.
COMBINATIONS: Why not combine a stay on a Maldives liveaboard with a visit to Bandos Island Resort or Komandoo Island Resort, either to continue diving, or simply relax, or both? Talk to us about the possibilities.
FLIGHTS: Prices from about $1600 return from Los Angeles to Male.