Warm ocean waters, stunning underwater views, spectacular white beaches, coupled with a coterie of world class hotels and resorts have propelled the Maldives into one of the world’s top diving and snorkelling destinations. About 700,000 tourists flock to the Maldives annually. It is thought that 1 in 5 specifically travel to the islands for diving.
A rich diversity of sea life and excellent diving locations are often right outside your villa or hotel you are staying in. Most resorts have a diving facility. To understand the Maldives rare undersea beauty, it may be important to look at its geological past.
Scientists believe the Maldives were once part of a massive ocean volcanic mountain range tens of millions of years ago. When the volcanoes eventually went dormant and the rims slowly started to sink beneath the ocean, the rate of their decline was slow enough to allow the formation of corals around their rims. These coral formations are what eventually became the reefs that today fringe the Maldives’ atolls.
The gradual erosion of atoll rims formed channels that serve as a conduit between the open waters of the Indian Ocean and the waters within the atoll rim. The inward and outward flow of the ocean tide through these channels creates a rich source of food for the atoll reef’s numerous miniscule inhabitants.
The tiny but numerous sea creatures in turn draw sea life from further up the marine food chain. The reefs are home to more than 700 known fish species and tens of thousands of invertebrate species. Eagle ray, manta ray, grey shark, leaf fish, pipefish, frog fish, moray eels, flatworm and numerous nudibranch are just part of the rich biodiversity divers can expect to encounter when they plunge beneath the Maldives’ ocean surface.
It is because of the way the atoll reefs were formed that several have a near circular shape, some submerged and others encompassing a shallow lagoon.
Types of Diving Sites
- Diving sites in the Maldives are often classified based on their geology:Kandu (Channel) – These are the deep breaches in the atoll rim connecting the water inside the atoll to the waters of the open sea. Kandus provide the deepest dives in the atolls and are thus usually scheduled first for persons keen on several dives within the same day. It is in the kandus that the larger animal species such as grey sharks, whale sharks, hammerhead sharks and manta rays are more likely to be spotted.
- Thila – Thilas are submerged circular or oblong reefs with their rim usually 6 to 10 metres below the water surface. Thilas are some of the best diving sites in the Maldives.
- Giri – A Giri is a small coral formation inside the atoll only significantly smaller than a thila.
- Faru – Farus are circular reefs that lie inside kandus.
Popular Diving Atolls
The Ari Atoll is one the Maldives’ largest and is located close to the western end of the archipelago. Diving sites that attract the most attention in the atoll include:
- Broken Rock – Earning its name from the huge broken rock at its centre, this dive site features a wide range of hard and soft coral formations. Ranging in depth from 10 and 30 metres. Marine fauna common at Broken Rock includes trigger fish, puffer fish, napoleon wrasse and moray eels. You have to be careful when swimming at the Broken Rock though – currents can be fairly strong and divers may need to guard against being thrust against the reef coral.
- Gangehi Kandu – Whereas it is recognised as one of the Maldives best diving sites for seeing gray sharks, white tip sharks, leopard sharks and colourful coral, Gangehi Kandu is best left to the experienced scuba divers. Currents can be even stronger than those at the Broken Rock. In fact, diving should only be done when water currents are flowing into the atoll.
- Kalhahandi Kandu – Nicknamed ‘Pannettone’ by Italian divers who swear it resembles an Italian fruitcake, Kalhahandi Kandu is another excellent diving site. Even though currents here can be strong, the waters are often calm enough to allow non-expert divers to explore the beautiful landscape that lie below the water surface.
- Hulrueli Faru – Locally referred to as Rangali Madivaru, the Hulrueli Faru stands out for its particularly colourful coral formations. The term Madivaru is derived from the high number of manta rays (Madi in the local dialect) that are found here. Its depth ranges from 7.5 to30 metres.
- Maalhos Thila – Only expert divers are likely to see the best of Maalhos Thila since it is most scenic at depths beyond 25 metres. The strong currents here mean even experienced divers may need to deploy a surface balloon.
- Maaya Thila – Maaya Thila is one of the Maldives most popular diving sites suitable for both daytime and nocturnal scuba diving. Its popularity also stems from the relatively softer currents. However, the currents are sometimes relatively strong and safety precautions such as surface balloons may be necessary even for advanced divers.
The Male Atoll on the eastern end of the Maldives is just as famous for its excellent diving locations as it is for its world class resorts. The atoll is divided into two – North and South Male Atoll. Top diving sites in the Male Atoll include:
- Kuda Haa Thila (North Male Atoll) – Some of the marine life you can expect to see at Kuda Haa Thila includes frogfish, leaf fish, flatworms and nudibranches.
- Cocoa Thila (South Male Atoll) – Also referred to as Cocoa Corner, the Cocoa Thila is a relatively deep dive with the best views seen beyond a depth of 25 metres. As such, a surface balloon is mandatory.
- Guraidhoo Kandu (South Male Atoll) – The currents in Guraidhoo Kandu are powerful so only experience divers should attempt this dive. This further compounded by frequent undercurrent turbulence which is strong enough to pull a diver from the reef.
- Banana Reef (North Male Atoll) – Banana Reef was the first to gain traction as a diving site in the Maldives and still draws many divers each year. With depth ranging between 5 and 30 metres, the coral formations are colourful and the sea life diverse.