Best dive of my life. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. It was raining this morning so we cancelled our snorkel trip and went on a dive trip to Manta Point. Coincidentally, Manta Point was the last subject of this blog before my departure for Kurumba and so I was all geared up for brilliant possibilities.
We had been there the day before, but I didn’t get to see mantas. Both our son and I had some minor problems with our equipment and decided to come up relatively early. My wife Lori stayed down and saw several. The other dive group with us said they saw three baby mantas which the dive master found humorous (“most Mantas are very graceful moving smoothly, but these babies were a bit uncoordinated and were flapping much more erratically obviously trying to find their sea wings…most amusing.”).
So we decided to give it another go today and boy are we glad we did. About 15 minutes in, we rounded the corner and there coming straight at us was three of the most alien looking creatures you could ever see. It turned out to be a parade of large Mantas with some reaching 8 feet across. They turned and circled the coral outcropping which was one of their ‘cleaning stations’. Then for the next 15 minutes we just sat there while this group of majestic submarine airships floated, cavorted, did loops. They floated inches over our head. They seemed to be attracted to the air bubbles and I couldn’t help think that they liked how the bubbles felt on their freshly cleaned tummies. After all, this coral cropping was like a big Manta ‘spa’. Mantas come for miles around to have sucker fish clean their bodies. Maybe the scuba bubbles are a Jacuzzi-like bonus.
They are the most peaceful and seemingly happy creatures I have ever encountered in the wild. Outstanding!
The picture above is from a video taken by Kurumba photographer Mohamed Ibrahim (the diver at the right hand side of the screen at minute 1:09 is around my wife and diving buddy Lori).
Possibly one of the most placidly dramatic aquatic encounters in the Maldives is the graceful and commanding creature Manta Ray. Quite prevalent across most of the Maldives, we have seen them a number of times from shore. In fact, Conrad Hilton Rangali had a regular manta visitor who came every evening like clockwork to feed on the small sea life attracted by the lights of the dock. The resort guests would go down to watch the balletic display of this spaceship-like fish doing loop-the-loops underwater scooping up big mouthfuls (see picture below we snapped).
The YouTube clip above is from a National Geographic piece on Mantas in the Maldives which has great pictures and commentary. It provides good tips on ‘when’ to see Mantas (and other large pelagics like Whale Sharks). Unfortunately, the ‘best’ time for pelagics is the ‘worst’ time for weather, ie. the monsoon season. The seasonal rains spur the growth of the microscopic food on which these filter feeds feast.
The top spot for Mantas is the eponymous ‘Manta Point’ (see dive chart below) near The Haven resort. Tim Godfrey’s ‘Dive Maldives’ book describes,
“Manta Point has a world-wide reputation as being one of the most consistent sites for attracting large numbers of manta ray…In eight metres of water on the south east corner of Lanaknfinolhu reef are several large coral rocks which mark the point where mantas converge during the south-west monsoon season. Mantas have been photographed here as early as April and as late as December. These rocks are one giant cleaner station for the mantas. Blue-streak cleaner wrasse, Labroides dimidiatus, often working in pairs, can be observed swimming out to the hovering mantas to remove old skin and parasites. The mantas circle the rocks awaiting their turn to be cleaned and when finished they swim gracefully up and down the reef feeding on zooplankton in the shallow water.”
If you can’t make it to Manta Point, but still want to regale in a spectacular show of these majestic creatures in the Maldives, MaldivesComplete has the scoop that BBC2 will broadcast ‘Andrea: Queen of Mantas’ on Wednesday 11 November 8 pm (if you do not live in the UK, check out the BBC iPlayer website to see if and when the programme will be broadcast over the Internet which many of their shows are now).
“Andrea: Queen of the Mantas tracks student Andrea Marshall over the course of a year as she dives the Indian Ocean unlocking secrets about the manta ray – a balletic cousin to the shark, with ‘wings’ which can span 7 metres (20 ft) wide…[R]evelations in the film include…the first tv footage of around 150 mantas massing near the Maldives…[in conjunction with the show] an online campaign seeking better safeguards for sharks and mantas is being run by The Save Our Seas Foundation, a main sponsor of manta ray research in Mozambique and around the Maldives.”
Eeek a shark! One of the most prevalent sea creatures that you will encounter in the Maldives is the white-tipped reef shark. But for those who have gorged on too many Hollywood special effects, rest assured there is nothing to fear. In fact, one of the most prominent characteristics of these infamous fish is how skittish they are themselves. After a while of snorkelling and catching glimpses of them, you really start to want to see them closer and realise how apprehensive they are about getting anywhere near you.
The most prevalent are the bitty ones you see in the lagoons like the one our children Isley and Chase are admiring above. But they do grow up to several feet long, but those ones are just as harmless (in fact, the bigger they are, the bigger scaredy cats that they seem to be).
If you want to see as many of these popular and populous creatures, then the place to go is Maaya Thila, described at the ‘White Tip Reef Shark Capital of the Maldives’. While Maayafushi and Halaveli are nearby, the closest resort to this specially protected marine area is Bathala.
Tim Godfrey describes Maaya Thila in his book ‘Dive Maldives’…
“The smaller white-tips are the centre of attention, with dozens of them circling the reef. Maaya Thila is about 80 metres in diameter and can be easily circumnavigated in one dive – if the current is favourable – although it is not uncommon for divers to spend the entire dive in one area to digest the incredible diversity of marine life.”
One of the very first and most common questions to ask of any ‘Maldives Best Of’ selection is what is the ‘Best House Reef’.
Maldives is easily one of the world’s top dive areas up there with the Red Sea, the Great Barrier Reef, the Caribbean. But it really stands out for snorkelling. It’s topology of eroded atolls (check out Atoll Terms and Atoll Formation) provide endless shallow and protected areas for leisurely snorkelling as well as steeper reef walls for a different perspective.
The subject was raised on the premier travel review site, TripAdvisor – “Which are the Top 10 Best Resort Reefs?” – and the expert opinion for the top one is Kandoludhoo. The assessment comes from one of TripAdvisor’s top Maldive forum experts, ‘spammie’ with 1,946 posts on the Maldives to his credit. He writes…
“Kandoludhoo has been not been harmed in the ’98 el nino due to lucky currents. So while the other reefs have had to recover from severe coral bleaching, Kandoludhoo looks just like the Maldives used to. To my knowledge its the only actually intact reef in the Maldives. It’s generally considered the number 1 reef because of that. It’s full of huge table corals and just impressive. Also easily accessible. However, several of the other reefs are recovering nicely and are quickly catching up again.”
Given the omnipresent reefs that literally define the Maldives and the shallows around them, it is no surprise that the Maldives are littered with ship wrecks for divers to explore. But the best locale has to be ‘The Shipyard’ off Kuredu in the Faadhippolhu Atoll. It has not one, but two wrecks at the site including the ‘Skipjack II’ which has sunk vertically so that its bow is sticking out about the top of the water (see above). It is located on the east side of Felivaru Kandu with a depth from 1 to 30 metres.
From Tim Godfrey’s book on diving in the Maldives ‘Dive Maldives’…
“This ship was the mother ship for the Felivaru fish factory and spent some years permanently moored to the jetty at Felivaru. In 1985, it was decided that old Japanese ship was of no further use so it was stripped of anything of value and towed out to sea where it was to be scuttled. Kuredu Island Resort tried to purchase the ship for a new dive site, but the authorities decided against it. In the end, they got their shipwreck for no charge. While it was being towed out to sea, workers began cutting holes in the ship’s hull in preparation for sinking. However, the ship caught fire and because of the danger from chemicals and the fear of an explosion, it was cut loose…The second wreck was also in use at the fish factory and was scuttled at the same location. It too was in a vertical position until 1992 when a storm caused it to settle on the sea floor.”
Whales Sharks are a majestic and stirring sight on any diving privilege to see them, and in the Maldives they have a special folklore about them. The best place to see them in the Maldives, if not the world, is at the Dhidhdhoo Beryru Faru dive site (also one of the best wall dives in the Maldives) near Diva resort.
Tim Godfrey reports in his ‘Dive: Maldives’ book: “The whale shark, Rhincodon typus, is the largest of all fish reaching 15 metres in length. It is a plankton eater and harmless to humans. Divers fortunate enough to see one will find them curious and fearless, sometimes allowing divers to get close enough to feel their rough skin…In early times, whale sharks were caught by brave Maldivian fisherman who would swim with a rope into the mouth of the shark and out through the gills…The practice of swimming into the mouth of a whale shark was outlawed long ago. In one case, a fisherman from Addoo Atoll was sentenced to 80 strokes of the cane and banished to an island for risking his life by capturing whale sharks in this way.”
The Euro-Divers dive centre at Diva adds, “We are also 1 of the 2 locations world wide with all year round whale sharks. This is our other main attraction. These gentle giants can be found on our outside reefs. Juvenile whale sharks what we have here are between the 3 and 8 meters long.”
The resort Sun Island and Holiday Island are also relatively nearby to these sites.
My wife, our son Chase and I dove ‘Hammerhead Point’ when we visited Kuramathi Village a few years ago. You get up extremely early around 6:00 am and you go off the dive boat in the middle of the deep channel. You descend to 30 metres where you are still quite a ways off the bottom pretty much suspended in the middle of vast blueness. And you wait for the hammerheads.
Now no dive is a sure thing and Rasdhoo Divers are very open that the hammerheads can be hit or miss. So the three of us were just suspended there for the full 40 minutes of our dive trying not to be too bored. It was a bit reminiscent of that Family Guy bit where they go on vacation to Purgatory (minute 6:57). But my colleague Philippa went on the same dive and said that it was amazing seeing lots of these eerie, prehistoric looking creatures.
Snorkelling and diving in the Maldives spoils you for colourful scenery and sealife and one of the popular favourites are the sea turtle. Several resorts, like Filitheyo and Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, operate turtle hatcheries and nurseries.
We have always readily seen turtles while diving and snorkelling in the Maldives, so choosing a top spot for them would be difficult. But Microsoft colleague and fellow Maldives enthusiast Keith Miller reckons it has to be Kuredu. In particular, a dive site known as ‘Turtle Cave’ or ‘Turle Wall’ Keith estimates that on a bad day you see a dozen turtles and on a good day you can see as many as 40!