A bit of fun that reminded me of nearly every resort buffet we’ve been to in the Maldives…
Q: What are those things swimming around the reef?
Q: Buzzzz…there’s actually no such thing as a fish.
That’s the conclusion of eminent natural historian Steve J. Gould (small world coincidence – Lori sang in the same choir as him years ago). There are all sorts of creatures dubbed “fish” and yet they all exist on all different branches of the species taxonomy – jellyfish, cuttlefish, crayfish, shellfish starfish. There is no one Order or Genus that contains all or even the vast majority of species that people popularly refer to a “fish”. As a Telegraph piece describes: “Unlike mammals and birds, not all the creatures we call fish today descend from the same common ancestor. Or put another way, if we go back to most recent common ancestor of everything we now call fish (including the incredibly primitive lungfish and hagfish), we find that they also were the ancestor of all four-legged land vertebrates, which obviously aren’t fish at all.” (at least in the Maldives you can be pretty sure that the “fish” you are dining on is actually the fish they say you are eating which is not always the case elsewhere).
On a similar note, Bird and Moon flippantly points out another aquatic “Animal With a Misleading Name” – the Peacock Mantis Shrimp. They look like a walking lobster tail where the claws and long legs have been removed (but they’re not even Lobsters either). Mantis Shrimp are their own distinct order of “Stomatopods” (which falls under the Subphylum of Crustaceans). But their mendacious moniker isn’t the only curiosity of this colourful creature. In fact, the Oatmeal, illustrated a complete portrait of the bizarre life of the mantis shrimp (“my new favourite animal”) with such factoids as and they can move their limbs so quickly they can supercavitate the water (like boiling it), they can accelerate as fast as a bullet, their limbs are so resilient that the cell structure has been studied for the development of combat body armour, they can’t be kept in aquariums because they tend to break the aquarium’s glass.
Per ritual, we checked the weather.com forecast for the Maldives the week before we departed. We tend to visit in July and pretty much the standard forecast is “Thunderstorms” EVERY day. But this time, several of the days showed the graphic above – pretty much a perfect depiction of Maldives weather in July. It combines in a single JPEG rain, cloud, thunder, sun. It’s basically the meteorological equivalent of saying “hell if we have a clue?!?”
One would think this profusion of thunderstorm forecasts would spark trepidation for our keenly anticipated trip to the tropical sun. It certainly does for a number of TripAdvisor Maldives Forum posters who fear their trip of a lifetime is going to be spoiled when they see these predictions. But, as I have described numerous times, you have to know how to interpret these forecasts.
When it says “Thunderstorms”, it doesn’t mean that thunder and lightning will be raining down on you from dawn till dusk. In fact, in many cases, the predicted storms hit at night when you are tucked comfily in your cozy villa and when you wake the sun is breaking through the clouds to dry up the puddles littering the sand-scape. The thing is that most of these storms come in quite isolated “little black rain clouds” (as Winnie the Pooh would say). Sometimes we entertain ourselves sipping cocktails and watching these storms approach our island and placing bets as to if it will hit us. It gets closer and closer with the sheets of rain becoming more and more visible. Sometimes it just bypasses us completely. Other times, it hits us full on and we scamper for cover while it passes over for a few minutes.
The video below is a classic example of one of these isolated “showers” we filmed at Faarufushi. We had just emerged from snorkelling (so a bit damp already) and the heavens just opened up on us. Strangely, the day was quite sunny and when you looked all around you saw plenty of blue sky. It’s just that one particularly sodden cloud decided to dump its precipitation on us then and there.
As I was flying amidst these mid-summer clouds themselves, I perused the Trans Maldivian Airways Magazine “Island Skies” piece from Eleonora Fiorini titled “It’s Always the Right Time to Visit the Maldives”. He starts off noting himself “Bruno’s father used to visit the Maldives islands every year for a month in July, and every time, he never had more than just a handful of consecutive days of rain.” The article goes on to look at Bruno’s meteorological study of the area explaining why Maldives weather is “basically nice all year round”. ]
First of all he noted that the Maldivian weather is, by definition, unstable saying “The climate at the Equator is like a boiling pot, and you have to guess where the next bubble will come up” (and micro”storms” like the shower in the video below is a perfect example of a little bubble of weather).
- Constant Low Atmospheric Pressure – “first index of weather instability”
- Surrounded by Hot Water and Humidity – “it is enough that the atmospheric pressure drops slightly for the air around to raise enormous quantities of moisture from the ocean, dragging them into the atmosphere where they quickly condense generating clouds and downpours in a short time.”
But what the equatorial conditions do to volatility, they also do to moderation:
- No Coriolis Effect – “…Which allows huge amounts of energy to be stored in the atmosphere, no hurricane can occur in the Maldives, and bad weather doesn’t last long.”
- Low Moisture Accumulation – “The atmosphere is not able to accumulate amounts of energy so the bad weather episodes cannot last weeks as in other parts of the world.”
- Highly Localisation – “If it is raining on our island, chances are that the sun shines brightly on a island located two sand banks south
…and you will find them in amongst the vibrant and varied marine life of the Maldives! Snorkeling and diving has long been one of the great appeals to this aquatic wonderland. Triggerfish, reef sharks and wrasses are ubiquitous, but some species are much more elusive. After 20 years of visiting the Maldives staying at over 90 resorts, we have yet to see a whale shark. Mind you, I would be just as happy if I spotted one of these rare creatures in my underwater meanderings…
- ZEBRA BAT FISH – Swimming in schools, their stripes confuse the predatory Lion Fish (above).
- LACCADIVE CROCODILE – Distant relative to the African variety thought to have migrated from Madagascar (below).
- SEA-REX – A living fossil as ancient as the Megalodons that prowled these waters millions of years ago (bottom).
The octopus’ abilities seem downright otherworldly. In fact, a number of scientists writing in the Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology have proposed literally that octopuses come from another planet through a process called “panspermia” where “microbes, viruses and even tiny life forms like the tardigrade might travel dormant from space rock to space rock via collisions, eventually making their way to new planets” (though the consensus in the marine biology community is that such a conjecture is “fanciful”).
But sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and the actual mechanism for many of the octopus’ extraordinary capabilities has to do with maybe its strangest trick of all – changing its own genetic material. Scientific American’s article “Curiouser and Curiouser–Octopus’s Evolution Is Even Stranger Than Thought” described the bizarre genetic sleight of hand of the octopus…
- “These aquarium oddities can modify the proteins found in their bodies without having to change the basic sequence of their DNA blueprint…The new paper reports on a process called ‘RNA editing,’ which involves enzymes swapping out one RNA base (or nitrogen-based “letter” in the RNA/DNA alphabet) for another, presumably in the interest of an organism adapting to its environment. RNA editing is rarely employed in most animals…’No one knows why cephalopods are so keen on RNA editing. Perhaps it is a faster, easier way to adapt to their environment than waiting for a random mutation to occur. Or maybe it better suits their relatively short life spans. Cephalopods grow up fast and die young . Most live only for a few years and they only breed once. Ragsdale feels RNA editing may help them navigate what are often lonesome, fleeting lives. ‘This may explain why they’re such good problem solvers. No one’s around to show them how to figure out the world!’ Ragsdale says, ‘How to make their dens. How to camouflage themselves and attack prey. They’re on their own, and fortunately for them they have big brains and can sort matters out’.”
For a stunning example of self-camouflage, beyond the colour and even texture changing trickery of their skin, check out Blue Planet’s piece on their sub-aquatic sartorial skills…
The octopus’ Cephalopod cousin, the cuttlefish, is no less intriguing. Itself a clever chappie, they have one of the highest proportions of brain size to body size of all invertebrates. But all the more crazy is that the brain itself is shaped like a donut (a bit of a messed up donut) and the esophagus passes straight through the hole. They must really get serious brain freeze when they eat ice cream too fast!
- Q: What colour is the blood of an octopus?
- A: Red?
- Q: Buzzzz…no blue.
- Q: How many hearts does an octopus have?
- A: Ah, you said “hearts” so it must be 2!
- Q: Buzzzz…no, they actually have 3.
- Q: What does the octopus have 8 of that as inspired technological innovations?
- A: Legs?
- Q: Buzzz…8 layers of films that make up their cornea – used in camera technology to reduce the number of lens so reducing costs of cameras
- Q: Give me an incorrect version of the plural for “octopus”.
- A: “Octopuses”?
- Q: Buzzzz. Actually “octopuses” is perfectly acceptable English. You can also refer to them as “octopedes”
Octopus Day today. One of our favourite things to see underwater. And yet so elusive. We never see enough of them (although we did have fun encounter on the Olhuveli house reef this summer with the creature in question playing hide-and-seek with us changing his skin texture and colour with every new hiding place her moved to).
If you think the fun facts above are intriguing (thanks Isley), you ain’t seen nothing until you read about the Pillow Octopus…
- Female pillow octopus is 40,000 times larger than the male. Equivalent of a male human dating a woman 4 times larger than the Statue of Liberty
- For a male pillow octopus to “pull one off” is actually more literal than colloquial. Hectocautilus – arm that contains sperm. Gets broken off and then they die within a year. Only reproduce once. (Female dies after reproducing too)
- Pillow Octopus are known to rip of tentacles of a portugese man-o-war (built up resistance to poison) and use them as swords. Some octopuses have learned to open jars (where their food was kept)
Octopi are clever creatures. They have personality and have been observed playing, problem solving, learning. In fact, some octopus use coconut shell halves as a portable home (see photo at top).
Octopus’s garden in the sea is a curious place indeed.
Q: What living thing is most likely to kill you in the Maldives?
A: A shark?
Q: Buzzzz! Actually, there are not recorded incidents of shark attacks at all in the Maldives.
The real answer is likely to be the innocent coconut. And today being Coconut Day is an appropriate time to investigate the treacherous hazards of the humble coconut. Exhibit A is the ABC News article “Coconuts Called Deadlier Than Sharks”…
- “George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Fla…pointed to recent data that suggested people were 15 times more likely to be killed by falling coconuts than by a shark. “
As it turns out, many resorts have staff who regularly harvest coconuts from the trees. I always thought that this was to get refreshing treats for the guests, but speaking to a manager this past trip I found out that their primary motivation is to reduce the risk of ripe ones falling and hitting guests.
Few places on Earth are more sensitive to and investing proportionately more into preserving the oceans than the country that is comprised of 99.87% ocean. The resort contribute their bit with a number of eco-sustainability projects and the luxury properties now almost all have on staff marine biologists who support their preservation initiatives as well as provide advice to the management and education to the guests.
I have met and correspond with many of the Marine Biologists in the Maldives, but I only recently encountered Caterina Fattori by stumbling across her Instagram feed. Based at Outrigger Konotta, she has captured a striking collection of close up coral shots with that “patterned tapestry” feel that I posted on a few times (see Bubble Anemone picture at bottom). I’m going to feature a special online exhibition of her finest piece in tomorrow’s post, but today, in honor of tomorrow’s World Oceans Day, I thought I’d introduce this expert on the front lines of sustaining the sumptuous ocean all us Maldives aficionados adore…
- Where did you grow up?
I come from Italy and I grow up in a small village in the North East, 50 km from Verona. During my academic studies, I moved a bit around Italy. In fact, I had the wonderful opportunity to live for a while in Padua, Ancona and Venice. Actually many people asked me, how a girl from the “countryside” loves the sea so much? Since I was kid with my parents I spent my summer holidays in some towns at the seaside, but I was scared of the water. After some swimming courses and a better confidence with the water, my parents bought mask and snorkel and was the best thing ever. Having the possibility to spend time admiring the underwater world was (and is still) something indescribable!
- Where did you study marine biology?
My bachelor degree in Biology curriculum Marine I completed in Padua and Chioggia (Venice). Then, I moved in Ancona, central area of Italy, for my Masters, where I stayed for 1 year and half, before to move again for my final research, to Venice.
- What you do your final research project on?
My final research project was about Microbes associated with tropical stony corals, focusing on biodiversity and potential pathogens. For me was the second time to analyze an aspect regarding coral reefs, although until that time I hadn’t visited any of those ecosystems. In fact, for my Bachelor degree I analyzed the coral bleaching, only on “literature level”. For the Master Degree, I analyzed some coral frags from Sulawesi, Indonesia and the potential role of virus and bacteria associated to white syndrome. For me, was really challenging because was a new field for the marine microbiology and to be honest was not so easy find out the potential pathogens. The best part of this was the possibility to spend time at the microscope. The microbiology is my obsession, because you have to focus to what you cannot see at naked eye.
- How did you find yourself in the Maldives
- I’ve been here in Konotta since September 2015, first experience as Marine Biologist. At the beginning, when one of my friend that was working in Ari Atoll told me about the opportunity to come and work in Maldives, I couldn’t believe it! Because many times I tried to reach this paradise, but without any success. After sending my CV to Best Dives Maldives, I received an email asking me to have an interview. I was so excited and in the same time scared about their proposal: leading a coral restoration project. In less than one month, I packed my bag to reach the South of Maldives, where I’m still working. In Konotta, working in a diving center and look after the coral project is the best option I could have, join to of my passion: Corals and diving, and sometimes have also the opportunity to guide some excursions. Sometimes live and work in a small reality is hard, but I can always find something to do not get bored. Many friends said to me that I cannot complain about my condition and it’s true, I live in the middle of the Indian Ocean, in a small tropical island, where I can work without considering this a job, because I really love what I’m doing despite any difficulties!
- What camera and light rig did you use to take these pictures?
I describe myself a beginner (neophyte) for the underwater photography, because for me is like a game, I’m not using any sophisticated gear and I have been using an underwater camera for only one year. I used to use a Canon D30, I floated a month ago and I’m now looking to buy something else. For me that camera was enough, is really simple and easy to use, without any flash or light system. It is pure fun, grab my camera and just snap some pics here and there, especially when I’m going diving for coral monitoring in the House reef, here in Konotta or during some boat dives.
- Where were they taken (which dive sites, if you remember)?
Almost all of these pictures I took in Konotta House Reef, while two from the selection were taken in Bali (Nusa Penida and Ahmed).
- What inspired you to take such close up shots?
I think is something link to my personality, actually I’m little bit stubborn, a “perfection fanatic” and details obsess. So normally, when I’m going diving or snorkeling with my camera, I’m trying to concentrate in the things that are different or that catch more my attention also on ordinary subjects. I mean every time I’m in the water, for me is something magic, although can be 1000 times I’m doing the same snorkeling path, I will always find something different or new. The nature is so amazing and especially while snorkeling, you have the time to appreciate more the details, the colors, behaviors, etc, features that can be captured also in a shoot. My favorite subjects for the close up are the corals, is such astonish the way they deposit the skeleton, the patterns that can create Lobophyllia, Symphillia, Platygyra, Leptoseries etc., is simply WOW! Probably all this started, for the coral restoration project I’m looking after here in Konotta. Every month, I have to take pics and measurements of the coral frags on the different frames. Another fact that probably made me more focusing/obsessing on the close up was the bleaching event. During those months I was continuously looking for recovery’ signs or during the day time I was looking at the stressed polyps while feeding. Taking close up, I’m not doing only for me, but with my diving center where we are offering to our guests underwater photo shooting. In these dives, normally you need to pay particular attention to the guests, because they want to have as many memories of their underwater experience, but for me it is sometimes a kind of treasure hunt. I’ll leave the group for a while just to find something different or particulars that guests cannot see while too concentrate in other things.
- What were some of the difficult parts of taking such shots?
For the static/sessile organisms is not so hard job, just concentration, adjust white balance, buoyancy and be sure that the light is good for the shoot. For the pics of animal that are moving, there yes, you have to be really patient (I’m not so patient and sometimes I give up). For example with the clownfish, that normally are shy, you have to give them the time to recognize you and approach you. Sometimes is not possible to spend so much time on one subject.. In many cases, it happened that once in my room I recognized or discovered some details, color, features that during the shooting I hadn’t noticed. In every shoot I try to find out something good, maybe is not perfect but the nature is too amazing that sometimes also in the imperfections you can find out something awesome!
- What has been your favourite sighting underwater in the Maldives?
Despite the most common sightings of Maldives, I haven’t yet seen any whale sharks and manta rays in one year and half I’m working in Gaafu atoll. Anyway, I’m not upset about this, although I would love to see them. For me, underwater is all gorgeous. I don’t have only one. I still remember the emotion when I discover some sexy shrimps (Thor amboinensis) in the House reef, or the thrill when I jumped with my colleagues in a dive site close by Konotta and we spend our dive time with 14 grey reef sharks. Probably the most unique and touching moment is always when I can spot my favorite fish, the harlequin filefish, once I could spotted a baby one and it’s was absolutely cute! (they are also the most challenging subject for me to take a picture).
When I first launched Maldives Complete, I added a blog onto it almost as an afterthought. Working in the tech industry, blogging had become a quite popular information sharing tool and other forms of social media hadn’t really hit the mainstream. People appreciated the resort database, but many didn’t even know what a blog was. Now nearly a decade later, the world is awash with bloggers and micro-bloggers (the technical term for status posting on platforms like Twitter and Facebook is “micro-blogging”). Maldives resort marketing managers tell me they get dozens of requests every week from this swarm of self-proclaimed “travel bloggers” wanting to visit their resorts. Most are glorified “gap ya’s” or “daddy’s credit card” serving up the same old lifestyle porn. Pictures of sunsets and lagoons with carbon copy post copy gushing over the palm trees and pina coladas.
So I have a special appreciation for the authentic bloggers who actually know something about their subject and share it generously and expertly. Still surprisingly few such sites for Maldives resorts, but one I stumbled upon is Linda Lundmark’s MaldivesBug site. Linda is a self-confessed “atoll addict” (like me) who has been visiting these islands in paradise since 1999. Her blog is a strong blend of writing, photos and videos. She hails from the chilly Nordic and so offers an especially appreciate perspective on fun in the sun (from a home which doesn’t see as much sun half the year)
Linda kindly shared a bit of her nearly two decades of experience with Maldives Complete for this exclusive interview. Today being National Day in Sweden seemed like an appropriate time to post it…
- How many Maldives resorts have you visited?
About 40 resorts so far. And counting…… 😉
- When did you first visit the Maldives?
In February 1999.
- What was the first island you visited?
Kuredu. Loved it! It is a shock coming to the Maldives for the first time, I still get chills every time I land on Hulhule, but the colours, the sounds, the lush foilage, the people, the reefs, I simply could not believe such a Ppace existed. Not IRL.
- What inspired you to take your first trip?
It was kind of a coincidence, as we were supposed to go to Thailand for 3 weeks in March, but my husband suddenly could not go due to work. On a short notice I dug out a last minute trip to the Maldives with Fritidsresor (Swedish branch of TUI). I have never looked back since.
- What are the biggest change in the Maldives you have noticed since you have been travelling there?
The luxury race. In 1999 Komandoo and Filitheyo were actually considered “high-end”. These resorts are still absolutely wonderful, but it does say something about the development. My first time on Kuredu I had no warm water in the shower and no AC, just a ceiling fan (noisy). Still, I thought it rather lush…Nowadays the luxury is beyond anything you can imagine and the cost has spiraled. I am slightly worried about that, but at the same time I understand why. If you have such tiny islands you have to get well payed/bed to have a sound business.
- Which resort is the one most popular with the Swedish market?
So far it has been Kuredu, our big charter companies all sell trips there. But people are spreading out all over the Maldives to a greater extent nowadays, not least because of the Internet, making it possible to book yourself and do much more research.
- There is no such thing as a “best resort”, but do you have any pet superlatives (eg. best dish, best piece of décor, best service)?
I am constantly surprised that the resorts can be so different from each other. They are all lovely, it is just a question of finding the resort that fits your needs and expectations. That is where I come in. Good advice.
- How many Maldives resorts have you visited?
for beginners is a great choice! Just make sure to stay on the south beach (jetty side) in O resort or Sangu resort. You can be very active or completely relaxed on Kuredu. Fantastic for divers!
- Baros for best service. I LOVE Baros. It is like staying at your friend’s house. Very personal but never intruding.
- Komandoo is amazing value if you want a couples holiday, no kids on the Island, fab house reef and really good food.
- Huvafen Fushi blew me away too, but that is not quite as…cost effective. 😉
- Kandolhu in Ari atoll was a wonderful tiny surprise! Must be the prettiest resort Island anywhere.
- Anything you think would be great for a resort to have or offer, but you haven’t come across it yet?
Well… I cannot imagine being more clever than all the competent people working there but… I do Think that the system with seaplane transfers does create a bit of irritation at times when guests get sent to Male at noon and then have to wait in the heat until their Emirates flight at 23.55….not a great last memory of the Maldives. Hopefully this can be improved. Longer transfers are becoming more and more common due to more resorts being remote. I have been both far south and north and the domestic flight worked perfectly. Just time it to your international one.
- Any advice for resort managers?
Keep it up! You are doing a WONDERFUL job!