THRIVING MARINE LIFE IN THE MALDIVES
By James Lee – 9th Sep 2021
“The world’s finest wilderness lies beneath the waves …”
– Wyland, Marine Life Artist
In itself, the topography of Maldives is already a breathtaking sight to behold, with idyllic white-sand beaches, crystal clear waters, and luxurious resorts. But what is even more captivating is found underneath its enthralling facade – a thriving marine life that could easily surpass expectations and fill you with amazement.
Whether snorkeling the vibrant coral reefs or strolling along the lagoon boardwalk, you will certainly have a friendly heartwarming encounter with its sea creature inhabitants, which makes the Maldives a must-visit and irresistible travel destination for scuba and snorkeling enthusiasts. Tourists return time and again to explore and enjoy the fascinating aquatic animals and paradisiacal well-preserved natural environment.
So if you plan your next adventure right, you could find yourself swimming along with manta rays, whale sharks, sea turtles, and so much more in one of the world’s famous diving hotspots. However, for the time being, let us get to know a little more about some of its enchanting sea residents.
We start with Manta rays, known to have the largest brain among the cold-blooded fish family. Perhaps this explains why they are highly intelligent and can even pass the mirror test. Manta rays can engage in contingency checking and unusual self-directed behavior similar to that of dolphins and elephants. Moreover, they are the broadest rays in the world, reaching a width of around 7 meters.
The name “manta” is Portuguese in origin and Spanish for mantle – a type of blanket-shaped trap used to traditionally catch rays. Their triangular pectoral fins look large, flat, and diamond-shaped like a blanket. Some people also call them “devil fish” due to their horn-shaped cephalic fins.
Forward now to our next subject – the Whale shark, a slow-moving, filter-feeding and most massive fish in the sea. It has a confirmed individual length of 18.8 meters. Fortunately, unlike the white shark that we are familiar with, whale sharks prefer planktons as food. To eat, it juts out its formidable jaws and filters anything in its path passively. With their colossal gaping mouths, it scoops tiny plants and other animals together with small fishes that happen to be nearby while swimming close to the water surface.
Whale sharks can be found in open waters of tropical oceans but rarely in water regions below 21°C as they choose warmer temperatures. Though they are enormous, whale sharks are docile fish that occasionally allow swimmers to hitch a ride. Likewise, they are currently listed and classified as vulnerable species.
Then there are sea turtles, also referred to as marine turtles, with seven species in the Maldives – green, loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, hawksbill, flatback, and leatherback. Interestingly, for all of them, the male and female are the same in size. Sea turtles have a more fusiform body plan than their terrestrial or freshwater counterparts in general. And due to this tapering at both ends, sea turtles cannot retract their head and limbs into their shells for protection, unlike many other turtles and tortoises.
However, on the positive side, the streamlined body plan of sea turtles reduces friction and drag in the water, allowing them to swim freely and swiftly. The leatherback sea turtle is the largest – measuring 2-3 meters in length and weighing up to 700kg. Other smaller sea turtle species being roughly 1.2 meters in length, and their width is proportionally narrower.
Furthermore, to have high chances of discovering these manta rays, whale sharks, sea turtles, and other incredible marine creatures, here are the best spots in the Maldives and the timing to consider.
Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll is a feeding hotspot for manta rays. Scuba diving is no longer permitted, but you can always go swimming or snorkeling amidst these gentle giants and get up close and personal with the whale sharks. The perfect time to visit is between June and early October. A place where you can enjoy snorkeling or a diving tryst with the whale sharks is Dhigurah in South Ari Atoll. The Maldives Whale Shark Research Program is also situated here coincidentally. It is a research-based conservation charity dedicated to studying whale sharks and fostering community-focused conservation initiatives.
Another prime location to see whale sharks is in South Ari Atoll. The sightings are excellent all year round, with August to November being the peak time. Manta rays can also be seen during the northeast monsoon, which lasts from around October to May. Addu Atoll is also an exceptional scuba diving point where you can spot almost everything from manta rays, eagle rays to turtles and more. As for the whereabouts of sea turtles, the leading places to find them are in North Male Atoll, Meeru Island Resort & Spa’s Turtle Reef.
The Maldives is such a majestic archipelago with its islands rich in all kinds of marine life, definitely a must-add to your travel bucket list!