There is no doubt about it, the Maldives is perfect for scuba diving, snorkeling and underwater photography.
With 40 to 60 metre visibility, fantastic drop offs and walls, monumental underwater caves, huge schools of pelagic fish, lots of tame sharks, manta rays, humphead Maori wrasse, turtles, huge sea fans, black coral trees and thousands of marine life species to see, the Maldives are hard to beat by anybody's standards.
The diving is breathtaking.
The Giant Maori Wrasse Cheilinus undulatus are wonderful underwater ambassadors for Maldives diving and inhabit many of the dive sites. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
There is no doubt about it, with 40 to 60 metre visibility, fantastic drop offs and walls, monumental underwater caves, huge schools of pelagic fish, lots of tame sharks, manta rays, humphead Maori wrasse, turtles, huge sea fans, black coral trees and thousands of marine life species to see, the Maldives are hard to beat by anybody's standards. The diving is breathtaking.
Part of an underwater mountain range running for 2,000 kilometres north to south in the West Indian Ocean, the Republic of the Maldives covers an area of some 90,000 square kilometres.
This archipelago is comprised of some 1190 low-lying islands in atoll formations which stretch from just below India 1,200 kilometres south in a direct line from Bombay, dissecting the Laccadive Islands in the north and Chagos Archipelago in the south.
It is estimated that there are around 990 uninhabited islands of various sizes. Most of the islands have some form of vegetation growing, including but not always, grass, vines, bushes and trees.
Over 200 islands are inhabited by over 270,100 Maldivians, a great number living in the vicinity of the capital Malé.
Although a number of books have been published on the various aspects of diving and displaying the rich natural heritage of the Maldives reefs few actual surveys of marine life are available. However, it is fair to say that there are at least several thousand species of marine life inhabiting the reefs and waters around the Maldives.
The surveys and work already recorded and my own observations show over 60 species of algae, 234 species of stony corals, 40 species of soft corals and sea fans, 12 species of sea anemones, 5 zoanthids, 6 corallimorphs, 12 flatworms, 30 segmented worms, 57 crustaceans, several hundred molluscs as well as over 50 species of Opisthobranchs. Nudibranchs are well represented by at least 47 species and echinoderms number over 105 species. Many bryozoans are obscure and often small but there are at least 35 species and sea squirts are common inhabitants of the reefs with over 40 species. The most well-documented group are the fishes, with over 740 species being recorded.
One of the 740 species of fish to be found in the Maldives, the colour pattern on this Collare butterflyfish Chaetodon collare makes it very easy to recognise. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Most of the 87 resorts scattered across the Maldivian archipelago offer snorkelling amongst some of the many activities available to guests.
While most of my surveys were undertaken with scuba, snorkelling in the shallow lagoons, in the extensive seagrass meadows, the shallow water reefs and around the rock walls and the inner and outer Harbour at Malé proved a huge success, turning up many species not recorded during diving.
The rock walls, reinforced wharves and channel edges were fantastic diving night snorkels, as all the nocturnal species venture out.
Squirrelfish, soldierfish and cardinal fish with lots of hinge-beak shrimps, sea stars and molluscs to be seen.
Snorkelling is very popular with visitors to the maldives. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Most resorts in the Maldives have scuba diving and resident instructors of various nationalities. Almost all resorts have their own dive boat, compressor, dive shop, hire equipment and offer a range of services including introductory dives, open water and advance courses.
Divers are generally required to show a C-card if they are certified, as well as a log book and be prepared to do a check out dive. I found everybody to be very professional, courteous and obliging. Dive charges generally include tank, weight belt, tank and fill and a dive guide. Each location I dived was awesome, drop offs, walls, slopes, terraces, caves, drifts and wrecks; more than enough to please any avid diver. There are 1001 dive sites in the Maldives.
In some places the Giant Maori Wrasse are so tame that dives can actually swim with them. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Every atoll has hundreds of known sites and each safari finds new ones. The deep water diving is phenomenal, but care must be taken not to push the limits as the decompression chamber at Malé can be a long way away. However, to see and photograph the rare ocellate soap fish, the two-spot basslet, the very rare tall fin shrimp goby and the Dracula shrimp goby was worth the effort.
Walls of brilliant pink hydrocorals, underhangs bursting with orange-mouthed soft corals, the drop offs, slopes, terraces and entire reef edges riddled with huge caves and swim-throughs.
Everywhere I dived was breathtaking and even the local day dives out from Malé were brilliant – fantastic drop offs, walls, huge caves full of big-scale soldierfish.
In one small cave there were 12 giant thorny oysters, six species of black corals, seven different sea fans, 15 species of sponges and nine giant worm shells.
A myriad cleaner shrimps beckoned from the maze of pink gorgonians and nudibranchs were on every blue sponge. On the walls were feather stars, cup corals, hydroids, encrusting pink ascidians and several sea cucumbers. The fish were so many that they had to be waved away just to get shots of the invertebrates. Everywhere was amazing torch-illuminated colour and there are, without doubt, a hundred thousand more underwater caves throughout the archipelago waiting to be explored.
Besides local diving at Malé and the many resorts there are a large number of live-aboard safari boats which cater to divers. These boats, both large and small, travel to the more remote atolls and reefs visiting deserted islands and offering a carefree existence to adventure seeking divers. The night diving is brilliant.
Typical dive boat in the Maldives. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Of course, on some of the smaller converted safari dhoanis accommodation and food is fairly basic but it is wholesome and sustaining and the crew are very helpful, nothing is too much trouble. Tea and biscuits are served after each dive and lots of smiles all round. On safari there are opportunities to visit resorts and island communities and see traditional fishing and boat building. The Thilas provide extraordinary diving, with fantastic drop offs, huge schools of pelagic fish, lots of sharks, large sea fans, black coral trees, humphead Maori wrasse and a wealth of smaller invertebrates. In most places the sharks are used to divers (having been fed for years) and often come in and pose for close ups.
Neville Coleman's diving expeditions, fauna surveys, photographic fauna surveys and marine life identification courses include every major group of marine life.
Neville Coleman's expertise in marine life identification extends to the identification of Algae, Sea Grass, Forams, Sponges, Stony Corals, Soft Corals, Sea Anemones, Sea Jellies, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, Black Corals, Flatworms, Segmented Worms, Crustaceans, Barnacles, Shrimps, Rock Lobsters, Hermit Crabs, Squat Lobsters, Molluscs, Chitons, Univalves, Bivalves, Cephalopods, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Squid, Opisthobranchs, Nudibranchs, Sea Slugs, Bryozoans, Sea Mosses, Echinoderms, Sea Stars, Feather Stars, Brittle Stars, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, Ascidians/Sea Squirts, Marine Fish, Sharks, Marine Reptiles, and Marine Mammals, all found in the waters around the Maldives Islands and Atolls.
( Copyright Neville Coleman)
MALDIVES ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
A passport is mandatory with security checks varied and many. Visas are not required and visitors receive an automatic 30-day visitorÕs permit when they arrive.
INTER-ISLAND TRAVEL PERMITS
Any travel apart from recognised tourist zones may require a travel permit. Always check with tourism for extracurricular travel enquiries. Registered safari boat operators obtain travel permits for guests when their route takes them through the various atolls.
All tourists flying into the Maldives enter by landing at the international airport on the islands of Hulhule and Goaadhoo which is only a short water taxi (dhoani) ride across to the island capital of Malé, Airport transfers to the closer resorts are made by traditional dhoanis and the outer island resorts are serviced by light planes, speed boats or helicopter. The islands are serviced by a number of airlines including Arab Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines.
There are no mandatory vaccinations required for visiting the Maldives and the area is relatively free of any inherent scourges relative to other Asian countries. Hepatitis A and B shots are a good precautionary measure when travelling and health and travel insurance is a must for divers and snorkellers. Scuba divers would be well advised to invest in a DAN diving accident insurance.
Health care facilities are improving on a daily basis. The Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Malé is the biggest hospital in the country providing sophisticated medical care. ADK Hospital is the biggest private health care facility, and follows high medical standards. Experience European doctors work at the AMDC Clinic. Regional hospitals are distributed throughout the country and Malé the capital has several well-established private general practitioners. Some resorts have an in-house doctor. Decompression chambers are within reach of most resorts in case of a diving emergency.
Being on the equator, the country enjoys more or less constant day lengths (6am - 6pm) throughout the year. People wake up early in the morning. Business hours are from Sunday to Thursday 7:30 - 14:30 in the Government sector, and generally from 9:00 to 5:00 in the private sector. Weekend falls on Friday and Saturday. The local time is GMT +5 hours.
The Maldives enjoy a year round temperature that remains constant at around 30 degrees Celsius. The weather is mainly warm and humid with pleasant sea breezes to enhance the luxury of the sun, sand, sea and the feeling of well-being that is a unique characteristic of the Maldives. In the south-west monsoon season from May to October, there is some rain and wind. In the north-east monsoon season from November to April is it dry with very little wind- just right to contrast with European winters.
However, the best weather for diving is between December to April, with relatively calm seas in January, February, March and April. In general, there are rougher seas in June, July and August but in 1999 there was a cyclone which affected seas in March, so there are no guarantees regarding weather.
Dress is generally casual. T-shirts and cotton clothing are most suitable. In the inhabited islands, it is recommended that women wear modest clothing without baring too much.
240 volts. 50Hz
Dhivehi, a unique language not spoken anywhere else on the globe, is the language spoken in all parts of the Maldives. English is widely spoken and can be recognised on sign boards, neon lights and even in the main newspapers and in some radio and TV programs. In the resorts, a variety of languages, including English, German, Italian, French and Japanese, is spoken by the staff.
The Maldivian currency is Rufiyaa and Laaris (1M Rf = 100 Laaris). The exchange rate for US dollars is Rufiyaa 11.72 for one US dollar (1997). The Rufiyaa comes in notes of, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500. The American dollar is the most common foreign currency. Payments in the resorts can be made in most hard currencies in cash, traveller's cheques or credit cards. The most commonly used credit cards are American Express, Visa, Mastercard, Diners Club, JCB and Euro Card.
Telecommunication has developed very fast in this decade. Up-to-date technology and international satellite links allow Maldives to have a sophisticated communications system. IDD facilities are available on all resorts, and card phone facilities are available on all islands. Dhiraagu, the Maldives telecommunications company, an affiliate of the British Cable and Wireless Company, provides mobile telephones for rental on a daily basis. Dhiraagu is also the Internet service provider.
Taxis and water taxis are available but there is no public transport. Light planes, helicopters and boats service the outer islands.
Copyright Neville Coleman