The Maldives – not just Mantas!

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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

Sean Chinn

Sean Chinn

Sean Chinn’s scuba diving adventure started in a freezing cold quarry back in January 2011. Maybe the reason he wasn't instantly hooked! However, after an amazing trip to Indonesia in 2013, he realised he needed to see more of the underwater world. With no photography background, he enlisted some help in developing both his diving and photo skills. This kickstarted his diving and underwater photography adventure which has become something of an addiction. Seeing and photographing wildlife is Sean’s real passion in diving but he is always keen to try new ideas.

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