Sean Chinn reports from The Maldives…
October 22nd of this year saw me return to the Maldives and specifically the Central Atolls itinerary onboard Sachika organised by The Scuba Place. This was my third visit to the Maldives since 2014, with all trips being based on Sachika diving the best of the Central Atolls. As it happens the three times I’ve been have all been in October too, allowing a good comparison of how the diving differs year on year. The trip this year was a postponed group trip from last October due to Covid restrictions. It was also touch and go this year whether it would happen but a late lifting of restrictions meant we could travel to the Maldives again and boy, was I happy this trip went ahead! What a special week of diving in paradise.
The flights ran smoothly but, as expected, getting through immigration at Malé airport was a little longer than usual with all the Covid checks needed before entry. However, it wasn’t anything too stressful and we were soon through and after a couple of hours waiting for the boat to be ready (we arrived early morning) we were soon on Sachika ready to eat, sleep, dive, repeat!!
Saturday was a day of preparation and relaxation onboard ready for the 6 days of diving we had ahead of us. I was itching to get in the water as it had been a good few months and diving since the pandemic has been very limited for me. I had high hopes for this trip as the last two times had been amazing but I wasn’t quite expecting it to be as good as it was…
It certainly started with a bang, as the first dive of the trip delivered one of the best dives of my life. We stayed close to Malé and dived Lankan Paradise (Manta Point) on the morning of Sunday 24th. Wow, wow, wow!!! Words really can’t describe how good this dive was. I’ve dived the site before but the visibility last time wasn’t great compared to the nice vis we had this time. We saw six devil rays cruising the reef within minutes of dropping in and making our way to the cleaning station before a sight that will live with me forever. Big Ali excitedly pointing towards the cleaning station to reveal at least ten majestic mantas dancing around the cleaning station. The buzz that went through my body was incredible and as we moved slowly towards them a hawksbill turtle gently cruised through the group trying to steal the show.
The mantas held my attention as our group moved towards the top of the cleaning station area and the next 40 minutes were pure heaven. Mantas were gliding over me one by one and dancing with each other in front of my eyes. A lone anemone with clownfish sat in the middle of the cleaning station as mantas glided over blocking out the light with their huge wingspan. While I was completely engrossed in the action, Big Ali continued to get my attention as two octopus then tried to steal the show crawling through the cleaning station interacting with each other and getting close to us. After a quick time with them, I was soon back to the mantas before I was summoned once again to look at the devil rays that were back and a little closer to us. To see mantas and devil rays close together was incredible as they look so similar but the size difference is incredible.
The crazy thing about this dive was that it didn’t end on the cleaning station for my group. As we shallowed up to do our safety stop some of the mantas seemingly followed us and carried on putting on a show. It was incredible as they chased each other spiralling up between us. Showing their ability to come really close but without smacking into us. Such impressive graceful animals, it’s a real pleasure to share the water with them. The only dampener about the whole experience for me personally was the fact I took around 340 photos on the dive and only 40 came out due to an SD card problem where the data didn’t write to the card. Annoying, as I know I was taking some of the best photos I’ve ever taken underwater. A shame, but I will always have the memories of such a wonderful experience and at least some shots to show how magical it was.
Soooooo!! That was just the first dive. How can the trip get any better than that? Were we going to be left disappointed from now on? Thankfully the trip continued to be special, with day one also continuing to hit. A fun wreck dive at Kuda Giri Wreck followed by the famous Alimatha Jetty Night Dive. Again, huge numbers of nurse sharks go bump in the night as they don’t mind getting close and even resting on my legs at one point as I was knelt on the sand. A couple of black tip reef sharks provided a different shark view as they passed by, with stingrays and octopus also accompanying the cast of this night time spectacle. The nurse sharks were the stars though and even after the dive they continued to circle the back of Sachika and some of us couldn’t resist getting back in for a snorkel too.
Stayed tuned for part 2 on Monday as there are more amazing encounters and dives to discuss from this epic trip!!
Scuba Bucket List Maldives Vlog – Fuvamulah: Island of Sharks
First in a three part vlog from Jake Davies (JDScuba) & Giovana Braia on their recent trip to the Maldives…
With countries opening their borders after almost two years of lockdown it was time to head to a destination which we had high on our list for a few years which was the Maldives. Whilst planning the trip we wanted to make sure we got to experience the Maldives, from its local islands to one of the many resorts that can be found around the archipelago. Whilst also ticking off the many shark and ray species that can be seen.
There was one island in particular that we wanted to visit, an island that’s become more and more popular over the last couple of years and that is the incredible island of Fuvamlulah. However, it wasn’t long after arriving into the Maldives that we realised that the bag that had the underwater housing and some dive kit hadn’t got on the flight in Dubai. Not the start we had expected but we weren’t going to let this ruin the incredible trip that we had planned.
Situated in the deep south of the archipelago, skipping over the equator is Fuvamulah Island, an hour and a half flight from Male airport. The island offers one of the most unique shark encounters in the Maldives: diving with Tiger Sharks. The number of Tiger Sharks found around Fuvamulah has made the island an ever increasing important area for these sharks. Around the island the water drops off to hundreds of meters, where the water can upwell from the depths bringing cold nutrient rich water to the surface. This provides for even more exciting encounters that can occur within the blue and around the plateau cleaning station with species such as Thresher Sharks, Great and Scalloped Hammerheads, Oceanic Mantas and Whale Sharks. Tiger Sharks are guaranteed at the island, whether they are seen out in the blue or at the famous ‘Tiger Zoo’ which is located at the mouth of the harbour.
We booked our diving and accommodation with Fuvamulah Dive School, as part of the ‘one day look‘ package. As part of the package, they organise the flights, transportation whilst on the island and a place to stay at the Fuvamulah Inn which is only a 5 min journey to the dive centre situated at the island’s harbour.
We had two days diving booked where there were three dives a day which included a dive at ‘Tiger Zoo’ each day. This dive was planned for the end of the day as the sharks follow the fishers out when they head out in the morning and then follow them back where they then stay around for the offcuts.
Heading out on the first day of diving we went out to the plateau to take a look at the cleaning station in case any Threshers were around as well as the possibility of some pelagics. Jumping into the 29 degree water was definitely a change from the colder waters off the Welsh coast and the visibility was incredible. We headed down, taking the time to keep an eye out for any shadows in the blue, before reaching the plateau. A few small White-tip Reef Sharks were seen patrolling the ledges along with a large female Tiger Shark cruising below in the depths. After 40mins and no sign of Threshers it was time to head back, where the 6m safety stop was accompanied by another large female Tiger but sadly no pelagics.
Following a surface interval we then headed to the next site, just a short steam out of the harbour to where the beach drops off to depth creating an almost wall-like dive. The dive provided plenty of coral including some huge fan coral at the deeper depths. The large amount of coral also provides for some encounters with Hawksbill Turtles.
For the last dive of the day we went to the famous Tiger Zoo. Swimming over to the shallow ledge, we set up in a line whilst the dive school divers hid fish offcuts around the site to bring in the Tiger Sharks. In position, holding on as there was a swell running, we saw a glimpse of the the first Tiger Shark emerging from the distance. The Tigers found in the area are mainly large female sharks, growing over 4m in length and in some cases over 5m. As they came close it was incredible to look at these amazing Apex predators in their eyes and how graceful they glide past. In total, five sharks appeared, providing some close up encounters. During the second day and another visit at Tiger Zoo, a total of seven sharks were encountered, all providing the same close up curious experience. During the the dives the Fuvamulah Dive school team were incredibly professional and ensured that the dives were carried out in a safe and enjoyable manner.
Surfacing after Tiger Zoo saw the end of the two days diving at Fuvamulah – two incredible and unforgettable days of diving where encounters in the blue alongside those at Tiger Zoo will never be forgotten. It’s a diving location that’s definitely recommended but also a spot that should be continuously monitored to better understand the population of the many species that are found around the island. Fuvamulah surely is the ‘Island of Sharks’.
A 2am start beckoned for the beginning of our next journey, a flight back north to Male airport to then head to Dhigurah for a few days to explore another local island, this time on the lookout for Whale Sharks. Whilst also continuing to hope that our missing suitcase would finally arrive with us.
Watch more videos and subscribe to Scuba Bucket List on YouTube.
Back with a bang!! (Part 2 of 2)
Sean Chinn reports from The Maldives…
Hopefully you have read part 1 of my “Back with a bang” blog series – reading about how epic day 1 of diving back in the Maldives with The Scuba Place onboard Sachika really was. If you haven’t then check it out HERE. You may now be thinking how can the rest of the week compete with that kind of adrenalin-fuelled awesomeness of day 1. Thankfully for me and the rest of the group the week continued to deliver some truly memorable moments underwater with amazing marine life interactions. Life onboard the boat also added to what was one of the best dive trips of my life.
MANTAstic adventures continued in day 2 as we enjoyed another memorable encounter with one of the oceans most graceful animals. Dive 2 saw us at ‘Camel Rock’ dive site, a stunning cleaning station full of colourful fish waiting for their client to glide in. The current was slight but still required the group to get close to the sand and wait in hope for a manta to turn up. As I waited I noticed a nice space on the sand behind the cleaning station, sheltered from the current it was a more peaceful place to wait and then my movements were rewarded massively. As it happened I moved to the perfect location where the manta would first enter the cleaning station and I screamed with delight to alert the others. 20 minutes were then spent with this beauty as it spent time hovering getting cleaned and then circled the group and back in to the station numerous times. One of the best feelings is when a manta hovers directly above you allowing a special connection between species.
The next couple of dives allowed me to shoot some macro for the first time in two years. I was a little rusty and unlike parts of South East Asia, The Maldives is not full of unique macro subjects. However, there’s still plenty to get the practice in and enjoy looking deep into the reefs. A leaf scorpion fish was the highlight of the macro subjects, although a sneaky black cheek moray eel that was initially hiding came out and gave me a little nip as I hovered taking photos of the leaf scorpion fish. Luckily it only gives a graze but I think it was time to move along and look elsewhere.
After a couple of macro adventures it was now time to go BIG and it doesn’t get much bigger than the biggest fish in the ocean. We were off to find whale sharks and it wasn’t long before we were on what felt like a navy mission snorkel. All lined up on the edge of the Dhoni ready to “Dive, Dive, Dive.” I was a little nervous plummeting into the water with all my camera gear in hand but that was alleviated once I saw the whale shark coming as the mayhem began. A free-for-all of snorkelers competing for the whale sharks attention. After three visits to the Maldives it was my first time seeing one here, albeit in crazy circumstances to start with. It was slightly humorous seeing flailing arms and legs swinging wildly trying to keep up with this beautiful beast gently swimming along. Thankfully everyone respected the distance and the whale shark didn’t seem too bothered by all the attention and stayed around as we got back on the boat to kit up and dive.
The dive itself was incredible. We dropped in front of the whale shark and watched it pass and swim off into the distance. The reef then delivered some great encounters with a hawksbill turtle in initially. Then some male whitetip reef sharks persistently pursuing a female in their attempt to mate with her. They continued to circle close by and I was really hoping to capture some amazing behaviour but the female wasn’t in the mood this time around and gave them the run around before disappearing.
A sleeping nurse shark and scorpionfish added to the unique life on the dive but it was the safety stop that will stay with me forever. My greatest ever safety stop as I asked dive guide Big Ali to blow bubble rings and pose for a photo he was suddenly photo bombed by a whale shark. Yes! As I looked at the display composing the shot of Ali I couldn’t believe my eyes as a big shadow passed behind him. I screamed in delight (I do this often underwater) as I swam towards Ali to get his attention to the shark before proceeding to take some photos and enjoy what felt like a solitary moment with the shark after the madness at the start of the dive with the first whale shark.
I really could keep delving deep into my explanations of each dive on this trip as they all delivered incredible moments but I should start to condense it a little now before I take too much space. Grey reef sharks would become the stars of the show towards the end of the week as I finally was able to get some nice shots of them after two previous trips not delivering. Better visibility and close passes meant I could really work on my grey reef shark portfolio and was ecstatic with the interactions, especially at one of my favourite dive sites of the trip – ‘Fish Head’. We watched as they patrolled the outer edges of the reef with the occasional burst as they hunted. The mass of fish life including beautiful schooling bannerfish added a splash of colour to the scene for two incredible dives there.
We were also super lucky to introduce a new manta ID to The Manta Trust with our visitor at Fesdhoo Lagoon on the night. With the light at the back of the boat attracting the plankton we had to wait until around 10.30pm for its arrival. I was pretty much the last person left waiting at the back of the boat with one guest coming back up from his room to check. As we were speaking I caught a white ghostly figure in the corner of my eye. It was a little deeper than previous years but I knew straight away what it was as I shouted MANTAAAA!! I quickly got my camera and snorkelling gear on and spent the next couple of hours with this new beauty. I called out to get others to let everyone else know it was here and suddenly the whole boat was at the back of the boat or in the water to marvel at the beauty as it barrel rolled at the back of the boat. Fairplay to dive guide Little Ali also, as he offered to take people diving even at 11.30pm. I decided to stay snorkelling but some had fun diving as well.
Every dive was amazing with truly wonderful moments to talk about. Maiya Thila night dive was again incredible. Marbled rays were an ever present on the dive hunting along with whitetip reef sharks, moray eels, giant trevally and octopus. Hawksbill turtle were a hit on a number of dives with not a care in the world as they swam within inches of you and on one occasion one even lay on my leg as I was photographing an octopus. Charismatic and charming they were there to the end and delivered the best moments on the very last dive. Time spent on deserted islands also added to the charm of this trip with a beach BBQ under the stars providing a welcome escape from the boat in paradise. The dancing on the beach almost as good as the final nights party onboard, but the less said about that the better.
Our parting gift underwater was snorkelling at the famous “Fish Tank” dive site. Unfortunately due to our flight time the next day we were unable to dive but those familiar with the site will know it’s easily accessible by snorkel. With stingrays visiting knee deep water around the tuna factory. It was mayhem!! The current was ripping and suddenly hoards of snorkelers entered the water not familiar with currents. It was a crazy 45 minutes in the water with an array of stingrays and people but it didn’t take away from what a spectacular week we had and I always look at it as an adventure. I’m looking forward to the day I’ll be back onboard Sachika in the Maldives as I’ll be back for sure!!