Diving in the Maldives

Whether scuba diving or freediving, the Maldives is an excellent location for avid fish-watchers.?? Sharks can be seen in abundance, without having to stage a feeding, and during monsoons where the plankton is in bloom, shoals of tuna, snapper, jacks and trevally can be seen in groups of 100 to 500 strong.?? After the effects of El Ni??o in 1998, the coral reefs have suffered drastically and coral bleaching aftermath is seen on most reefs.

However, divers are not to be discouraged as new corals are forming and plenty of soft corals can be seen, especially at Kuda Thila (30m) in North Male Atoll, and at Helengeli Thila (east of North Male Atoll), one can enjoy the thrill of a strong drift dive combined with canyons lapping up soft corals and the play of active white tip sharks.?? At new moon and full moon tides, only divers with experience in strong currents should attempt this dive.

Whether snorkelling or diving many different species of fish can be seen, and on some dive sites 150 species can be spotted on one single 60 minute dive.

The maximum depth allowed for diving is 30m (100ft), stipulated by Maldivian law.?? Spearfishing and shark feeding is prohibited and there are certain items that are prohibited to be removed from the country, including turtle shells, all kind of shells, dolphins, manta ray and whales.?? Dolphins can often be seen and divers travelling across the big channels on safari boats, often see pilot whales.

Drift diving is the main feature of diving in the Maldives; currents can be up to (roughly) 5 knots on normal dive sites due to the small areas between channels.?? There are some extremely long reefs (farus) and also earth mounts (thilas), which flourish with featherstars, turtles, groupers, octopus, nudibranch. Visibilty can range from 15m to 50m, depending on the season and monsoon.

The Napoleon wrasse population is good, also due to the stoppage by public protest to the Maldivian government of their capture and sale to the Far East!

Famous wrecks in the Maldives are the Halaveli, and the Maldive Victory.?? The currents around the Maldive Victory can be treacherous but there are already descent/ascent lines fixed for easy access (also makes it a load of fun!)

The Maldive Victory was driven into the reef on Friday 13th 1981, by an inebriated boat captain. The wreck is fairly intact, is approximately 88m long with the hull lying at 37m.?? With good visibility you can still see the anchor lying in front of the bow on the sandy floor.?? Penetration of the wheelhouse is fairly easy for divers with wreck experience, but a local guide is recommended.?? The marine life is incredible.?? When the current is strong huge shoals of fusiliers appear, at one time there must have been 2000 of them, yellow margin triggerfish fiercely protecting their selected cabins, small schools of darts also appear amongst the party and very often juvenile tunas. On the wreck itside are corals, huge Kubary Nembrotha nudibranch on the top deck, scorpionfish, and marvellous honeycomb and scoop spinned oysters glaring at the divers as they drift past.

To access the wreck the diving dhoni (boat) will anchor to a buoy already fixed to the wreck.?? The descent line is attached to the mast closest to the stern, and from there on you go down, often clinging to the mast to avoid being swept away by the current. Once inside or close to the wreck you can manoeveur around it quite easily.

After diving the Victory often a brilliant choice of dive site would be Banana Reef, famous for its variety of marine life. One can see honeycomb moray eels, schools of bannerfish of up to 500 strong, mantis shrimps (which are quite common in the southern part of North Male Atoll) and turtles. It is an excellent site for conducting a Fish ID or Naturalist course.

In Rasdhu atoll, at Madivaru dive site, scalloped hammerheads are common and it is best to view them at 6.00am, and usually at 30m.?? Numbers can range, I only saw 3 when I went, but recorded sightings go up to groups of 50.?? Ari Beach resort has whale sharks visiting almost all year round, especially around Maamagili corner.

To visit various dive sites in the Maldives I would recommend going on a safari boat trip, as they tend to visit about 4 different atolls and also will take divers to see local islands to see how the Maldivians live (quite different to the capital and the resorts!) See www.maldivescruise.com for the Discovery 1 (extremely comfortable and luxury), and for the more adventurous diver looking for budget try the Rani, Blue Shark, or Nasura Ali safari boats.

The Maldivians are friendly, smile a lot, and are very proud people.?? Do not treat them badly, they are very accustomed to foreigners and in spite of being so far from "civilization", they have close contact with the western as most people have satellite television at home.?? Treat the Maldivians and their beautiful country with respect and kindess and you will certainly have a friend for life.

Location and language

The Maldives, location south-west tip of India, cover a vast area of the west Indian Ocean from 7??6’30"N to just south of the equator.?? They are made up of 26 atolls, composing 1190 islands. The Darwin theory proposes that atolls of the Maldives developed as mountain ranges gradually sank into the sea, or as the level of the oceans rose. The borders, or reefs surrounding these mountains built up and became more distant from the centre of the range, hence leaving a ring reef formations enclosing a lagoon; definitely?? an idyllic setting for paradise.. Reef building corals formed and can be viewed clearing in the above photo of a typical reef formation with a lagoon. The atolls form part of the Laccadives-Chagos Ridge, forming islands with channels in between. The deepest channel, Huvadhoo, reaches 2000m, which is also the largest of the atolls. ??

The stretch for about 820 km from North to South, 130 km at the widest point and do not exceed a length of 4.5 miles or an altitude of 6 feet above sea level. is two miles long and one mile wide..

The national language of Maldives is Dhivehi , a language with roots in old South Asian languages, mixed with Arabic, Hindi and English words.

The Maldives is strictly an Islamic country but alcohol is served on tourist islands. Topless bathing or nudity is against the law, and one should dress prudently when visiting the capital city, Mal??.??

How to get there

If you’re living in the United States or Canada it is a considerably long journey.?? I had the opportunity to spend some time on the Discovery 1 safari boat, which does target the USA market.?? (www.madlivescruise.com)

Divers were flying via Hong Kong and the travel time is long, however, a 10-12 day holiday is highly recommended. If you have the holiday time, a combination with a stop over in Hong Kong or Singapore would break the travel time a little.??

If you are flying from Europe, various charter flights operate from major cities during summer months, and scheduled flights run 3 to 4 times a week. (Emirates Airlines, Sri Lankan airlines, Austrian Airlines).

The major tour operators from the UK are Kuoni and Hayes and Jarvis, also I have seen some good offers on lastminute.com.?? Flights usually stopover in Dubai (good duty free shopping) or Bahrain.

Shopping in Male airport duty free is also quite cheap, especially for purchasing diving gear as they ship it in from Singapore.

In Mal??, capital city of Maldives, there are many tourist shops, although virtually none of the goods are manufactured in the Maldives!?? Shark jaws and shells are for sale, these are all imported as their capture and sale from Maldivian waters is strictly prohibited. Tour operators ask divers to refrain from purchasing these items so as not to support the killing of sharks for strange home decoration purposes, and also to support the protection of the marine environment.