Maldives provides a wonderful and splendid diving experience due to its sandy and stunning beaches and crystal clear waters that allows you to explore the marvellous underwater world as well as its serene and soothing surroundings. Internationally known with more than 1,000 over coral islands, abundance of both large fish, reef fishes and spectacular coral reefs, it is indeed one of the best diving and holiday experience you can have and definitely a must-go in your bucket list, especially if you are a full fledge diver.
Best Time To Dive
Diving is possible all year round in Maldives with the water temperature constantly maintaining around 26°C to 29°C. It will, however, be highly recommended to dive during the period from November to May which offers excellent visibility ranging from 15 meters to as high as 40 meters. Visibility tends to be better in the East than the West during the Northeast monsoon. This is the period when the seas are the most calm and the weather is mostly sunny. The current will mostly run in from Northeast, bringing along a phenomenon call “upwelling” which carries a significant of quality plankton. This in turn, attracts the larger pelagic fishes especially near the entry of the kandu channels such as sharks, manta rays, napoleon fishes, etc. Reef sharks tend to gather in huge quantity at the eastern channel entrances whereas mantas are generally drawn towards the western sides where plankton flows out of the channels unto open waters.
From June to October after the monsoon ends, the currents changes to flow towards the southwest direction. During the raining season in June & July, the average rainfall is about 3 to 4 hours per day. The raining season during this period will also result in the seas being more stormy with stronger currents. During this time, the underwater marine activities are more active in the western region of Maldives. It is also a fairly good time to catch manta rays from August to November especially in the Hanifaru Bay marine reserve. Should you be interested to spot sharks, raining season is the best time to head south by liveaboard as it is a shark season. The deep south temperature can go down as low as 24°C during this season. Visibility tends to be better in the West than the East during the southwest monsoon.
What Can You Expect To See?
You will be amazed to know that Maldives house approximately 1,100 fish species and more than 80 varietis of echinoderms such as manta rays, and reef sharks. Be fascinated by sights of colourful and pristine, both hard and soft sea coral reefs in various varieties like the sea fans, carnation, whip, staghorn, brain, cup tree, bubble corals and sea pens. The average depth of the seas is around 15 to 30 meters, hence it is recommended to have Advanced Open Water certification if you are planning to dive in Maldives.
Some of the large pelagic species you can expect to see are the whale sharks, turtles, manta, hammerhead sharks. During the Southwest monsoon seasons, manta rays are prominently spotted in large numbers. Non seasonal factors such as the tides will determine the sightings as well. Generally whale sharks are sighted more frequently during high tides while hammerheads tend to ascend to shallower waters during the early morning sunrise.
At Hanifaru Bay, you will be able to sight hundreds of manta rays and some whale sharks towards the eastern side of Baa where there are a significant accumulation of planktons. You might wish to note that this area has been declared as a protected marine reserve and only snorkeling is permitted up to 60 pax at any given time.
Highlights of Maldives
The 2 main highlights in Maldives dive sites are the current swept channels and the pinnacles. Within the channels, there are caves, overhangs and caverns to explore. Discover the proliferation of colourful hard and soft corals, brimmin with vibrant invertebrates and gorgonian fans. Here, you will catch hold of cleaning stations such as cleaning wrasses and shrimps cleaning the larger marine creatures.
You will discover rock pinnacles that bow up near to the surface within the atoll lagoons. These rock formations allows the water to ascend and creating an abundance of reef fishes and crustaceans alike while maintaining its marine life form of beautiful soft corals and sea sponges.
Marine Life of Maldives
The largest population of manta rays in the world can be found in Maldives with an estimated 5000 to 7000 species. You can see manta rays in any atoll almost everyday, especially during the monsoon. The clearing station where large number of manta rays can be seen is near Paradise Island Resort, next to the capital Malé. Some of the ideal locations to catch sight of manta rays are Ari, Addu, North Male, Haa Alifu and Haa Daalu, and Baa Atoll.
Various species of sharks such as the nurse shark, gray reef shark, hammerhead shark, white tip shark, thresher shark and tiger sharks may be seen in Maldives. Most shark activities occur in the Kandu channels. More than 200 types of whale sharks are regularly seen and identified according to the data by provided by Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme. Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) average size ranges from 6 to 8 meters. They are usually sighted towards the south of Ari Atoll and Addu City Atoll. Hammerhead sharks are harder to spot as they will appear before sunrise in the deepest part of the oceans. Hammerhead sharks have reportedly been seen are near the Rasdhoo dive site. Alimatha Jetty, Vaavu Atoll is an extremely popular night diving site to see plenty of nurse sharks. These sharks will swim so close to you that you can even touch them at arms length.
In Maldives, some of the best channels for sighting with reef sharks are at - Lhaviyani, North and South Male, Laamu, Vaavu, Meemu, and Gaafu as the channels elsewhere may be too deep to dive. The best sites for sighting whale sharks are probably the Ari Atoll, Gaafu and Thaa atolls towards the south. For hammerheads, you can dive at the Fotteyo Kandu at Vaavu Atoll or the Rasdhoo Atoll in North Ari. Thresher sharks and tiger sharks could also be found at Foahmulah Island almost all year round.
There is a significant number of eagle rays, mobula rays, and sting rays especially near Hulhumale and Sheraton Full Moon. There are more than 600 species of fishes in Maldives. Some of the less common marine fishes such as Ghost pipefish, harlequin rasbora leaf fish, frog fish, and halimeda hide can also be seen here as well. You will be thronged by thousands of beautiful marine fishes such as Butterfly fish, Parrotfishes, Angel fish, Spotfin Lionfish, Barracudas, Napoleon Wrasse, Fusiliers, Sweetlips and Snappers among the common reef fishes. Manta rays are a common sight and occasionally spotted are the whitetip reef sharks as well.
Prominent Dive Sites
Ari Atoll is a must go if you plan to encounter the larger pelagics and huge schools of reef fishes. Frequently seen are the whale sharks, white tip sharks, eagle rays, manta rays and even hammerhead sharks. There are also a significant number of barracudas, Napoleon Wrasse, and Batfishes found here.
Located in the Southern Atolls, this dive site features deep channels with sightings of various shark species such as reef sharks and the occassional hammerhead sharks. Fotteyo Kandu, with its caverns, overhangs and swim through, has been considered as one of the top dive site in Maldives by many. You can expect to see groupers, mantas, sharks, triggerfish, snappers, unicorn fish, eagle rays, trevallies and tuna.
North Male Atoll
Among one of the most popular dive sites in Maldives, you can expect astonishing and stunning rock formations, caves, overhangs and steep drop offs. Here, you can sight magnificent fishes such as squirrelfish, snappers, sharks, manta rays, trevally, grouper, bannerfish, Maldivian grubfish, morays eels, and soldierfish.
Getting To Maldives
To get to Maldives, you can typically land at the Male Ibrahim Nasir International Airport located on the Hulhule island which is approximately 2 kilometers away from the Capital Male. The other 3 airports offering international flights within the archipelago are on the island of Maamigili, Hanimaadhoo, and Gan. Flights schedules tend to seasonal according to demands. Transportion will usually be via domestic airlines with either speedboat, ferry or direct seaplane to the resort.
In 1998 during the El Niño, shallower parts of the coral reefs are adversely affected due to bleaching. The reefs are gradually returning to its former glory largely due to its nation’s conservation efforts. In fact, the marine life has been sustaining its quantity over the years.