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The Maldives – not just Mantas!

Sean Chinn

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Hopefully by now you have read my previous blog – “Manta Madness in the Maldives”. If not then you can find the article here

The Maldives is truly Manta heaven and reason enough for anyone to book a dive holiday there. But what about all the other wonders that greet you on a dive there? Unfortunately after a pretty severe El Nino a couple of years back the reefs took a bit of a battering and the coral isn’t as healthy as it was when I travelled here back in 2014. You can see where it is starting to recover with areas of amazing reef and hopefully it has time to really blossom again over a greater area.

This, however, didn’t mean that it was void of life underwater, in fact far from it, as schools of blue striped snapper and triggerfish would circle the reefs. There was still a lot of amazing unique marine life that would make an appearance during our dives, and many anemone and clownfish toughing it out amongst the reefs, providing beautiful splashes of colour.

One of the major highlights for our group was on our first diving day when we dived the famous night dive at Alimatha Jetty with the Nurse Sharks and Stingrays. This is a shallow dive on the house reef of Alimatha Resort, surrounded by friendly Nurse Sharks and Stingrays. For a lot of our group, it was a completely new experience as many had only done UK diving in quarries. To see the buzz it created amongst the boat after the dive was a great feeling knowing I helped to organise the trip.

I’d done this dive four years ago and it was incredible then, but this time it completely blew me away as I moved away from the reef and was greeted with a wall of sharks that was at least 30 strong. Something I wasn’t as fortunate to see four years previously. It was funny watching some video back of the dive and you can here me shouting with joy underwater as the wall of sharks come in view.

We did a number of channel dives where we were able to watch Grey Reef Sharks cruising up and down the channel. It is always exciting to see a healthy shark population as you know that although the coral may be in recovery mode, at least the reef life is supporting them. Again for many of my group it was their first time diving with sharks and it reminded me of that amazing buzz the first time you see a shark underwater. I mentioned in length on my previous blog about my best dive of the trip at Moofushi Corner. I can’t reiterate enough how good this dive was and how special it was to see the school of Eagle Rays. The cruising Grey Reef Sharks and Whitetip Reef Sharks just added to what was a truly incredible dive.

Most of our dive boat also got to see the biggest fish in the ocean – the Whale Shark. My dive group was a little further ahead when we heard the commotion underwater on its arrival. There was a mad rush to see it but unfortunately for a few of us stuck behind other groups it was a little too far. We were kicking like mad and I certainly needed a rest once we realised the hope had gone. I’m still debating with myself whether I saw the tail end before it swam off or it was my eyes deceiving me in the hope I could join in the enjoyment of the rest of the boat’s encounter. I’m really happy for them though as it was their first encounter with this majestic animal.

It’s funny, as for me personally, one of the major highlights with marine life interaction on the trip were the Octopus encounters where they were out of the reef and in full view. One dive in particular was starting to become a bit forgetful as we waited and circled a cleaning station in the hope of a Manta turning up. As the time went by, I was thinking surely something could happen to make this dive at least a little worthwhile. Then, out the corner of my eye, I spotted this Octopus going for a stroll along the reef. It was a decent size, and watching it crawl along the reef using it’s tentacles was amazing to witness.

As the week continued, we had more Octopus encounters and finished up with two mating on the second from last dive of the trip. I think everyone has a little soft spot for Octopus, especially when you get lucky and see them cruising the reef and watch the unusual way they move along.

The dives continued to deliver throughout the week as we were able to get right next to Hawksbill Turtles as they grazed on the reef, completely unmoved by our presence. Marbled Rays were particularly friendly on numerous dives, and weren’t shy in swimming directly at you. Playing chicken with a Ray was rather interesting and I found myself losing all the time against these bold and curious Rays.

Even more so on the night dive at Maaya Thila, as we watched the Rays hunt alongside Moray Eels, Lionfish, Giant Trevally and a lone Whitetip Reef Shark. I remember having one view where I could see Trevally, a Marbled Ray, Moray Eel, Stonefish and Whitetip Reef Shark in one small area that only required a small turn of my head to see all together. Another memorable dive in the Maldives.

For the macro enthusiasts of the world, there are still possibilities for interesting critter encounters even in the wide angle heaven that is the Maldives. Peacock Mantis Shrimp were particularly frequent sightings throughout the dives and I ended up getting my favourite photo I’ve ever taken of one whilst there. I didn’t use my macro lens much but I was happy with some of the encounters along the way with Blenny’s, Nudibranch, Pipefish and Mantis Shrimp. If you’re really lucky, the guides have also found Harlequin Shrimp and Frogfish at a couple of the dive sites on numerous occasions. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of the lucky ones this time but it all adds to the diversity of a trip to the Maldives.

The trip finished with a bang as we got back to Male and entered the water for the famous Fish Tank dive site. On the outside of a working Tuna factory it is like jumping into a wild aquarium as numerous fish species come to feed on the scraps of Tuna discarded from the factory. While the schools of fish are amazing to witness, the large numbers of Stingrays and Moray Eels also at the site is what makes it truly unique. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the Guitarfish that sometimes frequents the dive site as well.

For any Moray lover, like one of my buddies onboard, it was heaven, as every nook and cranny had a head poking out revealing dagger-like teeth. I found myself at 3-5 metres for pretty much the whole dive, marvelling at the Stingrays as they would make a path through the abundance of fish. The colour was spectacular being so shallow. The saturation slider had been turned up to 100 for this dive. Being so close to the factory, at one point a pool of fish blood was released into the water and it became manic. I decided to back up at this point as I didn’t fancy a face full of fish blood and guts.

A great dive to end the trip, even though it came at a big price. Unfortunately for our boat we were unable to get as lucky as the sister boat, Ocean Sapphire, as they managed to come across a school of around 20 Sperm Whales on their way back to Male. They were around 30 minutes ahead of us and got to snorkel with them, but we weren’t as lucky. It put a little dampener on my trip knowing how close but yet so far I was. It would have really put the icing on what was an already special cake. I can’t dwell too much though as altogether the trip was hugely successful. And missing out on the whales just gives me more reason to return and hope I’m the lucky one next time :).

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.

If you’d like to join Sean on any of his trips then please check out his trips page at: www.greatwhitesean.com/trips

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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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