Diving in the Maldives
Most holiday resorts in the Maldives have a scuba diving facility and there are a number of liveaboard operators offering scuba diving cruise holidays that take guests to many dive sites all over the Maldives. Many scuba divers are keen to dive in the Maldives because of the presence of whale sharks, manta rays, eagle rays, reef sharks, hammerhead sharks and moray eels, as well as many smaller fish and coral species.
The Maldives has been growing in popularity as a scuba diving destination since the 1970s when the number of resorts began to increase and people began discovering the Maldives as a holiday destination. Nowadays, the Maldives seen as one of the world’s finest scuba diving destinations, together with destinations such as Australia, Belize, Egypt, Indonesia and Thailand.
Tourist arrivals to the Maldives have been growing steadily for the last ten years, with the exception of 2005 (the year after the tsunami), when the numbers dropped. Around 700,000 tourists visit the Maldives each year (2008), of whom15% go to the Maldives specifically to scuba dive. Other people go to the Maldives for another reason, for example, their honeymoon, but decide to scuba dive while they are there.
Diving typology in Maldives
Maldives offer different typology of dives but quite all the dives are characterised by medium to strong currents.
A Thila is an underwater island that can be both, so small that you can dive it all around or so big that you'll manage to se only one side during a dive. The Thila that are within a Kandu are usually the diving spot with the strongest current but also the one that have the most interesting sea life.
A Kandu, Channel or Pass are the diving spot around the border of the atoll, is the places where when the tides changes the water flows in and out of the atoll. Those are the perfect places where to do drift dives and where you can see big pelagic fish like sharks, tunas and mantas.
Each island in Maldives has its own Lagoon, usually not very deep, it can reach around 20 meters, and mostly sandy. Those places are protected from the current so are the ideal spot to conduct scuba diving courses but they are not very interesting form a sea life point of view.
Diving destinations and diving sites in the Maldives
The territory of the Maldives comprises mainly water, with only 1% of the country being land-based. The land is spread over 1,192 islets, each of which forms part of an atoll. In total, there are 26 atolls in the Maldives. The following atolls are home to some of the most popular dive sites in the Maldives.
Located in the western part of the Maldives Islands, the Ari Atoll is one of the largest atolls in the Maldives, and as such is home to a wide selection of dive sites, including:
Named for a large broken rock at the center of this dive site, Broken Rock is home to a beautiful array of soft and hard coral formations that attract a wide variety of reef. Where the rock is broken, there is a channel that divers can swim through, giving the dive an interesting dimension. Broken Rock varies in depth from 40 to 100 feet. Sometimes, there can be very strong currents at Broken Rock, so divers should be cautious to avoid being thrown against the coral. Among the marine life often seen at Broken Rock, common sightings include the puffer fish, trigger fish, moray eels and napoleon wrasse.
Recommended only for advanced scuba divers, the Gangehi Kandu dive site is located in the northern part of the Ari Atoll. Currents here can also be an issue, and the site should only be dived when the currents are flowing into the site. Gangehi Kandu is known as one of the best dive sites in the Maldives for spotting sharks, including gray reef sharks, white tip reef sharks and the occasional leopard shark. Coral formations at this dive site are particularly colorful, and divers here can expect to see moray eels, nudibranch, mantis shrimp and trigger fish. Large pelagic species are also frequent visitors to the site.
Hukrueli Faru (Rangali Madivaru)
Commonly known as Rangali Madivaru or just Madivaru, Hukrueli Faru is home to a very colorful coral reef. The site is named for the abundance of manta rays seen here (Madi means manta ray in the Maldivian language Dhivehi) during the northeast monsoon season. Depths at Hukrueli Faru range from 25 feet to almost 100 feet, making the dive particularly interesting and varied. Manta rays are attracted to Hukrueli Faru because of the strong currents that form a whirlpool effect in the deeper parts of the site, where the manta rays can hover over the currents. The mantas are also attracted to the several cleaning stations located around Hukrueli Faru.
Declared a “Protected Marine Area” by the Maldivian government, Kudarah Thila is a popular dive site which enjoys many incoming currents. Coral reef formations at Kudarah Thila are bright and colorful, including a variety of soft and hard corals. Thila means “Pinnacle” in Dhivehi, and at Kudarah Thila there are actually four pinnacles, which can be all visited in one dive. A swim-through at the south-east corner of the dive site makes this a particularly popular dive, as does the rich variety of marine life, which typically includes trumpet fish, snapper, gobies, dartfish, oriental sweetlips and groupers. A little further away from the reef, divers are likely to see gray reef sharks, napoleon fish and sea turtles.
Maalhos Thila is only suitable for experienced scuba divers because the best part of the dive site lies deeper than 25 metres. Maalhos Thila is an attractive dive spot, featuring several coral heads about 28 metres below the surface, all of which are covered with beautiful corals. Common visitors to the reef here include oriental sweetlips, white tip reef sharks and blue-lined snappers. Because of the strong currents at Maalhos Thila, a safety balloon must be deployed here to ensure the divers’ safety.
Maaya Thila is one of the most famous dive sites in the Maldives and is known as a great spot for both daytime and night-time scuba diving. The marine life seen at Maaya Thila depends largely on the currents, which vary greatly; when the currents are not strong, Maaya Thila is an easy dive site, suitable for less experienced divers, but when currents are strong Maaya Thila is recommended for only advanced divers and they will need to use a surface balloon.
Maaya Thila is most famous for the white tip reef sharks that can nearly always be seen here, both during the day and night. A night dive at Maaya Thila also allows divers to encounter moray eels, turtles, octopus and stonefish.
Mushi Mas Mingili Thila (Fish Head)
Fish Head, or Mushi Mas Mingili is one of the most popular dive sites in Maldives. Prior to the site being declared an official Protected Marine Area by the Maldivian Government it was a common shark feeding spot among scuba divers. Marine life typically seen at Mushi Mas Mingili Thila includes gray reef sharks, white tips, napoleon wrasse, jacks and tuna.
Pannettone (Kalhahandi Kandu)
Kalhahandi Kandu has earned the nickname Pannettone from the many Italian divers who believe it resembles the traditional Italian fruitcake. It is an attractive dive site, recommended mainly for advanced scuba divers, except for when the currents are not strong. There are some spectacular coral formations here, featuring a variety of soft and hard coral species, which attract a wide selection of fish including angelfish, basslets, butterfly fish, scorpion fish, trigger fish, puffer fish and . The corals here are in good condition and weather conditions at Pannettone mean the dive site can be explored year-round.
South Male Atoll
The Male Atoll is divided into 2 sections, the North Male Atoll and the South Male Atoll. They are both located on the eastern side of the Maldives. The South Male Atoll is home to a number of tourist resorts and some of the finest scuba diving in the Maldives.
Cocoa Corner (Cocoa Thila)
Cocoa Corner is a dive site that can be explored in several different ways and with the right current and conditions, it’s is the best shark show around Male Atoll. Many dive guides consider crossing from Cocoa Corner to Kandooma Thila. With the right current, divers begin the dive from Cocoa Corner and while maintaining a depth of 25 to 29 metres, they swim across the current while parallel to the edge at 40 metres. This gives a natural reference that divers are maintaining the correct position while crossing to the Thila and divers are not taken too far inside the channel. The Thila lies in the middle of the channel about 15 metres from the channel edge. Here, divers will see heaps of grey reef sharks from big mother sharks to newborn babies patrolling the edge of the channel together. Eagle rays and schooling jack fish are also common at the beginning of the Thila. By the time divers reach the Thila, their bottom time should be running out and the best thing to do is to swim to the top of the Thila and continue diving in shallower waters. A safety balloon is a must at Cocoa Corner and divers should be prepared to make an open water safety stop.
Guraidhoo Kandu South
Guraidhoo Kandu South is sometimes also known as Guraidhoo Corner. Currents at Guraidhoo Kandu are strong, making this a dive site appropriate only for advanced, experienced scuba divers. Gray reef sharks are common visitors at Guriadhoo Kandu when the currents are incoming, along with several pelagic species and eagle rays. Divers should be very cautious at this dive site, as the currents can pull you away from the reef and there is often underwater turbulence.
North Male Atoll
The North Male Atoll is one of the most developed atolls in terms of hotel and resort development. There are at least 20 resort islands operating in the North Male Atoll. It is also home to some excellent diving spots.
Banana Reef was the first dive site to be discovered in the Maldives continues to be one of the most popular. The dive, which ranges in depth from 5 to 30 meters, has several interesting characteristics including a pinnacle and some overhangs. Coral formations here are prolific and colorful, attracting an extensive variety of fish, including squirrelfish, bannerfish and oriental sweetlips. Currents can be strong at times around the reef, with occasional turbulence occurring around the overhangs. As such, the use of a surface balloon is recommended.
Kuda Haa is a dramatic pinnacle, or thila, dive, which is widely considered one of the highlights of diving in the Maldives. Diving at Kuda Haa is at its best when the currents are not strong, when it is easy to navigate between the two parts of the pinnacle. Marine life to be expected at Kuda Haa is diverse and plentiful, including many macro species, including nudibranchs, flatworms, leaf fish and frogfish.
Addu Atoll is the only area in the Maldives that was not affected by the 1998 global coral bleaching.
Those who want to dive at Maldives biggest wreck "British Loyalty, with large manta rays, eagle rays, sharks, turtles and generally big fish all year around, well be delighted. There are four kandus in the atoll: Gan kandu, Viligili Kandu, Maa Kandu and Kuda Kandu.
Bushy Eastside 1
Usually done as a drift dive. On an outgoing current the dive starts inside the channel where the reef slopes gently from 5 metres to a sandy bottom of around 22 – 25 metres. At the outer corner the reef flattens out between 18 and 24 metres and is covered in a variety of corals and an abundance of reef fish.
British Loyalty 2
The wreck is 134 metres long and sits at a depth of 33 metres, lying on its portside. From the surface, when visibility is good, it is possible to see the starboard-side railings 15 metres below. The propeller is at a depth of between 23m and 28m and originally had 4 blades, each 2m long. The top blade is missing today, but the remaining 3 are complete and covered with corals.
Kottey Outside 3
Kottey Outside is a series of plateaus, with a steep drop off. Large swells and strong currents mean that it’s not always easy to dive. On the west side, the upper plateau is between 8 and 15 metres; the deeper one slopes gently from 23m to 30 metres, then drops off to well over 30 metres.
Turtle Point 4
Possibility of waves, surge and currents. A lot of coral damage on most of the reef due to the wave action. Reef starts about 5 m of water and then gently slopes down to 30 m. Large numbers of turtles, reef fish, white/black tip reef sharks, eagle rays, batfish and lobsters. Look out for nudi branch and some nice schooling fish.
Bodu Hoholha 5
Wall Dive. The dive site is situated near to a man made channel which is used for local fishing boats so look and listen for boat traffic when ascending. Diving left shoulder you will be heading north-west towards Demon Point; right shoulder you will be heading south-east towards the channel. The top of Bodu Hoholha’s reef is about 5 to 8 metres, and then drops almost vertically to well beyond 30 metres. Along most of the wall there are beautiful purple gorgonians. Between 25 and 30+ metres there are overhangs which form “steps” in the reef and caves, some of which are large enough and safe to enter. Bring a torch to illuminate spots in the cave. Look out for banded shrimp and eels in the smaller holes. The deep water off to the side of the reef offers opportunities to see bigger pelagic fish. An abundance of fish to be found at 10 m and above and the corals are plentiful so it is a good dive at all depths. When in the caves watch your depth, air and no decompression time.
Maa Kandu Outside 6
Easy reef wall dive. Not usually affected too much by currents, although it can be swirly in places. Top of the reef starts between 5m and 8m and slopes gradually to around 30 metres or more. Plenty of healthy corals you will find everywhere. Some very large formations at the top of the reef and gorgonians in the deeper areas. A few small caverns and overhangs between 10 and 20 metres depth. Also some sandy patches between 20 and 30 metres. Look in to the blue something may pass by.
Maahala is on the end of Kuda Kan’du Channel, behind Fihali Fara. It does not cover a large area, so ideally should be dived when there is very little or no current. Along the channel part of the reef there are large coral blocks which protrude from the channel wall. Much of the wall is covered by spongy green finger like plants and fan corals. Between 2 metres and 10 metres the coral is very dense and typical of the Addu Atoll reefs with masses of table corals and a lot of schooling reef fish. The best part is the corner where the coral formations are at their densest. Watch out for surge and surf at the top of the reef, particularly in the shallower areas.