Best of the Maldives: Deep Dive – Alimatha

Tim Godfrey Alimatha

April is the heart of cherry blossom season around the world from Japan to Washington DC. And in the Maldives, you can see “cherry blossoms” both all year round and underwater (like so many Maldivian marvels). Specifically, at the Fotteyo dive site near Alimatha resort. Maldives dive author Tim Godfrey reckons it is the best deep dive in the Maldives…

“For deepest dives in the book, I’d suggest Fotteyo for the steep walls and caves, Rakeedhoo for the deeper step terraces and Rasfari for the deeper outer reef and steep outside wall.”

In line with its snorkelling paradise fame, the Maldives is mostly distinguished by its shallow dives. This makes it a great place for beginners. In the Maldives, dives are typically 15-18 metres. By contrast, in North Carolina seaside (where we often vacation visiting Lori’s family), the wreck and megalodon dives go 30-40 metres. Fotteyo is more of a North Carolina scale dive as Tim describes in his book Dive Maldives…

“An excellent dive regarded by many divers as the best dive site in the Maldives. It is a photographers’ paradise and a mecca for marine biologists. This is a dive with many possibilities. The best diving is on the outside corner of Dhiggaru Falhu. Divers can start at a bend in the outside reef where there is a cave at about 30 meters with holes you can swim through. Around the bend near the entrance to the channel is a special place with many caves and overhangs. These caves have a thick covering of wavering soft coral in all colours. They look like blooming cherry blossoms in springtime. Most of the cherry caves are found between 25 and 40 metres.

 

Alimatha Fotteyo

Best of the Maldives: Free Diving – LUX* Maldives

LUX Maldives free diving

Free Diving!

No, not ‘free diving’ as in ‘free beer’. ‘Free’ as in unencumbered.

Despite all of the spectacular diving in the Maldives, it took me several years before I took up scuba diving myself. And that’s despite the fact that my wife started diving and loved it pretty quickly after we started visiting. My logic was that it seemed a lot of kafuffle and expense for not much extra benefit. I would be taking the kids snorkelling and set out the same time that my wife would head to the dive centre. We would be heading back in when Lori was just setting out for her dive having sorted out all of her equipment, etc. Then, when she returned and we united at lunchtime, she would recount her sightings of morays, sharks, turtles and so on. My response was that we saw all that same stuff snorkelling!

Eventually, I did get PADI certified and entered the undersea world more completely. The big bonus to diving versus snorkelling is that you could ‘be at their level’ (ie. the fishes’ level). With snorkelling, you are mostly looking down on things. Along these lines, diving allows you to peak under the many ledges and crevasses.

If you want to have your cake-and-eat-it-too combining unencumbered snorkelling with unlimited perspectives, then proper free diving is the key. Free diving teaches techniques in breath control, oxygen use and pressure equalisation.

LUX* Maldives is setting up a free diving facility. The Maldives has sponsored some Free Diving events, but this will be the first free diving as an on-going regular activity. Normally, I would hold off the post until such activity was live, but LUX* is already offering introductions to the discipline to guests. And the driver behind the initiative is none other than the resort’s own General Manager Dominik Ruhl. In fact, on our snorkel safari during our LUX* visit, Dominic joined in and demonstrated his free diving (see picture above). As noted, he was able to drop down quite deep to see things that the other snorkelers couldn’t. And with his breath-holding techniques, he was able to stay down a good amount of time enjoying the view before surfacing.

Best of the Maldives: SNUBA – Angsana Ihuru

Angsana Ihuru SNUBA

 

Another option for kids immersing themselves in another world, is the new SNUBA offering a Angsana Ihuru. Atoll Paradise reports

“Angsana Ihuru is the first resort in the Maldives to introduce the revolutionary SNUBA snorkel-dive cross-over. SNUBA allows you to dive down to up to 6 meters while breathing through a hose attached to a floating raft. Even small children can participate in this fun activity and SNUBA Doo on the surface with the help of a special floatation device, while their older siblings SNUBA dive down below…With an access to 30 diving sites less than an hour away from the resort, you can expect to see stingrays, scorpion fish, giant moray eels and myriads more of colorful marine life.”


SNUBA uba-doo!

Equalization Tips

Bruce Lynn diving Maldives
Something else that bothers me personally when I am in the Maldives, is equalising (the process of adjusting pressure in your sinuses whn scuba diving). With such world class snorkelling in the Maldives, it was some years after my wife started diving that I joined her in getting certified and one of the disincentives for me was general sinus issues which made for equalisation difficulties. For the 6 years I have been diving, these issues persist in irritating my dives, but over that time I have collected a range of tips from various divers and dive masters on how to alleviate the problem.

There are the classic tips that you learn when you get certified like…

  • Wiggle ear and jaw.
  • Hold nose and blow gently (I did find that a problem I had was trying to blow too firmly which both hurt my ears and wasted air).
  • Descend slowly.
  • Rise 2/10th metre when you start to feel discomfort.

Since taking the Scuba course, picked up the following added tips.

  • Snort salt water. Before descending, suck some ocean water up through your nose. It actually works a treat to open up the sinuses. It’s not far off the traditional remedy for throat problems of gargling with salt water. However, Claudio at Sea Dragon Diving with Maafushivaru informs me that in most places that is a good trick, but in the Maldives there are many micro-organisms in the water the practice can cause infection. If you like this approach and are concerned about this, then you could bring some pharmaceutical saline solution with you.
  • Sudafed. Or any non-drowsy cold decongestant. The scuba course will tell you not to take drugs for a number of good reasons (eg. they could have adverse side effect which is why you need to be careful to get non-drowsy ones, they could wear off and then problems could occur when you are in process of diving, they could mask serious issues or symptoms). In short, in the interest of absolute safety, the advice is that if you need any drugs to make diving comfortable, then you shouldn’t be diving. But, that advice is really geared toward people not well. If you are well, I have met a number of divers who do practice taking some Sudafed to assist the biological processes of opening up the sinuses and making equalisation easier.  Note, my friend and veteran diver Eileen Brown informs me that pseudoephedrine can causing fainting if you descend to 30 metres (rare in the Maldives).
  • Beconase (beclometasone). Same concept as Sudafed, but a different (and possibly more effective and immediate delivery mechanism).  Beconase (the OTC name) is a nasal spray that opens up the nasal passages.  It was recommended to me by my doctor for general draining of fluid from my ears after a cold.  I had had blocked ears for weeks, but after one puff of the spray, my ears started that distinctive ‘crackling’ sound of clearing.
  • Swim parallel above rest of group. Many times it just takes longer for the equalization to happen. The problem is that you feel that you need to descend to keep up with your group and it is the rushed descent that causes the discomfort. The divemaster at Lily Beach Nicole encouraged me to simply swim above the group, but keeping the group in view, and descend at my own pace (also, in addition to my buddy, she kept an extra eye out for me).
  • Relief, Not Release. Sometimes when you equalise, you get an incredibly satisfying squeak in your ears as the pressure finally squeezes through your ear channel to balance.  I used to make the mistake of trying too hard to equalise and pushing to hard to try to achieve this effect.  But this was the wrong approach.  Not only did I fail to achieve the release, but the pushing too hard meant that I probably aggravated my sinuses and wasted extra air in the process.  What I learned to do was the more gentle holding nose and puffing.  The objective was not to get the ‘release’, but simply to ‘relieve’ the pressure on the sinuses.  I soon realised that I could do the entire descent without the magic release, but I would avoid all discomfort by just gently working on keeping the pressure strong in my sinuses.
  • Turn Down the AC. Air conditioning dries the tissues in the ears, and then when you emerge into the nearly 100% tropic humidity, it expands the tissues which will tighten up the ear canals.
  • Push 2 Fingers Behind the Jaw.  Find the soft tissue just behind the end of the jaw bone and carefully push into the soft tissue.  It will feel a bit uncomfortable, but done properly with relax the tissue located there which can contribute to the tightening of the ear canals (courtesy of Thomas at Werner Lau, Medhufushi).
  • Vented Earplugs. These special type of earplugs can alleviate pressure on the ear drum.  Here is an article on them (thanks Stu and Nicki).
  • Olbas Pastilles. Any eucalyptus lozenge should do to open up the sinuses before a dive, but many melt in the heat, while Olbas brand don’t (another Eileen tip).
  • Vented Earplugs. These special type of earplugs can alleviate pressure on the ear drum.  Here is an article on them (thanks Stu and Nicki).).
  • One Side Head Tilt. If one ear is working but the other is blocked, then turn your head with blocked one toward the surface because the air is always going up and the pressured air from inside your head will go up to your blocked side to help equalise (thanks Marco Bongiovanni, Makunudu).
  • Surgery. A rather dramatic solution, but one that might be a practical resort especially if the problems are confirmed to be due do abnormalities in the sinus tissue like a deviated septum.  Such procedures are typically reserved for people with conditions like sleep apnea or recurring sinusitis, but it can be a appropriate and very helpful for individuals involved with diving.  Not a very common solution, but Patrick Spitz, Sea Explorer Diving, Reethi Faru noted that one of his staff was getting the operation due to her persistent issues from this cause (thanks Patrick).

Here are some more handy tips from Aquaview.

Best of the Maldives: Side Mount Diving – Vilamendhoo

Vilamendhoo side mount tank

Bruce, you might want to try this.” That’s how Lori greeted me when I met up with her after her dive at Vilamendhoo after seeing side mount diving for the first time.

Side mount diving has a number of advantages for certain situations. It is very popular with cave divers for whom the tank can get in the way of narrow passages. But also, the configuration more easily allows for double tanking for people who want very long dives. It can also be advantageous for divers with back problems especially maneuvering out of water.

The configuration requires special skills training both in the equipment and in diving itself. My wife Lori went on a dive with the Euro Divers dive master Hussein Ali who is a certified instructor in side mount. He teaches the PADI course offered there ($229 for course and $80 for certification) and the resort offers the equipment for guests interested in this unconventional approach

Tanks a lot!

Vilamendhoo side tank diving

Best of the Maldives: Fluro-Diving – Kuredu / Komandoo / Vakarufalhi

Kuredu Komandoo Vakarufalhi fluro-diving

For an even closer investigation into reef life, state-of-the-art ‘fluro-diving’ has come to the Maldives.

Night dives shed a whole new light (or lack thereof) on the undersea world. Night dives never had much appeal to me because it seems to defeat the purpose of ‘seeing’ the underwater world. I always figured I could turn off all the lights in my bathroom, fill the tub and breathe through my snorkel and get pretty close to the same experience. But my more advanced diving buddy, Lori, assures me that night dives are so much more. A whole new world reveals itself in the dark hours many of which have their own tantilising illumination which you can only appreciate in the pitch black.

The Prodivers team at Kuredu, Komandoo and Vakarufalhi have taken this night time spectacle a step further by introducing ‘Fluro-diving’ to the Maldives…

“The Prodivers team, always on the lookout for new diving experiences, have launched yet another spectacular and unique underwater adventure! To boost our divers’ enjoyment and appreciation of the reef, we’ve recently introduced fluoro-diving! After exploring the trippy phenomenon and discovering which sites around Kuredu are the best to be dived with the newly acquired NightSea fluoro-sets, the well-kept secret of fluorescence night diving is now available to our divers. Experienced divers, not afraid of spooky, low-light conditions, can now intensify their night diving and sneak peek at the reef to find crazy green bubble anemones, burning red feather stars, freaky blue shrimps, brightly red scorpion fish, green glowing brain and mushroom corals and glowing green lizard fish. Fluorescent diving has so far been revealed only by 6 dive centers in the world. The Prodivers team are overwhelmed by seeing the reef in a new light, and as there is so much more to discover – don’t hesitate to join us!”

The whole concept smacks of underwater Crime Scene Investigation. Perhaps they should do an episode of ’CSI: Maldives’.

CSI

Best of the Maldives: Diving – Nika

Gangehi region Ari diving - small

Question asked on Quora last week ‘Where are the best scuba diving sites in the Maldives?’

I turned to my two trusty Maldives diving resources…

Godfrey uses a 4-star rating system where only 4 dive sites out of the nearly 300 he reviewed got the top mark…

Harwood and Bryning are more liberal with their 5-star rating giving 14 dive sites the full marks out of a similar number reviewed.

To no surprise, one can start by looking at the Ari atoll. Three of Godfrey’s four tops are there as are 4 for Harwood and Bryning. The other atoll mentioned by Godfrey is Male and Harwood and Bryning cite 6 in Male atoll (North and South). But I’m weighting Godfrey more because he is being more selective with his top gradings. Furthermore, the Ari atoll has a generally distinctive reputation as being the top atoll for diving in the Maldives. It is the most renowned area for whale sharks in the plankton bloom seasons. Finally, the Male spots are quite spread out, but the two North Ari sites are both very close to each other which secures it.

Godfrey describes Miyaruga, “The landscape is stunning and divers can easily circle the reef in one dive if the current permits…Much of the thila is undercut with caves and the surface is coated in soft coral and colourful sponges.”

Actually, three resorts – Gangehi, Nika and Velidhu – lie close to both these resorts, but mathematically, Nika is the absolutely closest.

Disclaimer – Obviously, ‘the best’ diving is subjective at best. Do many variations of taste and interpretation. Also conditions will vary considerably season to season as well as day to day. A normally mundane area could come alive during certain periods and conditions. Furthermore, the grading system of stars is crude at best. Finally, a number of atoll where there are fewer resorts are not covered at all in these books. This post simply tries to distil some of the basic research and assessment that has been done on the Maldives to date.

Best of the Maldives: Caves – Helengeli

Trixies Caves

The Maldives are renowned for simple, easy, shallow dives. But for the advanced diving plenty of more technical dives abound. For example, there are over a dozen caves structures you can dive

And if you are interested in cave dives, I recommend Tim Godfrey’s book ‘Dive Maldives’ reviews 12 of the top cave dive sites in the Maldives. You might have put an alert for on Amazon since the book appears to be out of print and is increasingly hard to locate. All of his dive sites are graded on a 3-star scale and 4 of those 12 earn top marks – Lankan Caves, Maagiri Caves, Fulidhoo Cave and Velassaru Caves.

But the Mecca for cave diving in the Maldives has to be Helengeli as it has two of the top caves nearby- Trixies Caves and Fairytale Reef Blue Caves. Both receive 5-stars in Harwood & Bryning’s ‘Complete Guide to Diving and Snorkeling The Maldives’.

Best of the Maldives: Dive Site – Alimatha

Fotteyo Chart          Fotteyo 1

Maldives is one of the world’s leading diving destinations right up there with the Red Sea, Great Barrier Reef, Caymans, and Belize. But which is the top resort for diving among this top destination. Certainly a subject for much debate and hair-splitting. Picking out out a premier site over the 90,000 square kilometres of atolls would be a bit of a tall order.

TripAdvisor Forums have also discussed this topic and offer a range of other nominations with a particular fondness for the South Ari atoll. But the most prominent consensus pick appears to be ‘Fotteyo Kandu’ in the Felidhoo Atoll. Tim Godfrey’s book on the Maldives, ‘Dive Maldives’, describes in his full page review of the site (page 115) which includes the pictures featured here…

“An excellent dive regarded by many divers as the best site in the Maldives. It is a photographers’ paradise and a mecca for marine biologists. This is a dive with many possibilities.”

The dive travel site appropriately named ‘Maldives Dive Travel’ also anoints it #1in its own top 5 list with this compelling description…

“Many scuba divers consider Fotteyo Kandu to be the best Maldives dive site and it is also rated among the top 5 dive sites in the world. The mouth of the channel is exposed to the ocean and during north east monsoon when the currents are incoming, a good variety of fish species gather at the entrance to the channel.  Animals commonly spotted at Fotteyo Kandu include Gray Reef Shark patrolling the channel mouth, Jack and Tuna in the deeper water, schools of Midnight Snappers and Red Snapper form in huge groups. The wall features caves, overhangs and swim-thoughs at different depths. These caves and overhangs are filled with colourful yellow color like soft coral, deeper caves and overhangs are filled with huge bushes of black corals. The Thila in the middle of the channel entrance is the best place to do the safety stop.  A surface balloon is a must at Fotteyo Kandu.”

Two resorts are in the Felidhoo atoll for those seeking out Fotteyo, Dhiggiri and Alimatha, but Alimatha gets the nod because it about 4 kilometres closer to the site.

Fotteyo 2      Fotteyo 3

Best of the Maldives: House Reef Drop Off – Filitheyo

Filitheyo House Reef
One of the absolute joys of the Maldives is the snorkelling. There is plenty of debate in the diving community about the top dive spots in the world. The Maldives always ranks up in the elite top with the likes of the Great Barrier Reef, Cayman Islands and the Red Sea. There don’t seem to be as many ‘top’ lists or guides for ‘snorkeling’, but it would be hard to see how the Maldives could be bested for its clarity of water, comfort of water temperature, diversity and quantity of fish, and a range of other variables.

For a snorkelling neophyte, there is a sort of progression of steps one should take to build up to the main event…

  1. Sandy lagoon – Start in the white bottomed, impossibly shallow sandy lagoon. Look at the little sand gobies, garden eels, silvery goat fish ambling by, mini humbug damsels darting in and out of tiny crevasses, trigger fish munching on strewn bits of small coral croppings.
  2. House Reef – Proceed to the area of the island where the coral aggregates into an underwater sculpture garden teaming with ever more colourful and diverse fish from the classic surgeon fish, colourful wrasses, angel fish and parrot fish, perhaps a turtle or small reef shark will make an appearance.
  3. House Reef Drop-Off – But the big event to any snorkelling is the ‘drop off’. Where the depth goes from a few meters to virtual oblivion. As you swim along the precipice, it is the closest feeling to flying without being in the air that one can have. Out in this open water, the island reef is a massive canvas of aquatic colour. The bigger space affords room for schools of jacks, oriental sweet-lips and the occasional larger visitor like a Napoleon fish or a ray.

Once you visit the ‘drop off’, the rest of the snorkelling will seem rather tame though it will always have its comforts and charms.

The resort with the deepest drop off, according to Emu72 on TripAdvisor appears to be Filitheyo, “Filitheyo has the deepest drop off in the Maldives at 90m on the NE corner, and the reef remains in fairly good shape.”

I can personally attest to how great the Filitheyo house reef is and its drop off from personal experience with me pictured above here diving into its depths.