Whale sharks of the Maldives

‘What is it? A shark? A whale? Whatever it is it’s massive!’

The whale shark is the biggest fish in the ocean, and therefore is also the biggest shark. It is one of three species of filter feeding shark; also including the basking shark and the mega mouth shark. On the 7th January we were lucky enough to spot Pedro who is a juvenile male at six metres. It was a truly breath taking moment! The best time to look for a whale shark is three to five hours before high tide and a few days before the full moon. However, finding a whale shark cannot be a guaranteed experience.

For many, seeing a whale shark is a once in a lifetime experience, with a place at the top of numerous bucket lists. These enigmatic and gentle creatures can be seen year round in South Ari Atoll, only a short seaplane ride from Gili Lankanfushi. The whale sharks are attracted to South Ari Atoll due to the vicinity of the Chagos-Laccadive Plateau, which provides very deep and highly nutrient rich water. Whale sharks are a pelagic species, able to travel around 100 miles per day and dive to at least 1600m – probably deeper, but this cannot be officially recorded due to tracking tags breaking under the phenomenal pressure at great depth.

Whale sharks are fascinating animals that predate the dinosaurs by 220 million years. All sharks, including the whale shark are cartilaginous fish, which means that their skeletons are made from cartilage, not bone. As with all sharks the whale shark’s skin is covered by dermal denticles, a substance more like teeth than fish scales. The dermal denticles are a couple of millimetres thick and protect the shark’s skin from damage and parasites. They also provide better hydrodynamics. Under this layer of protective armour is a fatty layer, around 10 to 15 cm thick that is most likely used as an energy store and protection from injuries, together with insulation during deeper dives. Whale sharks have over 300 rows of tiny replaceable teeth which are made from a stronger version of dermal denticles. Scientists are still debating the use of these teeth as whale sharks are filter feeders so their teeth are not required for feeding. Another anatomical feature which perplexes scientists is that the whale shark has spiracles. These are a breathing aid for stationary sharks, but the whale shark is classified as a highly mobile shark so what is the use? It could be that the whale shark is very closely related to bottom dwelling sharks, and it is a feature that will eventually disappear through evolution, or it could be used on the rare occasions that the shark is stationary and not feeding.

Whale sharks are known to make seasonal feeding aggregations in 20 countries, including Australia, Gulf of Mexico, Belize, Gulf of California, Seychelles and Maldives. Whale sharks feed on microscopic plankton and small fish that they suck into their one and half metre wide mouths. Their throats are much smaller in comparison; around the size of a drain pipe. They have two known methods for feeding, ram filtration and suction feeding. Suction feeding allows whale sharks to feed on more mobile prey such as small fishes, which they actively suck into their mouths, together with volumes of water that are then expelled through their gills. By comparison ram feeding is passive; the shark swims through the water with their mouth open and plankton filters in. It has been suggested that whale sharks are more suited to suction filter feeding because the gaps between their five to seven gills are small. This small gap is more effective at filtering out plankton when the shark is suction feeding. Whale sharks have very weak eyesight, they can probably only see three meters away, and so rely on their nostrils to find prey. Their nostrils are very sensitive due to their well-developed olfactory capsules; they can detect chemicals in the water produced by their planktonic prey.

Plankton tend to shelter at depths between 100 – 200m. This is the oxygen minimum zone and is not a suitable habitat for many organisms which would prey on them. Whale sharks however are able to feed at these depths and will spend the majority of their time between 50 – 250m. They do venture to deeper depths where the temperature drops to 3 degrees Celsius but scientists believe that due to the infrequency of these dives this is related to parasite removal, not feeding. Whale sharks cannot internally control their body temperature and so return to the surface to warm up and reload oxygen. This is why they can be found in the shallow waters around South Ari Atoll. During this warming and reloading period the sharks can be impaired cognitively and physically which explains their sluggish and relaxed behaviour.

Due to the sluggish behaviour of whale sharks and the shallow depths they travel in they are under threats from boats. It is estimated that 67% of whale sharks have injuries ranging from scratches to amputations. The effects of pollution, poor waste management and increased sedimentation on the whale shark population have not yet been suitably evaluated. Another issue is disturbances to their habitat resulting from tourism – if the guidelines for whale shark encounters are not followed the sharks can negatively be affected. For example, if a large group of tourists are crowding a shark it can cause the shark to dive before it has properly warmed up and reloaded oxygen. Adult whale sharks can also be targeted by great white sharks and orcas, whilst babies have been found in the stomachs of blue sharks and swordfish. In some parts of the world whale sharks are hunted for their meat and fins. In 2010 the Maldives implemented a ban on all forms of shark fishing. However, due to the longevity of whale sharks it will take many years for the population to return to optimal levels.

It is estimated that whale sharks can live between 70 – 100 years, reaching sexual maturity after 25 years at a size of eight to nine metres. Although some people report sightings of whale sharks up to 18 metres in length the largest confirmed has been 12.65m. It is easy to identify a male whale shark because when it has reached sexual maturity their sexual organs have a ragged appearance called claspers which extend past their pelvic fin. The whale shark is classified as ovoviviparous which means that they produce eggs which hatch inside the body. A female whale shark can store sperm for many months and can have babies at different stages of development. For example a female was found with 300 embryos at numerous stages of development. Due to whale sharks storing sperm and having babies at different stages of development the gestation period is unknown. Upon birth the pups are around half a metre in size and weight one kilo.

Whilst whale sharks are regularly sighted, 98% of these sightings are juvenile males with a length of six metres. At any one point it is estimated that there are 200 whale sharks in the waters of the Maldives. The most common behaviour observed of these sharks is cruising, only 12% of encounters are feeding.

We can’t wait to show you these gentle giants next time you are at Gili Lankanfushi. Please ask your Mr/Ms Friday and we can book a trip for you.  When you see one be sure to snap a photo of the checkerboard pattern on their side by their pectoral fins. This can help us with identification and research.

For more information and to upload your whale shark encounters please visit: https://maldiveswhalesharkresearch.org/

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

Adopt A Dive Site in The Middle East and North Africa

It doesn’t matter if you are a professional diver or a certified diver …as divers we have the passion, the access to the underwater world and the skills to become real ocean advocates!

We are a powerful movement which, through our actions of reporting and collecting valuable data can make the ocean safer for marine life, and more importantly, help inform policy change.

To further mobilize the citizen scientists, Project AWARE in 2016 launched the Adopt A Dive Site™ program.

Adopt A Dive Site is a unique and powerful program to involve dive centers, resorts and leaders around the world in ongoing, local protection and monitoring of local dive sites: participants commit to carry out monthly Dive Against Debris surveys, reporting types and quantities of marine debris found underwater each month from the same location.

To support Adopt a Dive Site participants, Project Aware will provide a full suite of survey tools to help implement their actions, a yearly report on the state of your local dive site and recognition tools for dive centers, resorts and leaders to share their stewardship with local customers and community.

We have a total of 15 adopted dive sites in The Middle East and North Africa, and we are looking forward to increasing this number!

Here are the PADI Pros and Dive centers who have made a commitment to their local dive sites through the Adopt A Dive Site program:

  • ADS44 – Abu Dhabi Steel Blocks, Saeed Majed, Abu Dhabi
  • ADS170 – House Reef, Natalie Sjostrom, Divers Down, Dubai
  • ADS226 – Dibba Rock, The Palms Dive Center, Dubai
  • ADS232 – Alga Wreck, Archimede Diving Center, Djerba
  • ADS240 – Ricardo Wreck, Archimede Diving Center, Djerba
  • ADS241 – Ras Taguermess Rocks, Archimede Diving Center, Djerba
  • ADS253 – Sheraton Red Sea Resort, Issam Kanafani, Jeddah
  • ADS265 – King Abdullah’s Reef, Marlee Thomas, Camel Dive Center, Jordan
  • ADS268 – Dibba Rock, Hassan Khayal, Dubai
  • ADS269 – Inchcape 1, Kholousi Khayal, Dubai
  • ADS277 – Dream Beach, Muneeb Ur Rehman, Professional Zone, Jeddah
  • ADS280 – Snoopy Island, Annie Halloran, The Dive Centre – Dubai
  • ADS314 – Shark Island, Hassan Khayal, Dubai
  • ADS382 – Dibba Rock, Kayleigh Hyslop, Freestyle Divers, Dubai
  • ADS387 – Artificial Reef, Kayleigh Hyslop, Freestyle Divers, Dubai

What are you waiting for? Adopt A Dive Site™

Bioluminescence at Gili Lankanfushi

The sea never sleeps. Even at night it is bursting with a wonder that seems almost magical – flashes seeming to appear out of nowhere when the ocean is otherwise shrouded in darkness

When the lights go out nature doesn’t stop communicating. Similar to our adaptations to cope with the dark, by making light, many organisms have developed the ability to produce light. This is called bioluminescence and is created by a chemical reaction within the organism. It is not the same as fluorescence which results from the organism absorbing light at one wavelength and then re-emitting it at another wavelength. Bioluminescence is therefore an active form of communication, whereas fluorescence is passive communication. Whilst visual light is required to observe fluorescence, bioluminescence can be witnessed in pitch black environments. It is generally blue/green in color and this is due to the shorter blue/green light waves travelling further under water.

Bioluminescence can be found throughout the ocean
It can be found in many different groups such as jellyfish, sharks, fish, algae and worms to name a few. In each group the chemical reaction that produces the light varies, which is evidence that bioluminescence has evolved multiple times. Generally, bioluminescent animals contain the chemicals required to produce light, but occasionally an animal can take in bacteria or a different bioluminescent organism that has the ability to produce bioluminescence. For example, the Hawaiian bobtail squid takes in bioluminescent bacteria which are stored in a special light organ and at night they then work together to produce light. This light acts as a cloaking device preventing the squid from casting a shadow and hence camouflaging the squid from predators.

For light to be produced organisms must contain the molecule luciferin which when combined with oxygen produces light. Different organisms will contain different types of luciferin. Some organisms can contain a catalyst called luciferase which can speed up the chemical reaction. Additionally, luciferin and oxygen can be bundled together to make a photoprotein which can be activated instantaneously when a certain ion becomes present. The intensity and colour displayed can also vary and this is very important for communication.

 
Bioluminescent animals can be found on land and in the water column, from the surface to the deepest part of the ocean at challenger deep (10,994m), and in coastal and oceanic environments. In coastal environments around 2.5% of organisms are bioluminescent whereas in pelagic environments the number is significantly higher. Studies estimate that around 70% of fish and 97% of cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, anemones and hydroids) are bioluminescent. Due to the vastness of this form of communication it could be said that bioluminescence may be the most abundant form of communication on earth. Humans see only a small portion of bioluminescence – we generally observe bioluminescence resulting from physical turbulences of the surface water due to waves or boat hulls. The aggravation of the water triggers a bioluminescent response in surface dwelling bioluminescent organisms. One of the most common bioluminescent displays observed by humans is from planktonic surface dwellers. When blooming they form a dense surface layer, which by daylight is reddish-brown in colour but at night transforms into a light display. We can see bioluminescence at Gili Lankanfushi – turn your torch off on a night snorkel and wave your hands around to disturb the water. Bioluminescence is unpredictable but the best times to observe it are when the moon is waning. 
 
Animals can light up for a variety of reasons:
to defend themselves, to procure mates and to camouflage or hunt. The dark is an unforgiving place and finding food can be life or death. Some animals concentrate their bioluminescence in a lure and dangle it around their mouths. The deep-sea angler fish has this adaptation – its lure is lit by bioluminescent bacteria. Prey are attracted to the light and can be engulfed before they realise it. The Stauroteuthis octopus which lives below 700m has replaced some of its suckers with bioluminescent cells that direct their planktonic prey into their mouth. The production of light by the cookie-cutter shark tricks whales and squid into venturing closer and once close enough the shark takes a bite out of the animal before it escapes.

Long wavelengths like red light are absorbed quickly in the surface waters and it is due to this that many deep sea animals are red – they become invisible. Additionally many organisms have lost the ability to see red light. However, the dragonfish has evolved to emit and see red light. This allows it to see red coloured prey and also they can light up the surrounding water to hunt or look for a mate.

 
Finding a mate in the dark can be a major hardship.
Flashing bioluminescent displays can be used as a signal between males and females of the same species to signify the desire to reproduce. For example, a type of male Caribbean crustacean (ostracod) lights up its upper lips to attract females. 
 
Even though bioluminescence lights up the darkness it can be used for protection and camouflage. Many animals will produce a strong flash of light to confuse predators and swim off whilst the predator is blinded. Some squid can produce bioluminescent ink – upon ejection it can stick to the predator and light it up. This can lead to the predator becoming a meal for something even larger. If a predator manages to take a bite out of a bioluminescent organism the stomach of that predator will glow making it an easy target and giving the prey time to escape
Bioluminescence can also be used for counter illumination. This is where the animal can manipulate light to prevent itself producing a shadow and making it almost invisible. They can use bioluminescence to match the light coming from the surface. This makes it almost impossible for predators below to see their prey. The lantern shark is an example of this – it can make itself look invisible by producing blue/green light to blend in with the background.
It’s surprising how any organisms create light, even in an aquarium you may notice it.
Next time you are at Gili Lankanfushi try and see the bioluminescence yourself. You never know when the next flash of light will catch you by surprise!

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

Carpe Diem Maldives Introduces Coral Reef Awareness Campaign in Celebration of IYOR 2018

January 2018: Carpe Diem Maldives Pvt. Ltd. begins a 12-month social media campaign to celebrate International Year of Coral Reefs 2018.

Crystal clear waters teeming with colour and marine life surround The Maldives, making it one of the most appealing and diverse coral reef destinations in the world. The new digital campaign led by Carpe Diem Maldives promotes awareness towards the status of the destination’s coral reefs. Recreational and professional divers are invited to share their underwater images through Instagram and Facebook channels using hashtags #maldivesreefawareness #carpediemmaldives and #IYOR2018 stating information to three related Ds – dive, date and depth – on each image.

2018 was announced International Year of the Reef (IYOR – www.iyor2018.org) for the third time since 1997 by International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), an informal partnership between the Nations and organisations that strive to preserve coral reefs and related ecosystems around the world. IYOR is a global effort to increase awareness and understanding on the values and threats to coral reefs, as well as to support related conservation, research and management efforts.

Francis Staub, International Coordinator for the Year of the Reef for ICRI states, “We welcome this initiative embracing modern media and recognising public awareness as an essential element of coral reef conservation. Campaigns such as this ensure that the general public understands the value of, and the threats to coral reefs. Furthermore, the ongoing stream of images through #maldivesreefawareness on social media channels provides marine scientists and other stakeholders around the world access to real time data on coral reefs in The Maldives.”

Regularly visited dive sites across the Maldivian atolls will be captured to show the real time reef status amidst the effects of global warming, while also recording the ongoing recovery and conservation efforts being carried out by organisations such as Coral Reef CPR. At the same time, the digital campaign encourages public engagement and general awareness to the importance of coral reefs globally.

Haris Mohamed, Acting Managing Director for Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation says, “Recently awarded World’s Leading Dive Destination at the 24th annual World Travel Awards, the Maldives attracts divers from around the world to experience the beauty of our underwater marine life and reefs. This initiative by Carpe Diem Maldives highlights the conservation efforts various organisations are carrying out to ensure our reefs remain resilient and healthy for generations to come. We strongly encourage all divers to the Maldives to share their images on social media with the hashtag #maldivesreefawareness.” 

Likewise, PADI Regional Manager for The Maldives, Matt Wenger, explains “Coral reefs are among the most beautiful ecosystems on the planet and PADI works with local communities around the world to ensure that residents understand the value of their local treasure. With close to 1.2 million tourist arrivals a year to The Maldives, initiatives like Carpe Diem’s #maldivesreefawareness are so important to get the message across about the beauty of the underwater world and why we need to do everything we can to protect it. We wholeheartedly encourage all divers to participate in this simple yet effective image sharing campaign.”

The digital campaign, which will run exclusively in The Maldives until December 31st, 2018, will be promoted to guests on Carpe Diem’s liveaboard dive cruises and at the upcoming resort in Raa Atoll. Carpe Diem Cruises welcome up to 60 divers weekly across all three of their luxury liveaboard cruises. Towards the end of 2018, campaign images posted throughout the year can be submitted to a panel of professional photographers, conservationists and IYOR officials, with a chance of winning a 4-night stay in 2019 at the new resort Carpe Diem Beach Resort & Spa.

 

For more information on Carpe Diem Maldives Pvt. Ltd., please visit www.carpediemmaldives.com

Maldives plastic recycling on a local islands

Gili Lankanfushi conserves our limited resources and cleans up our islands to help preserve our future.

Following the success of plastic recycling on Gili Lankanfushi we took the leap and expanded our project. On November 2nd Gili Lankanfushi visited Himmafushi, a local island and a big producer of plastic waste due to their plastic water bottle factory. With the assistance of the local NGO Parley, who are spearheading plastic recycling in the Maldives our aim was to implement a plastic recycling project at the school and expand this throughout the island. Together with Parley, the teachers and local council members in attendance Gili Lankanfushi conducted a 30 minute presentation including two activities which all the children participated in. The presentation was well received and the council were positive regarding expanding recycling to all areas of the island. After the school visit 50 staff from Gili Lankanfushi conducted an island plastic clean to demonstrate how easy it is to recycle plastic and what types of plastic can be recycled. A huge amount of plastic was collected and on seeing this the Himmafushi local community has also become inspired to recycle their plastic waste. Gili Lankanfushi will remain in close contact with Himmafushi and offer support and guidance when needed.

Launching plastic recycling on the local island Himmafushi

Launching plastic recycling on the local island Himmafushi

 

Giving presentation on plastic recycling to local school children and the council

Giving presentation on plastic recycling to local school children and the council

 Throughout August 2017 on Gili Lankanfushi 280 hosts attended the sustainability training. Host mentally regarding plastic pollution, water, electricity and food waste has now changed for the better. In addition to Gili Lankanfushi’s plastic presentation Maai Rasheed from Parley visited and conducted a presentation about plastic recycling. Hosts can now be seen regularly recycling their plastic and helping with island cleans – for example the recent Himmafushi clean.

The results of Himmafushi plastic clean up

The results of Himmafushi plastic clean up

 Following the training activities aimed at increasing host water and electricity use awareness, hosts now know how to reduce wasting these resources through enhanced understanding of water and electricity requirements of common activities. They were given top energy and water saving tips, for example using the fan over the AC, turning off electrical appliances, washing full loads in the washing machine at a low temperature – 20°C, air drying clothing, turning off lights, having shorter showers, only using a small amount of water when cleaning, turning the tap off when brushing teeth, shaving and soaping up. You can make these changes too!

Raising awareness about excessive water waste

Raising awareness about excessive water waste

 Over the coming months plastic recycling, food waste, electricity and water use will be monitored. In the near future we will host a no bin day in the canteen which will teach hosts about portion and waste control. We have already observed a decrease in water use – before training the average host would use 200L of water per day – this is now reduced to 160L. We are confident that hosts will continue to reduce the waste of resources and participate in plastic recycling.

PADI’s guest blogger Clare Baranowski introduces herself:

I am a marine zoologist from the UK who has worked throughout the tropics researching mega fauna and reef ecosystems in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. I have experience monitoring and restoring coral and surveying manta, turtle and dolphin populations. I began my career as a science communicator before moving into research and management roles, this is why I incorporate outreach and education into every project I work on and I hope to continue this at Gili Lankanfushi

 

Coral fluorescence at Gili Lankanfushi

Are corals a shining beacon at night? Corals are not just a wonder to observe during the day, at night they glow. This isn’t just for our viewing benefit; it plays a vital role in the long term survival of coral.

Fluorescence of Porites cylindrica

Fluorescence of Porites cylindrica

Due to the richness of life they create, corals are often described as the rainforests of the ocean. Their structural complexity supports one of the world’s most productive ecosystems providing ecological diversity and outstanding beauty. The coral animal (polyp) co-habitats its calcium carbonate skeleton with photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae. These algae harness energy from solar radiation and provide the polyp with 95% of its food. Coral is therefore limited to the habitat range of the algae, which in turn is limited by the penetration of the suns ray into the ocean; both the intensity and spectral diversity of light dramatically decreases with increasing depth. Although the blue/green portion of sunlight reaches depths of around 200m the algae requires the higher light levels found in the upper 30m of the ocean. Corals are therefore limited to the upper portion of the ocean; aptly named the sunlight ocean. 

Spectral diversity of white light (sunlight) and the depth that the light waves penetrate. Image credit tohttpksuweb.kennesaw.edu

 

The corals exposure to high light levels is crucial for its survival, but this is not without consequence. The high light intensity that corals are subjected to everyday can damage coral and zooxanthellae – similar to our skin and sunburn. Shallow water corals have a solution to this: fluorescence. The coral contains special pigments (green fluorescent pigments (GFP) and non-fluorescent chromoproteins (CP) which act as sunblock. The fluorescent pigments are in particularly high concentrations and contribute to the beautiful rainbows of colours which can be observed on the reef. When the coral is subjected to high sun exposure the pigment concentration increases, hence limiting the damage experienced by the algae when under stress from sunlight. The pigments are also involved in growth related activities, including repair. Injured coral will produce colourful patches concentrating these pigments around their injury site which prevents further cell damage. Some corals have been found to distribute fluorescent pigments around their tentacles and mouth to attract prey.

 

We are able to observe the fluorescent pigments when corals are illuminated at specific wavelengths (generally blue light). In high pigment concentrations corals can become shining beacons at night. Light is absorbed by the pigments and then re-emitted. During this process some energy is lost resulting in a different colour being observed – generally green. During our blue light night snorkel it is possible to see corals glowing on the house reef at Gili Lankanfushi.

Fluorescence of Porites cylindrica

 

It is now widely accepted that fluorescent pigments aid in sun protection, so why do corals below 30m still have these pigments? In shallow reefs generally only green fluorescence is observed, whereas in the mesophotic zone (between 30 – 100m) corals shine green, orange, yellow and red. Fluorescent pigments are energetically costly to create, therefore the pigments must have a biological purpose, or else they would not exist at this depth. A study carried out by the University of Southampton found that deeper corals produce fluorescence without light exposure, which suggests that these corals are not producing pigments for sun protection. It is suspected that the corals are producing pigments to transform short light wavelengths received into longer wavelengths to enhance algae photosynthesis, thus producing more food for the polyp. It has also been suggested that it may link to behavior of reef fish, although more studies are required. Next time you are night diving take a look. Harnessing these fluorescent pigments could pose significant advances for medical, commercial and ecological purposes.

Many Acropora species also have fluorescent pigments. Credits to: Reef Works

 

Marine biologists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at San Diego have suggested that monitoring fluorescence could be an easy and less invasive way to monitor reef health. Scientists measured the fluorescence levels after corals were exposed to cold and heat stress. The levels were reduced when exposed to both stresses, although coral subjected to cold stress adapted and fluorescence levels returned to normal. Corals subjected to heat stress lost their algae and starved. Therefore, if high fluorescence levels are observed it suggests that the reef has a healthy coral population. Additionally there are many medical benefits that can be gained through the understanding and utilization of coral fluorescence. 

 

There are promising applications for biomedical imaging, for example pigments can be used to tag certain cells e.g. cancer cells which can then be easily viewed under the microscope. The fluorescent pigments also have the potential to be used in sun screen. Fish feeding on coral benefit from the fluorescent pigments which suggests that the pigments move up the tropic levels (food chain). Senior lecturer from King’s College London and project leader of coral sunscreen research, Paul Long and his team have suggested that if the transportation pathway up the food chain is identified it may be possible to use this to protect our skin against UV rays in the form of a tablet. This could a break-through in terms of reef safe sun screen.

 

Next time you are night snorkelling shine a blue light on the corals and view this natural wonder yourself! 

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

 

A New Wave of Ocean Protection

Support Project AWARE®’s next wave of ocean protection with your PADI® Member Renewal

With 25 years of ocean conservation successes fueled by an incredible network of supporters, governments, businesses, NGOs and conservation partners, Project AWARE has much to celebrate with PADI Members.

To highlight this incredible milestone and join in the celebrations, PADI is launching a special limited edition Project AWARE card – The 25 Years of Partnership for Ocean Protection limited edition card is available to PADI Pros from October 2017 and will be available to student divers throughout 2018 when it launches in January.

Two Ways to Support Project AWARE’s Next Wave of Ocean Conservation

  • Choose the new 25 Years of Partnership for Ocean Protection limited edition card as your PADI Membership card

  • Donate to Project AWARE with your PADI Member Renewal today!

Go to the PADI Pros’ Site to update your credit or debit card details and add your donation to support Project AWARE’s critical conservation work!

Your support gives the ocean a voice, help secure important policy advancements to keep shark and ray populations healthy and protect marine life from the onslaught of marine debris.

Special Offer: Limited Edition Project AWARE 25th Anniversary Mask Strap

Project AWARE’s special 25th Anniversary limited edition mask strap is now available as a special thank you gift when donating through your PADI member renewal. The gift is available to any PADI member donating $25/€15/£15 or more.

7 reasons Fulidhoo Island in the Maldives is a dream diving destination

A Maldivian island that’s within easy access from the international airport, but feels remote? It seems almost impossible to find these days. But Fulidhoo Island in Vaavu Atoll is quickly garnering a reputation for being convenient yet secluded. The island is a fantastic base to explore an atoll offering some of the country’s best channel dives and the chance to dive with up to 100 nurse sharks at night. And with rooms starting at 40 US dollars, there’s really no reason not to go. But if you still need convincing, here’s seven reasons why it should be your next diving destination.

Fulidhoo Island Maldives

1. It costs 3.5 US dollars to get there from Male

No, that’s not a typo – you did read that correctly; it costs less than the price of a Starbucks coffee to get to Fulidhoo from the capital. Thanks to the government-subsidised public ferry that departs from Male three times a week, tourists can get to Fulidhoo for virtually nothing. The journey takes three and a half hours, but it’s scenic and comfortable, and there are snacks on board. It even has a sundeck for dolphin watching! Oh, and for those who prefer their transfers a little quicker, there are daily speedboats to the island for around 50 dollars per person that take an hour.

2. Vaavu Atoll is channel diving, sharky heaven

Throughout the Maldives, the passes that cut through the atolls’ barrier reefs are where the real pelagic action is found. Reef sharks, schools of trevallies and barracudas congregate here to hunt. And if the Maldives is known for its channels, then Vaavu Atoll, where Fulidhoo is located, is the country’s channel diving capital. There are dozens of channels in the atoll promising high adrenaline diving.

Shark diving with Fulidhoo Dive Maldives

3. Accommodation on the island is seriously affordable

Whereas resort islands in the Maldives charge eye-watering prices for just one night, because Fulidhoo is a local, inhabited island, divers can find accommodation in one of its small guesthouses for around 50 dollars a night for two people, including breakfast, even during high season. You can expect comfortable, clean, air-conditioned rooms, often with a sea view. And because Fulidhoo is so small, even the furthest guesthouse is only a 5-minute walk to the jetty.

Best local island dive centre

4. The island is famous for its beautiful lagoon and strong cultural traditions

Even among Maldivians, Fulidhoo has a reputation for being extremely beautiful. Vaavu is affectionately known as ‘Wow Atoll’ by locals. There’s no harbour, only a small wooden pier, so the beach is uninterrupted. The shallow lagoon stretches out far from the island and is a great place for kids to play, or to kayak. In fact, the island was recently voted Top Island 2017 at the annual Maldives Guesthouses Conference. And in the evening, divers can enjoy watching the locals play bodu beru (‘big drums’) and performing cultural dances – they’re famous for keeping local traditions alive.

5. You can dive with up to 100 nurse sharks at night

Vaavu Atoll’s most famous dive site is Alimatha House Reef, where divers can get extremely close to the resident nurse sharks and stingrays. As divers kneel on the sandy bottom, it’s not uncommon to see these harmless sharks squeeze between their legs or flop down beside them – it’s truly a bucket list experience!

6. You’ll often be the only divers on the dive site

Unlike South Male Atoll and Ari Atoll, Vaavu is home to only two resorts and only a handful of local islands, which means that the dive sites are far, far quieter. Similarly, liveaboards often head straight to Alimatha for a night dive and are in Ari Atoll by the following morning. All this means that for the most part, the northern part of Vaavu Atoll feels remote and unexplored, despite being extremely accessible.

Fulidhoo Dive Centre Maldives

7. From Fulidhoo, you can dive both the eastern and western sides of the atoll

There are two seasons in the Maldives. The Iruvai season, which runs from November to April, is when the wind generally blows from the North East and brings a hot, dry climate and the best conditions for diving. The Hulhangu season, from May to October, is generally seen as the low-season for diving, with chances of rain, wind and reduced visibility. However, during this season you can still get very good viz on the western edge of the atolls, which is when the location of Fulidhoo comes into play. Because the island is located on the northern tip of the atoll, depending on the wind, divers can enjoy dives with good visibility and good, incoming current throughout the year.

About the author: Adele Verdier-Ali is the co-owner of Fulidhoo Dive, alongside Maldivian PADI Staff Instructor Ali Miuraj. Fulidhoo Dive is a 5-Star PADI Dive Centre, and the only dive centre in Fulidhoo. For more information, visit www.fulidhoodive.com or drop them a line at hello@fulidhoodive.com.

 

 

Things you should know if you are travelling to the Maldives on a budget

This blog has several parts, next week read about money and taxes……

With the advent of local island guesthouses and low cost flight carriers there has never been a more affordable time to travel to the Maldives. At Male International airport it is becoming a far more common sight to see guests arriving with backpacks and not matching Louis Vuitton luggage. These travellers are here to experience a destination previously perceived to be only for those seeking luxury. So maybe it’s time you considered putting the Maldives on your travel map!

Whilst budget travel in the Maldives is a growing sector of the tourism industry there still remains limited information available for would be travelers and backpackers. So the team at Secret Paradise put our heads together to provide what we feel are the Top 10 tips every budget traveler should be aware of.

Clearing Immigration and security

To enter the Maldives no pre-arrival visa is required, a thirty day free visa is issued on arrival to all nationalities, provided the following conditions are met:

Be holding a valid passport (requires to be valid for 6 months from date of arrival) and have a valid ticket to continue your journey out of the Maldives

Confirmation of a reservation in a tourist resort or a hotel either in the form of a hotel voucher or online reservation and have enough funds to cover the expenses for the duration of your stay (US$100 + $50 dollars per day)

The right to refuse entry lies at the discretion of the Immigration official, so make it easier for yourself and organise your accommodation prior to your arrival. Online sites such as Booking.Com, Airbnb and Trip Advisor are a great place to start or if you are looking for more of an experience and not just accommodation contact Secret Paradise.

Once you have cleared immigration, collect your luggage and enter the arrivals hall where a representative of the guesthouse or resort should be waiting for you. Importing goods such as alcohol, pork items, pornography, idols of worship and narcotics into the Maldives is strictly forbidden. To make life easier declare the Buddha that you have purchased in Sri Lanka and the bottle of vodka picked up in duty free, the authorities will hold any items declared or undeclared for you to collect as you depart at the end of your stay.

to be continued………

 

About Secret Paradise

Since 2012 Secret Paradise has been at the forefront of the Maldives local island tourism industry, promoting and supporting guesthouses, dive centres and activity operators based on locally inhabited islands throughout the Maldives archipelago. Offering group and private tours or independent travel packages, Secret Paradise holidays are designed to allow guests to engage with local people and experience the best from a paradise generally known as a luxury resort destination.

Responsible Tourism plays a very large part in what we do. We are mindful of ensuring we promote local tourism in line with Maldivian culture and beliefs and through education of both guests and locals we aim to protect the environment and limit where ever possible any negative impact to local life. We partner NGOs such as Save the Beach and marine charity organisations such as Maldives Whaleshark Research Program to provide opportunities for our guests to learn and support local conservation initiatives.

The benefit of travelling with us is that Secret Paradise guarantees you prompt and efficient personal service. We deliver high standards of service and professionalism and you can rely on Secret Paradise to provide expert local knowledge, clear communication and honest advice.

www.secretparadise.mv

 

Coral Reef Research at Gili Lankanfushi Maldives

We encourage scientists to visit Gili Lankanfushi to share their knowledge with the Marine Biology team and carry out in-depth research of our local environment.

In an ever changing world, research is an important method of tracking environmental fluctuations and sharing information about our surroundings. After the coral bleaching event of 2016, Gili Lankanfushi wanted to learn more about the damage caused to our beautiful house reef. We hosted a team of experts funded by Rufford Small Grants Foundation, Chiara Pisapia, Dr Morgan Pratchett, and Deborah Burn who assessed the changes on the reef.  They focused on coral cover, coral size, and the number of young corals that have grown on the reef since the bleaching. Morgan Pratchett, the leading expert in Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) Ancanthaster planci, also monitored the size, sex and distribution of COTS.

 

The team carried out an initial study in the Maldives in 2016 and then returned to the same sites in 2017 in order to carefully assess any changes in their original findings.  On Gili Lankanfushi’s house reef, the team carried out line surveys at five and ten metres along the drop off and found that after the bleaching, coral cover has dropped to 6% at five metres and 2% at ten metres. This low coral cover is predominantly due to the ocean warming event in addition to COTS predation. Yet, in comparison with other study sites, Gili Lankanfushi had a higher number of coral recruits than expected which means new coral is beginning to grow again on the shallow section of our reef. This results from the hard work of Gili’s Team.

Dr Morgan Pratchett, collected data on COTS around the resort.  Despite their beautiful appearance, COTS are far less captivating once you understand the threat they pose to a struggling reef. They eat the remaining hard corals and new coral recruits. Over the past year, their population has spiked into an ‘outbreak’ therefore they have to be removed from the reef and our team works tirelessly to find each individual. Morgan brought COTS to Gili Veshi, our Marine Biology Lab, to teach us techniques on how to better understand these starfish. By dissecting individuals Morgan was able to show our team the interior of each specimen and explain if the animal was well fed or reproductive.  We were able to highlight certain features under the microscope.  We found the starfish living on our house reef were starving and not yet reproducing which leads us to believe the outbreak is over.

 

The aim of monitoring our house reef over time is to predict and track recovery of different species. We are extremely grateful to the knowledge shared by Chiara, Morgan and Deborah hope they can visit the resort again in 2018 to assess how much our reef has recovered.  We look forward to their return.

PADI’s guest blogger Clare Baranowski introduces herself:

I am a marine zoologist from the UK who has worked throughout the tropics researching mega fauna and reef ecosystems in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. I have experience monitoring and restoring coral and surveying manta, turtle and dolphin populations. I began my career as a science communicator before moving into research and management roles, this is why I incorporate outreach and education into every project I work on and I hope to continue this at Gili Lankanfushi.