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Manta Madness in the Maldives

Sean Chinn

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Just as it was on my previous trip four years ago, it was a case of starting the week as you mean to go on.

On the first and second dive after our arrival in Male, we visited a dive site close to the city called Lankan Paradise: a cleaning station known for good Manta Ray sightings. Just the week before our dive boat had a dive there with around 10 Manta Rays so our hopes were high. The current on the first dive wasn’t running in the ideal direction for Manta sightings and we flew across the reef with no luck. We decided to try the site again to give as much chance as possible for a good Manta Ray sighting.

The dive started slow and we passed the cleaning station without luck. It was starting to get a little disappointing as the main reason to visit the dive site is for the Mantas. We turned around to head back as we were coming up to around 30 minutes into the dive. As we got closer to the cleaning station we saw a large aggregation of divers and got excited our luck was about to change. Sure enough when we arrived at the cleaning station we saw what was probably the biggest Reef Manta Ray I’d ever seen!

I’ve been lucky enough to dive with both Oceanic and Reef Mantas on a few occasions and this reminded me more of an Oceanic due to it’s sheer size. A great way to start our week in the Maldives, and great to see my fellow divers who had never done tropical sea diving before get a real buzz. The dive boat was rocking with the excitement after the dive and this gave me a great feeling as I had helped to organise the trip.

A couple of days diving had passed with only a fleeting glimpse of another Manta Ray by a portion of the boat (not me). Then came the second dive on day four to Moofushi Corner and wow, what a dive. Literally from the first minute of the dive there was action.

We plummeted straight down to around 35 minutes into the channel where we saw a school of 20 or more Eagle Rays gliding along in the current. We fought really hard to try keep up and I was in awe of such beauty and grace underwater. I managed to get a snapshot of the scene that greeted us butit was difficult to keep up and at 35 metres. We hovered over the channel marvelling at the many Grey Reef Sharks for a little longer until our computers were getting close to Deco and it was time to shallow up to the cleaning station to see if there were Mantas.

Can this dive really get any better. AMAZING!!!! As we got to around 24 metres we spotted the two Manta Rays on the cleaning station a little further above us on the sloping station. The current was really strong and threatening to take us off the reef and fly us away from the Manta show. However we fought hard and managed to work our way to a sheltered area at the top of the cleaning station around 15 minutes. It was nice to get a short respite from the current but where was the Manta?

I couldn’t see over the lip of the reef and started to get a little anxious. Then suddenly the adrenalin started pumping as this Manta came up over the top of the reef right above my head. It literally pinned me to the reef it got that close. What an amazing interaction with such a graceful marine animal. It continued to circle the cleaning station right above us and a couple of more Mantas came into view at times. I would definitely regard this dive as up there with some of my best ever.

The day didn’t end there and this is probably why it has become one of my best day’s underwater ever. We moored up in Fesdhoo Lagoon for the night where Manta Rays are known to come to feed on blooms of plankton. To increase our chances of seeing them, and possibly getting to do an extra night dive with them, the boat attached a large halogen light to the steps at the back of the boat. This attracted blooms of plankton up to the surface and below our boat to hopefully attract Mantas to the back of the boat to feed.

We started at night fall around 6pm and there was a huge anticipation on the boat for what might soon happen. Everyone waiting patiently on the back of the boat. 2-3 hours went by with the odd call of excitement – “NURSE SHARK”. A fairly large curious Nurse Shark went by on a couple of occasions intrigued by what was happening at the back of the boat. Then, “MANTA” was the call and sure enough a Manta made a quick bypass beneath the boat under the light full of plankton.

It was gone quicker than it arrived and we started to worry that our time in the water wouldn’t come. Slowly as the time approached 10pm most of the boat had succumbed to their disappointment and headed to bed. There were only three of us left committed to the cause. Then as the time worked it’s way to 10.30pm my excitement was plain to see as I screamed “MANTA” and quickly grabbed my camera, mask, snorkel and fins. Diving was not an option at this point and I just wanted to get in and get some photos. The bell rang and most got out their beds to come enjoy the show.

What a show it turned out to be as we had around three or four different Mantas dancing for us at the back of the boat, barrel rolling as they gorged on the plankton bloom created under the boat. This lasted for at least two hours until we eventually had to leave one Manta in there to continue feeding. Most the guests managed to get in with them at some point and a couple of other guests and I stayed in for 2-2.5 hours marvelling at the show. I was reluctant to get out of the water but knew I had enough photos to keep me happy for a lifetime and it was time to get to sleep ready for another day of diving the next day. With the high I was feeling I didn’t get to sleep until around 2am and was up at 6am to go diving. It was well worth every minute though and these memories will last a lifetime.

Sean’s trip was organised by The Scuba Place aboard www.topclasscruising.com. For more information and to book call +44 (0)207 644 8252, email reservations@thescubaplace.co.uk or visit www.comedivewithus.co.uk.

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Dive that Funky Thila

Maldives DTA Team

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A Guest Blog by Jaidev Karunakaran with images by Tunjay Sadikoglu.

I knew I was going to have a special trip when I saw the dolphins. Not just one or two, but a whole pod of them: racing ahead of the boat, slicing in and out and exploding out of the water, spinning and twirling and crashing back in. It was like they’d spent years performing in a water park show, had escaped, and were now putting on a performance just for fun, exulting in their freedom.

I knew I was going to have a special trip when I went snorkelling and saw four hawksbill turtles. One was close enough to touch, lying in a sandy clearing surrounded by coral.

But all these good omens did little to prepare me for what I saw when I went diving.

I was in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll in the Maldives, to see for myself the good things I’d heard about diving in this southern part of the country. The area around Male atoll, in the central part of the country, is the most developed resort wise, and as a result what most people see when they dive. Though it provides rewarding experiences and one sees a lot of fish, it has suffered due to development, pollution and coral bleaching. One gets the feeling of decay and forlornness in many dive sites, as though one is looking at a once-great civilisation, now in terminal decline.

This is not the case in Gaafu Dhaalu, as I was soon to discover.

My dive buddy is Tuncay Sadikoglu, a grizzled Turkish Cypriot former paratrooper who’s swapped jumping out of helicopters to jumping out of boats and now runs a dive school called Dive Kingdom at Ayada Maldives, the best resort in Gaafu Dhaalu. The first dive site he took me to, called ‘Coral Garden 2’ was just that: a vast, undulating garden of corals in colours and shapes and sizes I’d never seen before, even on TV. This was no city in decline, this was a thriving metropolis teeming with the most colourful residents in every size from giant pelagics a few metres off the reef to tiny beautiful luminescent, incandescent fish darting in and out of ridges in the corals. We spent forty- five minutes floating over this beauty, like drones over some strange city, forgetting we were underwater. Finally, I could feel myself rising, the dive ending, the surface nearing, the surface being breached.

As we waited to clamber onto the boat, I began to wax effusive and rain superlatives on what I’d just seen. Tuncay just looked smug and said, “Wait until you see Fanka Thila. It’s like fireworks exploding everywhere.”

‘Thila’ means ‘underwater island’ in Dhivehi, the local language. It being low tide, Fanka Thila was just 12-13 metres below sea level and I knew Tuncay was right with my first glimpses of the place.

A white-tip reef shark was the first to greet us, then quickly scamper away. But it was the fish and coral that caught my attention. If Coral Garden 2 was a kind of semi-orderly informal garden, Fanka Thila was a tropical rainforest of outrageous exuberance, a multicoloured canopy mobbed by fish, with broad branches of red fan coral jutting out everywhere.

We saw many large clumps of sea anemones, waving wildly, and weaving in and out- beautiful yellow- and- white anemone fish, forever curious, forever timid. The largest lobster I’ve ever seen got out of a hole to shake its antennae at us, then backed off as we got closer. And everywhere the fish, in a profusion I didn’t think possible, in colours so bright and fluorescent, a literal explosion of fireworks in our eyes.

We were soon surrounded by a ball of glassfish so large that they blotted out the water around us and for a few moments we felt like we were in a shimmering, pulsing, darting black cloud. Then we were out and drifting over a slope of coral different from anything else I’d seen before- short, knobby, shiny brown ridges stretching out to the edge of the reef, reminiscent of grassland.

Tuncay uses this place as a marker to end his dives in Fanka Thila, so we started our slow descent to the top, me looking back to try and catch my last glimpses of the place.

All I could do the rest of the day was sing paens of Fanka Thila, and urge everyone I met to dive there at once.

Fanka Thila is not a place to see big fish like mantas or whale sharks. The biggest animals you see here are white tip reef sharks and turtles. But Fanka Thila is a place where the little guys, the corals and anemones and pretty fish, take the big stage and put on a great show. And, as audience, all we have to do is applaud and look back in wonder.


Fact File

Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll is easily accessible from Kaadedhdhoo Airport, which is about an hour’s flight by Maldivian from Male Domestic Airport.

Kaadedhdhoo airport is one hour by speedboat from Ayada. Flights also land thrice a week at Maavarulu airport, which is twenty minutes from Ayada by speedboat.

While Ayada is the best place to stay, there are other more affordable resorts in the vicinity. One can also stay in a guest house at Thinadoo, a short ferry ride from Kaadhedhoo.


Jaidev Karunakaran worked in Male’ for four years, where he learnt to dive. He has dived in Male, Baa, Raa, Ari, Gaafu Dhaalu and Addu atolls and seen mantas, reef sharks and whale sharks. He has also dived the British Loyalty, the biggest wreck in the Maldives.

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There’s nothing quite like a Snorkeling holiday in the Maldives!

Ruth Franklin

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1200 islands of 26 different atolls make up the island paradise of the Maldives. Once prehistoric underwater volcanoes, the coral reefs and ecosystems that surround these picture perfect islands offer some of the world’s very best snorkeling locations. There’s no better destination than the pristine tropical waters of the Maldives for first time snorkelers or veteran underwater lovers. With an average of 200+ sunny days per year, the Maldives really is second to none when it comes to choosing an idyllic snorkeling escape.

What is Snorkeling in the Maldives Like?

You’ve probably seen the picture perfect images of the Maldives floating around the internet, popping up on your Instagram feed or plastered across what it seems like, pages of every other travel magazine. Thoughts of ‘there’s no way that ocean water can be real’ or something along the lines of ‘that’s definitely photo shopped’ may have crossed your mind more than once. Take our word for it from us here at Secret Paradise, as we can assure you that yes – the water is really the colour depicted by the magazines. In fact, the island waters here reflect a spectrum of blue tones that seem to change façade with every spec of light. This island paradise is just waiting for you to dive beneath the surface to discover its abundance of incredible reef life and the spectacular coloured corals.

If you’re privileged enough to delved into the underwater world of the Maldives, you can expect nothing but excellent clarity and visibility, combined with blissful year round ocean temperatures of 26 – 29 degrees Celsius. You may also be thinking that a snorkeling holiday in the Maldives is probably out of your budget … Again, let us reassure you that there has never been a more affordable time to travel to the Maldives. A snorkeling vacation is very reasonable and can begin from as little as USD$50 per night … let us show you how.

What Are the Options for Maldives Snorkeling Holidays?

Here at Secret Paradise, we offer quality and value for money snorkeling day trips and bespoke Multi-day Island hopping itineraries. On our tours, expect to explore the uncharted local islands of the Maldives, an alternative to an expensive resort style vacation.

Staying on a local island in a guesthouse allows for exploration of some of the Maldives’ very best snorkeling sites and marine life, whilst experiencing the local tradition and culture of the Maldives. Think palm trees, white sandy beaches, sun bathing and of course snorkeling, all combined with wandering locally inhabited islands, tasting Maldivian foods and seeing local traditions first hand. Enjoy being transferred from your local island via a traditional wooden dhoani boat, to stunning nearby snorkeling sites – the very same sites that resort guests snorkel at, all for a fraction of the cost! Our affordable snorkeling holidays and day trips will leave you with long lasting Maldives memories.

Is The Maldives Best For First Time or Experienced Snorkelers?

The answer to this question is both. The Maldives is spread across a thousand small islands scattered throughout the Indian Ocean, meaning it offers vast ocean environments, perfect for both beginner and experienced snorkelers and everyone in between.

The islands here in the Maldives consist of both shallow and deep-water lagoons. Beginners can simply choose to snorkel the reefs adjacent to the shoreline, in the safety of still water. Intermediate snorkelers can explore reefs a little further off shore whilst advanced snorkelers who are more daring have opportunities to try the local ‘drift-snorkeling’ method, using the aide of the ocean currents to explore the underwater terrain. As the ocean currents here in the Maldives are extremely tidal, our local guides will accompany you to ensure that you experience a safe yet ‘bucket-list’ type of underwater snorkeling experience.

What Is The Best Time of Year For Snorkeling In The Maldives?

The snorkeling season of the Maldives runs yearlong. As the Maldives is located near the equator, it is susceptible to two monsoon seasons, better known as the wet and dry seasons. From May to November (the wet season), the abundance of reef life is more varied and the visibility levels are better on the western side of each island. December to April is generally known as the ‘dry’ period, where the eastern side of each atoll is best for snorkeling.

Buy or Rent Snorkeling Equipment?

When it comes to packing for your Maldives snorkeling vacation, deciding upon whether to buy or rent your snorkeling gear is certainly a great question and one that needs to be given substantial consideration, as everyone’s snorkeling needs are different.

Firstly, decide how often you think you may snorkel on your Maldives trip. Do you think that number is worthy of purchasing your very own snorkeling gear? Let us help you make a wise travel decision.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing quite like owning your own snorkeling equipment – being assured that your own mask, fins and snorkel fit your face and body perfectly, not to mention they haven’t been worn by the many tourists before you. It’s a great little luxury if you believe you will be snorkeling frequently throughout your Maldives stay. It will also save you the hassle of searching for the snorkeling equipment that is right for you.

However, remember transporting and carrying your own snorkeling gear can often be bulky and heavy, and the last thing you want is for your equipment to be damaged in transit. Renting your snorkeling equipment is essentially easier, as your gear you won’t need to be transported from place to place. Fins especially take up a substantial amount of room in your luggage.

Another alternative is to purchase your own face mask and snorkel before your trip and hire your fins whilst on holidays. A mask and snorkel combination is small and lightweight – it takes up minimal space in your luggage. This way you will be assured that your mask will fit you comfortably, it won’t leak and it is sanitary, plus you won’t have to awkwardly lug fins around in your luggage.

Our Secret Paradise Packing Tip:

Cushion your mask between clothes to ensure the lens won’t be damaged in transit. As fins are durable, pack them on the outer edge of your luggage to prevent your other belongings from being damaged.


Discover more of The Maldives with www.secretparadise.mv

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