MALDIVES: The Cream of Male Atoll
By Bob Whorton. For Asian Diver
North Male Atoll was the first of the Maldivian Atolls to be opened for tourism beginning with the Karumba resort construction of 1972. The quality of the dive sites discovered just around the vicinity of Karumba were enough to make the Maldives quickly famous and represented the very beginning of a diving tourism industry we know today. The following sites are no more than 30 minutes by Dhoni from Karumba or Club Med resorts.
North Male Atoll
My very first dive in the Maldives was on ‘Banana Reef’ from Karumba as a 17 yr old in late 1972; it was so special that I can remember every detail of the dive as if it were only yesterday... I had dived in the Gulf of Aqaba at Eilat several months before this but even that had not prepared me for what I was about to see at this one Maldivian dive site.
The reef gets its name from the banana shaped reef top that sits just 3-5m below the surface... However, the reef topography below is far different. The north eastern wall of the reef slips quickly to 40m, the upper section of wall having a deep overhang. During the early morning this overhang is literally solid fish; snapper, surgeonfish and black spotted grunts. It’s normal to see grey reef shark patrolling the area, waiting for the unwary to split from the schools, with whitetip’s cruising the adjacent slope. 150m further on several large outcrops stand away from the main reef; here schools of oriental Sweetlips, sabre squirrelfish and bigeye lurk among the shadows with large honeycomb grouper hiding below the deeper clefts. Several types of moray, including large honeycomb can be found seemingly howling at the distant sun. Schools of barracuda hang off the reef during strong current exchanges through the nearby channel together with giant snapper. Whilst along the edge of the walls drift schools of Indian angelfish and pennant fish, with passing schools of fusiliers adding colour to the blue. The reef top is very interesting too, with stonefish, scorpionfish and several kinds of lionfish. Photographically speaking: “there is a subject for every lens”.
This site has to be one of the most complete of marine Eco-systems in the known world; marvellous considering it is a site frequently dived by all of the resort bases as well as Safari boats. The reef is almost always exposed to strong currents and it is this that makes it so special as a way station for schooling fish and sizeable predators. The main reef sits atop a gently sloping sea mound at 20-22m. Two further large coral formations, one that almost joins the main reef in the east and the second standing 30m to the north in 27m of depth, all ascending to within 14m of the surface.
The main reef has large overhangs filled with corals and sea fans. Soldier fish, Grouper, Squirrelfish and Sweetlips varieties lurk in the shadows while outside huge schools of yellow-tailed Jack prowl. Every kind of fish you would expect to see is there, and then hundreds you don’t. The large rock to the north of the Thila is the place to see Schooling Bannerfish in numbers you couldn’t dream of, add to this equal numbers of Fusilier, Giant Snapper and Jacks and it just induces a state of trance... the latter part of the dive especially finds one staring in awe at this marvellous spectacle. Great and Chevron Barracuda are frequent visitors in stiff current as well as Whitetip Sharks and eagle rays.
The site is also incredibly rich in crustaceans and includes the fastest claws in the sea... those of the ‘Mantis Shrimp’. Getting a good photograph takes a lot of time and patience as they can disappear at the speed of light.
This reef has seen some visitors for the simple fact it is undoubtedly one of the worlds most beautiful sites. Even El Nino had little effect here due to the cooling effects of strong incoming currents. Any damaged hard coral areas were quickly regenerated to the point now where they combine with outstanding growths of soft coral to make it better than ever. Some of the biggest red anemone species in the Maldives can be found here supporting several types of anemone fish and ‘domino’ damsels. These anemone add confusion to your photographic results as they appear a vivid green in the water, the developed slides however turn out their real brilliant red! The site supports massive schools of snapper species, barracuda and sharks with schools of eagle ray during strong currents. The many overhangs shelter sleeping sharks and the small lower outcrops are very active cleaning stations.
Lying in a narrow channel subjects the site to very strong currents during high water, forming eddies (washing machine) that can induce negative buoyancy – dragging your exhaust bubbles sideways & down... amazing to watch but unless aware will cause major problems for inexperienced current divers.
This eastern site has become a Mecca for manta observers over the years. The reef itself is a classic style sloping reef ending in a sandy shelf at around 25m but alters dramatically towards the corner of a broad channel. Here the massive corals have grown into large outcrops which provide a platform for cleaning fish to service manta during the months May through November. The spectacle during early morning and afternoon is wonderful to see; the rays slip silently in and interact whilst awaiting their turn above the cleaning station. Divers sitting patiently will be rewarded with “close encounters of the cartilage kind”, as the manta hover directly above their heads using exhaust bubbles like we would a shower. It is not unusual to see upwards of a dozen manta during these sessions ranging in size from 2 – 4m across. Those very best close-up shots of manta... they were taken here!
Probably the Most famous wreck of recent years the 'Victory' is certainly the most dived wreck in Maldives. 'Victory's' location off the south western corner of Male's 'Hulhule' airport makes it easily accessible from the majority of resorts around the North & South Male Atolls.
The 3500 tonne, 10-year old Victory was sailing from Singapore to Male carrying building materials and retail supplies for the islands. During the early hours of Friday 13th February 1981 The Captain lost his bearings in the channel to the west of Hulhule reef whilst travelling at full speed (Drunk). Hitting the small reef south of Funadhoo Island and tearing a large hole into the hull. She drifted backward on a strong outgoing current (as much as 5 knots in this channel), sinking relatively quickly onto the flat seabed at 34m. The Victory at 89m long has enough to keep the most demanding of wreck-diver's and fish lovers busy the whole dive. Although almost all of the valuable cargo was salvaged reminders in the shape of bags of cement are littered around the proximity of the hull. Noticeably, during the last three years, the Victory is turning into a coral covered artificial reef; the hull and superstructure now completely enveloped inside a living skin.
A permanent buoy is fixed from the main mast 12m below, which helps both descents and ascents to and from the wreck during current, with a second rope joining the mast to the bridge. Once on the deck at 25m the superstructure offers reasonable shelter for a relaxed poke around. The three main holds provide easy ingress into the ship, a torch is required inside to spot the nocturnal and smaller life. It is not unusual to find a loan Great Barracuda lurking in or around the holds.
Resort based or live-aboard these sites are easily accessible and frequently toured by the resident centres and boats. Each site is unique and will no doubt attract you back again and again... It certainly works for me!
The Maldives are reached by regular scheduled and charter flights from Singapore.
Dhivehi and English are the two prime languages
Maldivian Ruffia, but US dollar widely accepted and preferred by resorts.
220-240V generally supplied through UK style 3-pin socket outlets
The Maldives has both Christian & Muslim religions with associated customs. Dress off-resort is strictly enforced and women should cover legs & shoulders. Ramadan is a time of fasting and discipline... smoking or eating outside is strictly forbidden during daylight hours. Ramadan has no fixed date, so check before you go.
Usually 10% but if service charge is added already to your bill - think twice.
Health & Safety
All travellers to Maldives should be fully inoculated with Typhoid, tetanus, Polio and Hepatitis A & B and be fully insured against medical emergencies. The Medical facilities in Male have improved over the years after the building of the Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital was built. Good quality dental services are available now too.
Rani Dive Safaris
Etc (Big List this!)
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