Although the Maldives are known the world over for the stunning beaches and azure waters that typify the tropical idyll, its life beneath the water’s surface is becoming ever more respected by scuba divers in the know. The Maldive Islands have some good coral reefs, but it’s the abundance of marine life throughout the country that sets it apart from other dive destinations.
Most dives in the Maldives are drifts from liveaboards where you allow the current to move you along. Due to the myriad channels and passages between the atolls, the currents sweep and play throughout the island chain so that nutrients are always on the move. This accounts for the vast numbers of fish enjoying the passing feast and you can expect to see Napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, snappers, jacks and sweetlips at every site where the water flows.
2 main features you are likely to encounter at the dive sites in the Maldives are the current swept channels and the pinnacles that act like magnets for marine life. In the channels, you can explore the caves, caverns and overhangs where soft corals proliferate, and there is a riot of colourful sponges, invertebrates and gorgonian fans all profiting from the nutrient-rich water. There are also plenty of cleaning stations where cleaning wrasses and shrimps service the larger marine species.
Inside the atoll lagoons you often find pinnacles of rock vaulting up almost to the surface. They are known locally as ‘Thilas’ and are often bejewelled with sessile life forms. These formations bring water up from the ocean floor against their walls, feeding the sponges and soft corals that cling to its sides as well as creating an environment that supports a plethora of crustaceans and schools of resident fish.
Slightly removed from the reefs, you are likely to spot the pelagics that frequent the Maldives, including manta rays and eagle rays and a variety of sharks including the mighty whale shark. Wherever you look there is likely to be something of interest going on and for many it is in the shallows where the best of the action takes place. Here the clear water, brightly illuminated by the sun’s rays and playing host to great numbers of fish, provides an ideal environment both for photographers and fun divers alike.
During the El Niño of 1998 some shallower areas of the coral reefs were adversely affected by bleaching. However the accepted view is that while the reefs are returning to their former colourful glory, the larger marine life of the Maldives Islands has never dwindled and indeed many believe it has increased in numbers over the past few decades, at least partly as a result of the nation’s recognition of the need for conservation.