With clear blue water, white sandy beaches, and great visibility, the Maldives is an idyllic scuba diving paradise. During a diving trip to the Maldives, you may see manta rays, whale sharks, reef sharks, soft & hard corals and much more. The Maldives is also known for its great assortment of dive resorts and liveaboards for all kinds of budgets, from budget to high-end.
WHERE IS THE MALDIVES?
Lying 400 miles southwest of India, the Maldives is an island nation of 26 natural coral atolls (over 1,000 islands) spread over nearly 35,000 square miles. Even though it is 26 natural coral atolls, for the purpose of administration the Maldives is divided into 19 areas and they are marked as being 19 atolls. So someone looking through a map would find 19 zones.
Topside, the Maldives offer some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever see in your life. More than 95 % of Maldives consists of the sea. It is also one of the lowest nations in the world, and is in danger of being submerged one day due to rising sea levels.
The Maldives offers some great reefs and marine life and is known for currents, wide-angle photography and plentiful pelagics such as mantas, reef sharks and whale sharks. Visibility early in the year can be outstanding, well over 30m (100ft). Hanifaru Bay, in the Baa Atoll, has Manta Rays and Whale Sharks during the middle and the end of the South West Monsoon which runs from April to November. During this period, it is only a few times that mass feeding events occur in the Bay Area when plankton has accumulated to a certain extent. Many people think it is there all the time, but it is not.
The Maldives offers blue water early in the year - perfect for wide-angle photography. While is there is some macro life here, I would think of Maldives as mainly a "wide-angle" place to see coral, whale sharks, mantas, eagle rays, and schools of fish. There has been some coral bleaching in the shallow reefs.
While the reefs and channels provide a great diversity of marine life, Hanifaru Bay, while allows snorkeling only, is the place to go for mantas and whale sharks. We are talking dozens and dozens of huge manta rays feeding, up to 200 mantas at a time. You are also likely to encounter whale sharks, opening their huge mouths and gulping in food. Still, underwater photography cannot properly capture the beauty of the marine life here; you need to use underwater video. Many dive sites have napoleon wrasse, barracuda, reef sharks including gray reef, whitetip and blacktip, spotted eagle rays, large marbled rays, trevally and tuna. The current will help bring out more of these larger animals.
Some atolls can also produce hammerhead sharks, although this is only at very specific dive sites. If you are at a Manta cleaning station, never chase or charge the manta rays - it won't work. Wait for them to come to you. Do not rise up to their level.
MALDIVES ON A LIVEABOARD
What is Channel Diving?
Channels are usually formed as gaps or breaks in the atoll, forming entrances and exits to the inside eco system. Diving in them is best with a medium strong incoming current from the East. The current strongly affects the quality and nature of the dive. Often with a strong outgoing current there is less fish life and the dive becomes more challenging.
The beauty of channel diving is the amount of fish life in general, but particularly the fact that pelagic life rides the current, waiting to hunt smaller fish that slip from their schools. The mix of pelagic life and reef life creates an interesting mix of sights and behaviours.
Crossing the channel
A small to medium incoming current is ideal for crossing the channel; the oceanic current pushes you along the outside drop off from one corner to the next. It is important to be further away from the reef and below the lip of the channel floor to avoid being swept into the channel. Often this means that you have to be at 35-40 meters deep - staying shallower would mean not being able to cross the channel. If the current is not too strong, you will see a lot of marine life hanging on the edge of the channel. They do this because they breathe the water being pushed through their gills, and with the current passing through them, they don’t have to swim.
Hooking on to one of the corners
This is usually done when the current is medium to strong. Drift along the outside wall until you reach one of the corners, hook in with a reef hook, and observe the marine life activity around you.
In the Maldives, it can be really challenging to cross the channel in a strong current. Often the channel changes direction as you cross, and by the time you reach the opposite lip of the channel, the current starts working against you if done with an incoming current. It is possible to run into a washing machine style scenario that will have you kicking hard to get out. It is best to stay close to your dive guide and mimic him or her very closely.
Sharks and eagle rays are often gliding on the current at this point, as well as hunting and feeding on fusiliers. You get to observe all the action from the corners.
Things to be careful about
The converging currents can create washing machines of a sudden mix of upward and downward current. Often it is necessary to swim through this type of current for a stretch to get to the other side of the channel. To negate this, release your SMB and become negatively buoyed - essentially hanging off the SMB.
On channel dives, it is critical to bring SMBs, reef hooks, and ideally a nautilus life line or similar product, as there is a fair chance of being swept out into the blue.
As the largest fish in the sea, reaching lengths of 12m (40 feet) or more, whale sharks have an enormous menu from which to choose. Fortunately for most sea dwellers and us, their favorite meal is plankton. They scoop these tiny plants and animals up, along with any small fish that happen to be around, with their colossal gaping mouths while swimming close to the water's surface.
The whale shark, like the world's second largest fish, the basking shark, is a filter feeder. In order to eat, the beast juts out its formidably sized jaws and passively filters everything in its path. The mechanism is theorized to be a technique called “cross-flow filtration,” similar to some bony fish and baleen whales.
The whale shark's flattened head sports a blunt snout above its mouth with short barbels protruding from its nostrils. Its back and sides are gray to brown with white spots among pale vertical and horizontal stripes, and its belly is white. Its two dorsal fins are set rearward on its body, which ends in a large dual lobbed caudal fin or tail.
Preferring warm waters, whale sharks populate all tropical seas. They are known to migrate every spring to the continental shelf of the central west coast of Australia. The coral spawning of the area's Ningaloo Reef provides the whale shark with an abundant supply of plankton. Although massive, whale sharks are docile fish and sometimes allow swimmers to hitch a ride. They are currently listed as a vulnerable species; however, they continue to be hunted in parts of Asia, such as the Philippines.
According to the IUCN, the Indo-Pacific population of the whale shark is thought to have reduced 63 percent over the past 75 years. The population in the Atlantic is thought to have been reduced more than 30 percent. The populations are continuing to decrease. Because of this, whale sharks are classified as endangered.
Oceanic Blacktip sharks
Have a streamlined body with a fusiform shape and a long pointed snout, with relatively small eyes. The gill slits are long and there is no ridge between the dorsal fins. The distinguishing feature of this species is that they can have black tips or edges on their pectoral, dorsal, pelvic or caudal fins.
The Oceanic Blacktip shark around 2m in size, is a regular sighting. The Oceanic Blacktip shark is often seen above the water. It makes spinning leaps out of the water while attacking schools of fish. The majority of Oceanic Blacktip sharks are found in water less than 40m deep. They can however also penetrate short distances into fresh water. The Oceanic Blacktip shark is an extremely fast, energetic predator that is usually found in groups of varying sizes.
It has been assessed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), on the basis of its low reproductive rate and high value to fisheries
Ragged Tooth Sharks
Also known as the Sand Tiger Sharks. Although rather frightening in appearance, this species is relatively placid and docile, only likely to make an attack if cornered or provoked. The Raggie has a stocky body and reaches a length of just over two metres, with the female being slightly larger than the male. They weigh between 90 and 160 kilograms when mature. The top of the body (the dorsal side) is a grey-bronze colour, while the underneath is a much lighter variation thereof. They also have a rather hunched appearance with a sharp, pointy nose or snout.
Aliwal Shoal, on the east coast of South Africa, is known worldwide as one of the best shark diving destinations on the planet, and much of that activity centres around one of our most famous dive sites, Raggies Cave. A natural hollow filled with sand and encircled on all sides by plateaued reef, the site’s most prominent feature is the deep overhang that dominates one side of the amphitheatre.
In winter, this overhang is one of the most popular aggregation points for visiting ragged-tooth sharks, who arrive on the South African eastern coastline in their hundreds to mate in the gullies and caverns of Aliwal Shoal. On a clear day, divers arriving at the site are able to see through 18 metres of translucent ocean to the reef below, a veiled promise of the wonders hidden beneath the hull. Upon descent, these secrets reveal themselves one by one, the golden streak of a trumpetfish moving leisurely over the reef, or the shimmer of a school of baitfish materialising out of the depths. A dark form silhouetted against the pale expanse of the site’s sand patch begins to take shape, the pointed snout, two sharp pectoral fins, and long, powerful tail of a ragged-tooth shark.
Maximum Depth: 18 metres
Minimum Qualification: Open Water Diver
At first, this shark suspended above the sand seems to be alone, but then, one more shark appears, then another and another. The cave is filled with them. They are magnificent, these sharks, with eyes like molten gold and liver-spotted skin that seems to refract the watery light. Their protruding, mismatched teeth are the stuff of Discovery Channel nightmares; and yet, they are docile, hanging motionlessly in the cave without showing any apparent interest in their unexpected visitors. In winter, you can spend as long with the raggies as the current allows. In summer most of the sharks depart for warmer birthing grounds north of Aliwal Shoal.
Raggies Cave is also frequently inhabited by a large potato bass, its skin mottled with alternating patches of silver and charcoal. The sand patch, which is out of bounds to divers during shark season, becomes an ideal classroom for students seeking to master new dive skills; and the perfect treasure trove for those in search of sharks’ teeth.
The reef around the sand patch and the overhang is also teaming with life, from well camourflaged scorpionfish to luminous schools of lemon-yellow bannerfish. This is one of the best dive sites for spotting turtles, from the ponderous green turtle to the delicate hawksbill. The sand itself provides much sought after cover for round ribbon-tail and leopard rays. Many divers also make the acquaintance of a resident honeycomb moray that spends its days in a nearby cavern, being attended upon by candy-striped boxer shrimp.