The pristine waters of the Maldives allow diving all year round with water temperatures from 29-32 degrees Celsius. The well lit and mostly shallow reefs and lagoons allow visibilities of up to 50 metres on good days. Consider these conditions in the midst of almost 1200 islands made up of coral reefs and you are in for an unforgettable underwater adventure. Internationally renown for it's stunning diversity in marine flora and fauna the Maldives as a whole are one of the most teeming and beautiful reef diving area on the planet.
During Monsoon the tides bring myriads of botanic and animal plankton from the Indian Ocean into the Maldives waters. They will become microscopic lunch for the millions of fry and reef occupants who come here to indulge themselves and provide a stocked pantry to their offspring. Nobody misses the gathering - from tiny crustaceans to the gracious manta rays and impressive sharks. Keep an eye out and you will be greatly rewarded.
Even if you are not a certified diver yet, you can enjoy the Maldives underwater treasures yourself. All of the dive centres and safari tour boats do teach beginner and advanced diver training courses with only the professional training levels restricted to a few instructor schools. If you plan to become a certified diver in the Maldives you can greatly ease the initial process by getting a medical exam of a diver physician to assure your health and allow the enrolment into a dive course. Training and dive equipment enjoy high levels of standard throughout the Maldives and the divers conditions allow for a large amount of selectable specialties for your advanced diver education.
Regardless wether you decide on diving the reefs (faru), inside the atolls (thila), in the channels to the ocean, on sunken wrecks or simply on your resorts house reef - the Maldives waters boast memories of a lifetime. You can easily reach a new dive site on every single dive on your holiday within 15 to 60 minutes travel of your accommodation.
Liveaboards in the Indian Ocean Atolls
Even though the Maldives are reknown worldwide for their pristine beaches and turquoise waters their importance as a diving destination grows as more and more divers get to know the underwater world in this tropical paradise. The Maldives basicly exist of and on coral reefs so it is no surprise to find an abundance of marine life which makes them a pretty unique destination.
Due to the Maldives unique geography you will find that most dives use this feature for drifts. Thousands of channels and passageways are guiding the tides between the islands and provide a constant flow of nutrients and prey for the reef inhabitants.
So literally every moving bit of water in the Maldives carries a feast with it, thus you can expect to see Napoleon wrasse, parrotfish, snappers, jacks and sweetlips at each of these places.
The aforementioned channels together with a myriad of pinnacles, most of them submerged, form the main geographical unterwater features in the Maldives.
In the channels you will find caves, caverns and overhangs to explore. Soft corals, sponges, invertebrates and gorgonian fans favor these spots, feasting on the nutrient rich current. Additionally you will find good amounts of cleaner stations where cleaning wrasses and shrimps await the arrival of larger reef fish and non-pelagic species.
The pinnacles on the other hand offer shelter to hard corals and attract large shoals of jacks and fussiliers as well as parrotfish and triggerfish.
There are also smaller pinnacles located inside the atoll lagoons which are locally known as 'Thila'. Those rock formations naturally support water circulation so their walls are adorned with feeding sponges and corals providing shelter to countless crustaceans and shoals of fish.
The waters just off the reef are most likely visited by one of the Maldives pelagic species such as the mighty manta rays, eagle rays, several varieties of shark and the impressive whale shark.
Regardless of where you look in these waters it is most likely there is something going on sparking your interest.
Whatever you may spot, the brightly illuminated turquoise waters of the Maldive sea will accommodate unterwater photographers and fun divers alike.
During the El Niño of 1998 some of the shallower coral reefs were adversely affected by bleaching. However, the reefs have returned to their former beauty over the last decade.
Many sources even state that the larger marine life has increased in numbers due to the nations conservation efforts following the bleaching.
- Reef Sharks The best recognised places to dive with reef sharks are the channels at Lhaviyani, North and South Male, Vaavu, Meemu, Laamu and Gaafu. The latter being described as the best of them all.
- Whale Sharks If you would like to spot whale sharks, take your chances at the Ari Atoll, and Gaafu and Thaa atolls in the south.
- Manta Rays Manta rays are most frequently spotted at Ari, Addu, North Male, Haa Alifu and Haa Daalu, and Baa Atoll.
- Hammerhead sharks Good chances on spotting hammerhead sharks are around Rasdhoo Atoll in North Ari, or Fotteyo Kandu at Veevu Atoll.
- Thresher sharks & Tiger sharks Throughout the whole year you may encounter Thresher and Tiger sharks at Foahmulah Island.
Considering that all Maldivian atolls make for great diving, Ari Atoll promises the greatest reliability. Frequent visits of pelagic species such as whale sharks, mantas, hammerheads and eagle rays make this site interesting.
Adding to the large residents like the Napoleon wrasse, grey reef sharks, white tip sharks, large schools of blacktail barracuda and batfish.
- Vaavu Atoll Vaavu Atoll with its deep channels offers encounters with shoaling reef sharks all year round including the occasional hammerhead. Within the area lies Fotteyo Kandu, by many considered as the best dive site in the Maldives. With plenty of swim-throughs, caves and overhangs, this site features a wide diversity of sharks, tuna, trevallies, unicornfish, snappers, triggerfish, eagle rays, mantas and groupers.
- North Male Atoll This Atoll was one of the first to be developed as site for scuba diving. It houses some of the oldest and most known dive sites in the Maldives such as Gaathugiri, also known as Banana Reef. The underwater geography is quite divers, featuring numerous caves, rock faces, overhangs and steep drop offs. The marine life on these sites is as dversified as the topography and includes sharks, manta rays, trevally, black snappers, grouper, schooling bannerfish, large morays, squirrelfish, soldierfish and Maldivian grubfish.
How to Dive Maldives
As general guideline you can assume that the northern areas tend to have healthier reefs and more macrobiotic wildlife, whilst the southern atolls feature more predators like sharks.
As the landmass is pretty scattered and the best diving happens around the lagoons you will see most of the region by boarding a liveaboard.
The resort islands house reefs are not to be forgotten, yet if your goal is diversity then you should take part in one of the liveaboard cruises. These trips are quite popular and you should consider booking your dream trip months in advance to make sure to get a spot on the boat.
Though the advertised high and/or diving season lasts from November to May, scuba diving and trips are available throughout the whole year.
During the northeast monsoon (northeast winds - December to May) the weather tends to be calm, cloudless and with little wind. Visibility in this season normally ranges between
twenty and thirty metres on the eastern side of the atolls and fifteen to twenty metres on the western side.
Currents during this time also flow from east to west, picking up sediment from the atolls and carrying it westwards, thus limiting the visibility on that side.
This also means that many pelagic species will prefer the western regions as food and nutrients are washed this way by the strongest currents throughout the year.
In the time of the Southwest Monsoon (southwest winds - June to November) the above picture will reverse. Mantas and other pelagic species will gather in the east,
while reef sharks will prefer the clearer hunting grounds to the west.
Although the sky tends to be a bit cloudier at this time of the year, rainfall rarely exceeds three to four hours a day. The sea will be a little rougher during this period, yet waves and surface swells almost never exceed 1-2 metres in height - this might only happen during the Monsoon transitions in late May and early December.
Water temperatures keep at almost predicdable 26°C to 29°C throughout the year. Only in the far south they might drop to about 24°C between December and May.
Mantas, whale sharks, turtles, reef sharks and hammerhead sharks can be seen in the Maldives all year round. During the Southwest Monsoon Manta ray numbers even seem to increase.
Encounters with large pelagic species rather depend on non-seasonal factors such as high tide for whale sharks or sunrise for hammerhead encounters in shallow water.
As always there is an exception to the rule. In this case it is called "Hanifaru Bay". Between August and November hundreds of Manta rays and Whale sharks accumulate on the eastern side of Baa Atoll, indulging in the massive plankton fields that form during this season. The area was declared a marine reserve and regulations only permit a maximum of sixty snorkelers at a time.