A holiday report about diving in the Maldives - March 1997
Alan Murphy

The MALDIVES consist of 26 distinct atolls about 100 miles west of the southern tip of India. Of the 1,196 islands, 200 are inhabited and 70 contain tourist hotels, each offering good snorkelling and diving on the local coral reefs.

My wife and I stayed on the resort island of Meerufenfushi which is on the North Male atoll. This particular island hotel is a middle range one, offering fairly basic accommodation. It has the advantage of being at the cheaper end of the scale (half board, UKú655 per person for 2 weeks). Half board was fine as we found that the buffet style breakfast and evening meals were more than sufficient - we just forgot about lunch. It is a very relaxing island, with native Maldivian flora and fauna (palm trees, coconuts, fruit bats, white sand pathways, etc.)

Some Maldivian tourist islands are more 'up market' in that they offer imported trees, flower gardens, swimming pools, marble floors, paved walkways, waiter service and so on. This was not the kind of holiday we wanted and we found that the very informal atmosphere on 'Meeru' suited us just fine. Many of the 450 guests were there for the second or third time (we even heard of some who had come every year for 15 years!).

Most of the native islands are off-limits to tourists. However a few of these islands do invite tourists from the resort islands to visit, mainly to spend money in their shops. One such island is Dhiffushi, a 5 minute boat ride away from Meeru. Although it is possible to snorkel over, this is not welcomed and instead the hotel runs excursion trips twice per week by invitation.

The main attraction of the Maldives is the rich coral beneath the sea. Within the Meeru lagoon the coral close inshore is quite healthy, but rather limited in terms of variety. You can snorkel out from the shore over staghorn coral and see numerous Picasso trigger fish. Visibility is a little poor close inshore (say 5m vis), but at midday, the overhead sun raises the temperature of the lagoon water to that of a tepid bath.

A better snorkelling reef is the Meeru 'House Reef'. This is a short 10 minute boat ride and costs a couple of US dollars. The boat runs every day to the House reef where the visibility is better than the lagoon (say 10 m visibility) and the variety of both fish and coral increases. Snorkellers usually spend about an hour in the water seeing anything from clown fish to sharks. On my last trip to the House reef, whilst snorkelling I heard a whole school of about 40 dolphins not far away and then on the return boat journey we were able to jump overboard and swim with them for a while.

Outside of the island's fringing house reef but still inside the atoll, there are many more reefs, offering even clearer water and more variety. Every 2 or 3 days the hotel ran 'Snorkelling Safari' boat trips to these reefs. During one of these trips, I saw turtles and sharks and a Manta ray. I was lucky becaus the Manta rays usually leave the Maldives by March. This is because the plankton is less at this time of year, but it does make for good visibility.

The diving organisation on Meeru was 'Eurodivers' - they provide a very professional set up and usually cater for about 50 divers per day, doing up to 3 dives. I was told that they have enough gear to take 110 divers at a time! The usual morning and afternoon dives were supplemented by the occasional 'early morning' and 'night dives'. Diving was usually by dhoni hardboat out to the outer atoll barrier reef. Here the visibility is exceptionally clear (20m+) and the fish life even more varied. Close to the channels which cross the barrier reef, there can be strong currents and this is where the sharks like to hang out. On one drift dive (off Chicken Island) I spotted a 2m long white tip reef shark and as I had my camera with me, I charged towards it to get a photograph. Back on the boat the dive instructor gave me a ticking off, telling me that charging directly towards a pregnant female shark was NOT a good idea (Oh well, I lived to tell the tale). Other common sights are turtles, rays and huge napoleon wrasse (>1m).

Diving in the Maldives is restricted to a maximum depth of 30m by law. On my dive on the wreck 'Malidivian Victory', we were told that if we exceeded 30m, we would not be allowed to do the afternoon dive. Eurodivers issue dive computers to ALL divers, so they can check up on this. Apparently the Malidivan authorities make checks as well. The wreck lies on a 40m bottom, just off the airport runway (Male airport is an island as well and from the air it looks like a large aircraft carrier). The main deck of the 'Victory' is at a depth of 25m with the bridge and wheelhouse at about 16m. When I dived it, the visibility was exceptionally clear - you could see nearly half the length of the vessel which is 110m long! The dive leader said that this was the best visibility he had seen there for 6 months. The wheelhouse can be penetrated easily, but the bottoms of the holds, although visible, are out-of-bounds being greater than 30m.

My afternoon dive that day was a drift dive in a moderate current at Banana Reef. Here, if you do not stick close to the reef, the current in the 'washing machine' can take you down, down and down. I completed that dive with 29.6m maximum depth showing on the computer (but still within the legal limit!). I was impressed by the shear size of the fish, particularly the wrasse and parrot fish.

Holiday costs included bottled water and beer (about US$2 per can), excursions on the dhonis (about US$5) and the diving expenses. Each dive cost me US$42 which included hire of BC, Reg, tank and weights (hire of computer was thrown in free, but I used my own) Costs were not too bad considering that most items have to be imported by dhoni or speedboat. Apart from fish and coconuts, the only other locally grown food were sweet bananas and some vegetables.

Overall a great holiday and really good diving. Just what we needed to set us up for the gruelling journey home. This began with a one hour transfer by boat to the airport and a 2 hour wait whilst they tried unsuccessfully to fix the check-in computer. The return flight is normally 13 hours, stopping at Bahrein, but we had strong headwinds and had to pickup extra fuel at Vienna, thereby delaying our arrival at Gatwick until 3am!!

If you want to know more about the Maldives and diving there, then you can check out the following links: