Your first underwater experience of the Maldives is likely to be your local house reef. All the islands have their own unique house reefs. For many people, this is all you actually need. Just put on a mask and step into the shallows. You don’t need to go further than a few yards.
Immediately you are greeted with colourful corals and an abundance of small vibrant tropical fish. Typical are the ubiquitous Powder Blue Surgeon, Saddleback Butterfly fish and Oriental Reeftips, lazily feeding on the coral polyps.
Slip on some fins in the shallows, then head out a little further. As the water gradually deepens, you get to see larger, more graceful coral formations and shoals of small fish.
Of course, you need to avoid touching the coral. Apart from everything else, the coral is the natural habitat for many small fish. You can even see how defensive the little fish become when you get too close (see video below). You can also get some nasty cuts from some types of coral.
Maldives Under the Reef
As you gently paddle out to the reef edge, normally 20 or 30 meters from the beach, the colors start to change. Instead of the brightly-lit tones of the shallows, you begin to see the darker blue shades of the deep, stretching down to the much darker depths of the reef wall.
The reef edge is usually a great place for spotting the larger species. With a little patience, you can encounter Turtles and some of the smaller Blacktip or Whitetip Reef Sharks.
At Makunudu, they actually feed their community of sharks in the evenings from the end of the jetty.
If you’re spending several days or longer on your island, you will quickly become familiar with the layout and landmarks of your underwater environment. You can then quickly navigate to places of interest at different times.
The same hideouts may be regularly inhabited by different species at different times of the day/evening.
From Makunudu Island Resort, there are four organized snorkeling trips each week. These are morning trips by dhoni to nearby ‘thilas’ (underwater reefs). We were told there was a good chance of spotting Manta Rays, so we didn’t need any more encouragement to join the trip.
We boarded the dhoni with about a dozen other keen snorkelers, and headed off into the blue. We were accompanied by 2 Maldivian divers who knew exactly where to moor the boat and lead our group. Even before we got into the water, we could see 2 Manta Rays passing by close to our dhoni, occasionally breaking the surface.
The reef we were visiting wasn’t visible from the surface – we just appeared to be somewhere in the middle of the ocean. Once we got into the water, however, we could see clearly the undulating form of the coral. In some areas it was quite shallow, and the visibility was very good.
I had my camera ready, and was hoping for some decent footage.
With such a large group of people, I wanted to maintain a distance from the others while keeping an eye on the Maldivian group leader. The excitement level rose a few degrees when the first manta ray came into sight. It seemed curious, almost playful, as it gracefully glided in close to take a good look at us.
Then, like a stealth bomber, it drifted past only to turn again for a second pass.
Around the same time I noticed some commotion out of the corner of my eye, and turned to see our Maldivian Guide in determined pursuit of a large turtle. When he actually tried to grab it, the startled turtle suddenly switched gear, deftly evading his pursuer and the other snorkelers.
Lucky for me, he headed in my direction. I managed to get some decent images before the turtle had enough and slipped away through the rocks.
All the excitement attracted a White tip shark, but he didn’t hang around for the photo shoot. In all, we spent an hour or so in the water, though it felt more like 10 minutes. It was a great way to start the day. On the boat trip back we drank water and dried off in the sun.
This is really what the Maldives is all about.
If you enjoyed Maldives Under the Reef, check out our other Asian Short Breaks. You may also like: