Off season diving in the Maldives

Off season diving in the Maldives
“BANG… BANG… BANG…” I checked my watch, 3am. I lay there quietly cursing the person who was allowing a door in their cabin to bang rhythmically with each pitch and roll of the boat. This was my first time on a liveaboard as well as my first time in the Maldives, and I began to wonder what I would experience diving here over the next week, musing in particular as to what sharks I may see. My thoughts were interrupted with a feeling of idiocy accompanied with an athletic catapult from the bed (by my partner following an instructive nudge from myself) to shut our bathroom door, sleep then returned swiftly with the gentle rocking of the boat.
Technically speaking I was going to be diving the Maldives ‘out of season’, it was the middle of the South West monsoon which runs from May to November and can be accompanied by heavy rain and rougher seas. During this season the wind transports clearer water from the South West, meaning that on the Western side of the atolls you should be rewarded with better visibility during a dive. Of course this ‘off season’ diving also meant a reduced number of liveaboard’s operating. However I managed to book onto a boat that would be running provided there was a minimum of 8 people on board. Thankfully just (an almost heart-stopping) two weeks before the trip a total of 10 of us had confirmed and the trip would go ahead! Phew!!
Getting busy with my new Canon 550D and housing.
The first dive following the standard ‘orientation/test dive’ (which dive operators often use to validate your skills and make sure you are happy underwater) did not disappoint. Masses of reef fish, hawksbill turtle, black stingray and a manta ray. The latter being particularly memorable – we were nearing the end of the dive when I glanced up and spotted a manta coming in with a bit of pace and reasonably close to the surface, just as I thought “I wonder if she’s going to breach?” She charged upwards and turned a full back flip in the air before returning to the water! Spectacular and I must congratulate the Manta ray on her perfectly timed acrobatics as this dive took place on my Birthday, most considerate!

Manta Ray post breach.

Black Stingray.
Over the course of the week we logged a total of eighteen dives with four dives around the N. Male Atoll, two dives around S. Male Atoll and six each around the N. and S. Ari Atolls. All but one of these dives were pinnacle (reef) dives which typically involved a max depth of around 25m. During these dives a wonderful diversity and abundance of reef fish were seen, together with; giant moray, honeycomb, and yellow margin eels, napoleon wrasse, cleaner shrimps, leaf fish, stone fish, lionfish, turtles (hawksbill and green), big schools of jacks and snapper as well as plenty of white-tip reef sharks and grey reef sharks and even a free swimming zebra shark (a new species I could now tick off my list)!

Giant Moray.
Hawksbill Turtle feeding on the Reef.
Honeycomb Eel.
Napoleon Wrasse.
We did 1 wreck dive a fishing vessel called the Kuda Giri, which supports a good resident fish population and allowed for a deeper dive of 37m when investigating the propeller and lower decks. The nearby pinnacle is a few short fin strokes away (the cause of the wreck!) with some smaller caves and swim-throughs to explore on the way up.
Despite not seeing a whale shark when diving, we were fortunate enough to see one and snorkel with it whilst around the S. Ari Atoll. We were on route to our second dive location of the day when we spotted an individual in about 5m of water cruising along the shoreline. We donned our snorkel gear, grabbed our camera’s and abandoned the boat (in my case still wearing half my normal clothes instead of swimwear!). The shark was about 17ft in length, and at this size probably still a juvenile! What an amazing experience as you carefully but quickly swim over to where you think the shark should be, eyes darting back and forth, ready to catch your first glimpse and then BOOM, there it is, emerging out of the plankton rich water! Fantastic!
Young Whale Shark over Reef.
Overall my first time on a liveaboard had been a huge success. I loved having the complete diving experience without having to go to and from a resort every day, and I am sure I got to see a lot more of the Maldives in general as well as more dive sites, the boat allowing us to travel further distances to different atolls than if I would have done a week’s land based diving.
Without a doubt, the huge benefit of diving in this season (if you don’t mind the 5-15m visibility range), is the absence of other divers, every time we dove we had the sites to ourselves, which I am told in the Maldives at peak season (especially December and January) is nigh impossible.
However this brings me to an unapologetic rant about the buoyancy control (or should I say the lack of…) by some divers. I know it can be very difficult to be perfect, I will openly admit an accidental ‘clip of the coral’ with a fin has happened to me in the past, which has been accompanied by an overbearing sense of guilt, a one sided telepathic conversation ensues ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean too…!’. But honestly what about the serial offenders who ignore the dive guide’s request’s and the overpowering looks of scorn mustered up by the other divers, to repeatedly stand on and lie all over the coral, kicking over table corals, snapping off goodness knows how many years of growth, in a matter of seconds with absolutely no show of remorse!
I am all for people enjoying the underwater world, but it is beyond me to understand how such divers fail to realise the consequences of their actions, there needs to be a system put in place as no amount of frowning, grunting, growling and finger wagging as well as topside conversations made any difference. It alarms me to think that it wasn’t bad weather or poor visibility associated with off season diving that had the potential to taint this trip; instead it was the irresponsible attitude or perhaps poor training (?) of other divers…..