Colonies of Hope

Blog written by guest blogger and marine biologist Clare Baranowski

Preserving coral reefs is a growing concern in the Maldives

At Gili Lankanfushi, we are recovering our coral reefs through the Coral lines Project. By growing small fragments of coral on hanging ropes (lines) and then transplanting them to our house reef near One Palm Island, we hope to see regeneration and aim to kick start the health of our house reef.

Our Coral Lines Project started three years ago and currently holds around 7484 coral colonies. We are consistently adding small fragments of coral to the already growing population on 153 lines.

Josie monitoring our 153 coral lines

The vulnerable nature of coral populations mean that they undergo cycles of disturbance and recovery. Our house reef was affected by warmer waters created by the El Nino event in 2016 which bleached much of the corals. Yet against all odds, most fragments in our coral lines nursery survived.  They have also been faced with a Crown of Thorns (coral predators) outbreak this year and have still remained intact.

In some cases, the corals in our lines are no longer present on shallow reefs in the area.

Now, is the perfect time to begin stage two of our coral restoration project by moving coral from our nursery to our house reef.  Transplanting coral is a delicate procedure with a lot of trial and error. We began slowly by creating a test site with a small number of coral colonies to ensure we would not lose healthy coral unnecessarily.

Josie beginning the process

We found a site with conditions not too dissimilar to the nursery. The area had to be flat and solid, with no loose material and space for growth.  It also had to be an area that is easily accessible for monitoring, but nowhere in danger of tampering or accidental damage.  We chose a depth of 8 metres in the middle of house reef drop off where we regularly snorkel. Another major concern was the Crown of Thorns Starfish, so we placed the coral in an area visited regularly by Harvey Edwards, Ocean Paradise Dive Centre manager, who has been removing these starfish from the reef for months.

Clare cutting the coral from the line

The next step was to cut the colonies from the lines in the nursery, and transport them in mesh bags in the water. We decided to use three different Acropora species to begin with as they are fast growing and like a lot of light and a moderate current. Once at the site, we cleaned the area of algae and attached the coral to ensure protection from extreme water movement. We placed them an equal distance apart to allow quick growth and attached the coral using epoxy, which is a clay like cement. We were aware from previous studies that Miliput (epoxy clay) has been seen to kill the part of the coral it is attaching, so we placed small amounts of putty at the base of the coral.

Once a week, for a total of six weeks, we will measure growth and survivorship of the coral.  We hope to replicate the test at different depths and locations to find a suitable site to start a larger restoration project. However, we will hold off on most of the major transplantation until after the monsoon season.

Attaching the colonies using epoxy

Due to the fragility of coral species, our rehabilitation plans are very flexible, and subject to a long monitoring period.  We expect to adapt our approach and long term management to ensure we keep up with the changing environment of the reef. Previous restoration plans have been hindered by external threats, so we are so excited to finally begin this project. We will be producing scientific data along the way which we hope will contribute to current coral reef rehabilitation knowledge.

Although our transplants are working well so far, we will still have many question to answer in the future such as: are the corals on the house reef still reproducing? As these corals survived the last bleaching, will they be more genetically suited to future hostile conditions? The answers to these questions are all just a work in progress and we will have to keep on watching and learning as we replant and monitor these corals over the next few years. As our house reef sustained a lot of mortality and the coral cover is low, we hope that this new project will help to rejuvenate the reef and raise awareness.

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.

MALDIVES DIVING HOLIDAYS

Life beneath the surface in the Maldives is an underwater Disneyland, perfect for dive enthusiasts. The Maldives is renowned as one of the very best diving locations in the world. There’s not only an abundance of reef life here but also spectacular coloured coral and crystal clear water.

Photo credit - Ruth Franklin

Photo credit – Nigel Wade

WHY CHOOSE THE MALDIVES FOR YOUR DIVING HOLIDAY?

The Maldives ticks all of the boxes when it comes to diving holidays. This tropical location boasts visibility levels of up to 40 meters, making it a great destination for advanced divers. However diving in the Maldives is not just for the experienced. The shallow lagoons and channels make it the perfect location to try diving for the very first time. Plus what better destination in the world is there to gain your scuba-diving certifications?

Photo credit - Ruth Franklin

Photo credit – Renee Sorenson

The Maldives is also home to protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. The presence of currents in this island nation means that open water channels are perfect for drift diving and it’s also possible to swim with gentle ocean giants like manta rays and whale sharks. Don’t forget the Maldives has year round water temperatures of 26 – 29 degrees Celsius!

THE BEST TIME OF YEAR FOR DIVING IN THE MALDIVES

Fortunately, the diving season in the Maldives is open all year round with the calmest conditions from December through to June. As the Maldives is located in the tropics, it is susceptible to both wet and dry seasons. June to November is the south-west monsoon season, bringing with it with overcast and wet conditions, especially in June and July. During these months expect slightly less visibility and different currents, although there is still plenty of marine life on offer, as well as sunny spells. Generally reef life is more varied and visibility is better on the western side of any atoll from May to November and on the eastern side from December to April. Reef sharks, hammerheads and whale sharks are found in the Maldives year round, along with manta rays and sea turtles, you just need to know where to head at the time of year you plan to dive!

Photo credit - Ruth Franklin

Photo credit – Renee Sorenson

DIVING OPTIONS

There are a number of diving options when it comes to Maldives. For example at Secret Paradise, value for money diving holidays and tours will be offered that you will remember for a lifetime. Enjoy an all-inclusive guesthouse stay and be transferred by boat to incredible nearby dive sites, the same sites that you would dive from a resort but at half the cost! Our diving holidays are an affordable alternative to a resort stay and also allow you the flexibility of island hopping or if your budget is larger, atoll hopping to benefit from the best dive locations during your time of travel.

Photo credit - Ruth Franklin

Photo credit – Renee Sorenson

Liveaboards are a popular dive holiday option, allowing you to scour the waters for the ultimate dive spot each day. These days most Liveaboards operate a year round schedule offering 7 night, 10 night and 14 night cruises not only in the central atolls but to the deep south and deep north offering opportunities to discover less dived sites and pristine coral.

SECRET PARADISE DIVING HOLIDAYS

 Secret Paradise, offers six diverse one island based diving packages, all in different atolls allowing you access to what are some of the best dive sites in the world. Our packages include Dharavandhoo, perfect if you want to encounter 100s of manta rays in Baa Atoll, Hulhumale if you need to stay close to the capital, Maafushi, South Male Atoll, Dhigurah home of the whale shark in Ari Atoll, Rasdhoo, the ideal location to spot a hammerhead and Gan in Laamu atoll.

Photo credit - Ruth Franklin

Photo credit – Boutique Beach

Our island hopping itineraries in Male Atoll and Ari Atoll allow you to discover a range of dive sites and marine life whilst at the same time experiencing Maldives local life, tradition and culture, with or without a private dive guide.

DIVE TEAMS

All partners of secret Paradise are PADI affiliated dive centers and are operated by both local and European dive professionals. A personal interest is taken in promoting scuba diving in the Maldives, through education and awareness about the underwater environment here. Their objective is to encourage underwater conservation and safe diving practices

Photo credit - Ruth Franklin

Photo credit – Nigel Wade

Dives are generally conducted from the beach within an island’s inner reef for beginners or from a local dive boat, a dhoni, for certified divers. Dive sites are chosen daily based on both the weather and current conditions as well as diver ability.

The teams will take you to the best dive spots and willingly introduce you to the characteristics of the underwater world of the Maldives. All offer boat dives, NITROX, night dives and a full range of PADI courses and will always ensure you get the best out of your dive. If you are learning to dive, you can do anything from completing a try dive or just the open water dive section of your PADI Open Water certification to completing the full PADI Open Water certification. Whatever you choose to do you can be assured of fun and safe diving with us and our partners.

Photo credit - Ruth Franklin

Photo credit – Nigel Wade

Secret Paradise Co-Founder, Ruth Franklin a diver herself with over 1500 dives in the Maldives is always happy to share her own diving experiences and is on hand for honest dive advice.

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

Kuredu, Sea Turtles Heaven

Since 4th November 2016, 74 sea turtles have been registered around Kuredu (Kuredu House Reef/Laoon, Kuredu Express, Kuredu Caves and Kuredu Coral Garden). 58 of those individuals are Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas).

The reef around Kuredu houses almost one third of all registered Green sea turtles in the Maldives. Incredible! The island is an important feeding and nesting ground for Green sea turtles.

The Stars:

Audrey (GR459) is a regular in Kuredu Lagoon and often observed enjoying her sea grass meals. This Green turtle is easily identified by its missing left rear flipper. Despite being handicapped, Audrey is in good shape (and has a big appetite)!

Pia (456) is a juvenile Green sea turtle with a shell length of about 40cm. With 20 registered sightings, Pia is the most sighted individual at Kuredu Caves!

Bjoern (GR38) is one of the first identified sea turtles in the Maldives. Also, he is the only male at Kuredu Caves! His impressive size of 70cm in shell length and the long tail gives him away as a male. The length of a sea turtle’s tail tells the sex.

Every sea turtle has a unique scale pattern on the left and right side of its head. This pattern allows for individual identification and population assessments. As part of the “Hurawalhi sea turtle ID project”, every sea turtle sighting is registered. Supporting the project will be rewarded! If you submit right and left side pictures of a newly identified sea turtle, you can name it! Become a sea turtle’s namesake for a kind donation of $50 to the Olive Ridley Project. You will receive a naming certificate and updates whenever your sea turtle gets relighted.

FUN FACT: Green Sea Turtles can hold their breath for over 4 hours.

 

Prodivers is one of the leading dive and watersport operators in the Maldives with currently five 5* PADI dive centres. If you are fancy visiting them please check out their website www.prodivers.com

“Person of the Year”

“Person of the Year” of the Republic of Maldives

Maldives First PADI Course Director Mr.Hussain Rasheed Sendi was named “Person of the Year”  at Maldives Travel Awards People’s Edition by Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tourators (MATATO).

Sendi who is also the Managing Director of Dive Oceanus has been among the active dive industry professionals who have worked hard in training the youth as dive masters and instructors. His contribution to keep the marine industry safe is remarkable while his experience and knowledge to keep the diving industry going ahead by awareness programmes on species and environment have benefited the tourism industry and the nation.

The first event of Maldives Travel Awards People’s Edition has been held on 13th July at Adaaran Select Hudhuranfushi in North Male’ Atoll.

Ten Individuals were honored with the title of “Person of the Year” at the special function. MATATO started the Nation’s first travel industry recognition brand in 2012 and succesfully deleivered Maldives Travel Award events in the country and a special edition in Dubai.

In 2017 MATATO has introduced 3 editions of Maldives Travel Awards, recognizing Guesthouses, People’s Edition and the Gala.

 

 

Kuredu Express – One dive site, endless experiences

A favourite dive site of many guests, Kuredu Express is full of surprises – the varied topography coupled with the ever-changing current conditions mean it’s never the same dive twice. This well-known site is dived by Prodivers Kuredu 3-4 times a week, and during the last 10 years we’ve dived it a whopping 2337 times!

What makes Kuredu Express so alluring?

Currents

The ‘Express’ part of the site’s name comes from the currents that flow here – sometimes fast and furious, sometimes mild and mellow but often quickly changing. The outreef current and channel currents each play their part in how the site is dived, adding to the variety of diving on offer here. Due to the rapid changes in currents, divers can encounter a vast variety of marine life which makes diving on Kuredu Express a special and unique experience. With the right conditions this site can be accessible to most qualified divers.

Topography

It’s a dramatic site with three distinct areas – the sandy channel, the corner with large terraces and the huge overhangs or bays at the start of the outreef.

Sharks!

Famous as having one of the largest shark populations in the Lhaviyani Atoll, with the right conditions the shark action here can be mind blowing, but there’s more to the life on Kuredu Express than just sharks… there’s an enormous quantity of schooling fish, eagle rays, sting rays, napoleon, tuna and, on rare occasions, even hammerhead sharks. Turtles, moray eels, and even leaf fish have been found here too. If it’s the sharks that interest you, learn about them prior to a dive with them during our Maldivian Shark and Ray Diver course, a PADI Distinctive Specialty.

Great photographic opportunities

With a small current divers can take their time exploring the overhangs and getting great shots with blue water background and, when the current is pumping, simply hang on and enjoy the show unfold at the corner as the pelagic photobomb your every shot!

Location

Just 5 minutes from Kuredu jetty – it doesn’t get much more convenient than this.

On 12th April 2017, Laurie Miller, 40 time repeater guest on Kuredu, dived Kuredu Express for the 150th time. He is a passionate diver and his knowledge of marine life is impressive. We asked Laurie to share his views about our beloved Kuredu Express:

What is it about Kuredu Express that fascinates you?

“It’s like doing 3 dives in one. First you have the deep channel with nice overhangs where strong currents present the opportunity to see some of the bigger fish, then you have the outreef where we usually see the big Napoleons and lastly the bays where the fish life is booming.”

What are your most memorable moments on Kuredu Express?

“When the sharks are swimming between the divers. First time I’ve ever seen a Blacktip reef shark was on Express. One of the few places where you will find the Palette Surgeonfish, a.k.a. Blue Tang, a.k.a. Dory. I’ve seen the peacock flounder there as well.”

How would you sum up Kuredu Express?

“It’s a different experience with new challenges every time you do it because of the different currents.”

We left Laurie to enjoy the rest of his 40th stay on Kuredu, in fact he’s still here, enjoying diving free of charge as a special perk for visiting 40 times. Check out our generous Repeater Discount Program and you could follow in Laurie’s footsteps

Sharks, Rays and Turtles – Your PADI Speciality with Prodivers Kuredu

Photo by Stefanie Wagner

Photo by Ray van Eeden

You got to love sharks, rays and turtles! In fact, at Kuredu Prodivers we love our residents so much that we’ve compiled everything we know about them and created two specialty courses that you should put on your must-do list: Maldivian Shark & Ray Distinctive Specialty Course, and Sea Turtle Diver Course. These two courses provide the best way for you to learn more about these incredible animals – and of course see them in their natural environment, at reefs around Kuredu.

Photo by Stefanie Wagner

Photo by Stefanie Wagner

During the Maldivian Shark and Ray course you will find out more about the incredible sensory system that sharks and rays possess, learn how to identify the different species, determine their gender and understand the mating behaviour, as well as the need for us to preserve and protect the current populations of sharks and rays. The narrow channels, where the currents flow in and out of the atoll and the deep out reefs around Kuredu are the ideal habitat to get encounters with sharks and rays.

Photo by Marek Machinia

Photo by Marek Machinia

For those of you prefer the sleepy headed sea turtles, the Sea Turtle Course will surely be of interest to you, especially since Kuredu is home to the largest known population of Green Sea Turtles in the Maldives. With over 63 identified individuals resident around the island, this makes it the perfect place to enrol in the course. It offers the chance to learn more about how turtles have adapted and evolved through their fight for survival, and you will also learn how to identify the different species and to distinguish whether they are male and female, and how they reproduce. Are you familiar with the famous Kuredu Caves, a.k.a. Turtle Airport? The course is also available to snorkelers.

Photo by Stefanie Wagner

Photo by Stefanie Wagner

The PADI Maldivian Shark & Ray Distinctive Specialty Course was developed by Prodivers to help increase the awareness about these magnificent creatures. Get in touch with us to find out more about diver qualification requirements for the courses.

Visit www.prodivers.com or drop us an email via info@prodivers.com

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PADI Pioneers: Generating Ocean Warriors in the Maldives

In a quiet corner of a luxury resort in the Maldives you’ll find an PADI Five Star IDC centre quite unlike any other.

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Teaching Maldivians to scuba dive might seem to some like selling coals to Newcastle. Wherever you stand in the Maldives, you’re always barely a stone’s throw from the ocean, and many Maldivians can swim before they can walk. Diving is in the country’s DNA.

It could come as a surprise to some then, that until the mid-2000s, there were only a handful of places offering PADI Instructor Development Courses in the country, with many aspiring instructors actually having to travel to Thailand to complete their certifications.

Founding an Institution

Luckily, this didn’t go unnoticed by Hussain ‘Sendi’ Rasheed, the Maldives’ first and only PADI Course Director and in 2006, he decided to do something about it. Working at the time as the operations manager of Holiday Island Resort & Spa, part of the Villa conglomerate, Sendi approached the company chairman – the Hon. Qasim Ibrahim – and shared his concerns about the lack of educational opportunities for local dive and water sport professionals.

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The conversation would not only change his own life, but would ultimately change the face of diving education in the Maldives. Convinced by the lack of Maldivian educational facilities for divers, Mr Ibrahim asked Sendi to oversee the development of an institution that would change all that. Like Sendi, he wanted to provide a space for Maldivians to become qualified leaders in the diving field. And with that, The Villa Institute of Water Sports and Hospitality was born the same year.

A Place in the Sun

Purpose-built in a quiet corner of Sun Island Resort & Spa (another Villa Hotel), the institute quickly became a hub for young dive and water sports enthusiasts hoping to make a career in the industry. With spacious student and teacher accommodation and modern classrooms overlooking a lagoon that welcomes whale sharks and manta rays to its outer reef, the establishment is enough to make any Course Director drool.

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But what makes the institute really special is what it aims to achieve. Its objective? To equip a new generation of certified PADI Dive Masters and Instructors with the skills needed to become not only leaders in the field of recreational diving tourism but also trailblazers in ecological advocacy.

Expansion and Diversification

Lofty goals to say the least, but within a few short years it has managed to do just that. After a restructuring to become the founding faculty of Villa College, (now the Maldives’ leading private education provider offering courses in everything from marketing to law) and an expansion to include facilities in the capital, the reigns were handed over to Dr. Sham’aa ‘Anna’ Hameed. Under her leadership and the close involvement of Sendi, the institute is well on track to realise its vision.

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Not only does the faculty run multiple PADI Instructor Development Courses throughout the year, it now offers Certificate Three, foundation and even degree courses in marine studies that offer PADI electives as course credit.

Ocean Warriors

These courses provide students with the tools to become innovators in the field of marine studies. As a result, graduating students go on to enter the Maldivian workforce in a number of roles: as dive and water sports instructors of course, but also as researchers, marine biologists, wildlife rangers, even government environmental officials and legislators.

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What started as an initiative of affirmative action to provide quality education and training for locals has now developed into an educational model that is forward thinking on an international level. As such, they are arming a legion of self-titled ‘Ocean Warriors’ with the skills to be the next generation of environmental guardians and leaders in the Maldivian diving industry.

 

About the author: Adele Verdier-Ali is a freelance travel writer and content marketer who has been living in the Maldives for over six years. She’s a certified PADI rescue diver and when she’s not underwater, she writes about Maldivian culture and tourism. You can read more of her thoughts over on www.littlebirdjournal.com

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2017 Instructor Development Events in the Maldives

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PADI is Delighted to announce two Instructor Development events taking place on Paradise Island, Maldives.

  • Instructor Development Update – 26th April 2017 (PADI IDC Staff and above)
  • PADI Advanced Training Academy – 27th April 2017 (PADI OWSI and above)

These exciting, informative and highly interactive one day programmes, for PADI professionals, continue to gather momentum. PADI Pros are coming away with new, refreshed and refined knowledge and skills, energising them to drive their diving businesses forward.

The Instructor Development Update on 26th April on Paradise Island, Maldives, is for Course Directors and IDC Staff Instructors to update their knowledge of the instructor development system. The Update includes presentations, workshops, and a live confined water evaluation practice during which attendees have the chance to watch a role play confined water presentation alongside an Instructor Examiner, and gain feedback on their evaluation techniques.

The Update will count towards Master Instructor and CDTC applications, as well as provide the necessary update for PADI Course Directors. Click below to register.

2017 ID Update Registration Form

Join the PADI Advanced Training Academy taking place on 27th April on Paradise Island, Maldives. This one day programme is for PADI Open Water Scuba Instructors and above, offering the opportunity to further develop instructional skills, under the direction of PADI experts

Current topics and workshops* include:

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  • The role of the PADI Pro within the diving industry and in relation to PADI
  • How to make your PADI courses stand out
  • Review of new PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course
  • Review of the way PADI courses develop a diver
  • The role of Specialties in a diver’s development
  • Project AWARE Dive Against Debris (including free instructor specialty rating) or other local programme

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  • Rescue Exercise #7 – proper technique, kit handling, airway, use of barrier
  • Emergency Weight Drop, Loose Cylinder Band, CESA and Alternate Air Source skills – why we teach them and how to improve our teaching methods of these skills

With both dry and in-water components, this advanced training programme for PADI Pros increases individual expertise and allows participants to network, build new friendships and learn from each other. Programme attendance also provides credit for Master Instructor and CDTC applications.

2017 PATA Registration Form

Accommodation, Transport and Meals

  • Visiting members who wish to stay at Paradise Island: US$ 195 per night on FB, SGL. (work permit holders only)
  • Transfer by staff ferry to paradise and exit the same day for members joining in from Male’ & other resorts: FOC (subject to space availability)
  •  Special rate for meals:  US$ 25 per meal (main restaurant buffet) for members not opting for the overnight stay option.

Please indicate at time of booking if you need assistance with accommodation, transport and meals.

Contact id.emea@padi.com with any questions.

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Big Business for Prodivers Maldives

Divers who signed up to join the Noon Atoll full-day trip with Kuredu Prodivers hoped to see some ‘big-stuff action’ with the locally renowned shark spot, Orimas Thila, high on their agenda. They got rather more than they bargained for…Blue Whale

On their way back, whilst on their dhoni, crossing the channel between the Noon and Lhaviyani Atolls, something big was spotted in the water – or rather something massive!

Blue Whale

In fact, they witnessed the largest creature ever to have lived on Earth – a Blue Whale! Great excitement ensued and estimates of size range from ‘huge’, 12 metres and 18 metres. Blue whales can grow to over 33 metres in length and have a heart weighing as much as a car. Their huge mouth can fit 100 people inside but, fear not, we are not on their menu; Blue Whales are filter feeders and eat krill – shrimp-like invertebrates.

Blue Whales have been around on Earth for about 54 million years and were once prolific, but in the first half of the 20th century they were almost hunted to extinction. There are now an estimated total of 10.000 – 25,000 individuals left on the planet and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List rates them as ‘endangered’. While whaling is no longer a threat, increased shipping leading to more collisions, oil spills and climate change all threaten the existence of the majestic Blue Whales. Blue Whale

 The ocean is full of surprises and, as well as the usual exciting encounters of sharks and manta rays, as you can see, every now and then something a little more unusual and unexpected turns up.

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So you think diving the Maldives is out of your budget? Think again!

This month’s blog was written by PADI guest blogger Adele Verdier-Ali

There aren’t many holiday destinations that are as synonymous with luxury as the Maldives. Mention the country and you immediately evoke images of glamourous resorts on private islands catering to the world’s rich and famous. Heavenly exotic? Check. Prohibitively expensive? Double check.

South Ari Atoll Dhangethi

South Ari Atoll Dhangethi, photo by A. Verdier-Ali

For most, the Maldives is either a once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon destination or simply relegated to the bottom of an unrealistic bucket list. And although many divers drool over the diversity of the coral reefs and marine wildlife in the country’s waters, many assume that the destination is just simply out of their price range, especially those not looking to join a liveaboard.

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Baa Atoll, Dharavandhoo, photo by A. Verdier-Ali

One country, two worlds

And until 2011, that assumption would have been a fair one. Because until then, Maldivian law dictated that there be a strict divide between islands that welcomed tourists, and islands where locals lived. This set up was in large part due to the 100% Muslim country being under a mix of common and sharia law. Whereas in local islands, alcohol and pork are banned and modest clothing traditions are followed, none of these laws apply in resort islands. So until five years ago, tourists would fly into the country, be greeted at the airport and then whisked off to their private resort island. They would remain there for the entirety of their stay (bar excursions) and local Maldivians continued to live on their inhabited islands. And never the twain did meet.

North Ari Atoll Thoddoo

North Ari Atoll, Thoddoo, photo by A. Verdier-Ali

A change in the law

But no longer. In 2011, the law officially changed to allow for tourist establishments in local islands, and while the same laws still apply, the increasing number of tourist arrivals to these islands each month show that visitors are happy to go without a bevvy or bacon butty for a week or two. For the past five years, these local island guesthouses have been cropping up throughout the country at an extraordinary rate. And although they’ll never be comparable to the backpacker prices of other parts of South East Asia, the rates are extremely competitive relative to the resort market, with some charging as little as 40$ per room per night. Naturally, the quality you’ll find varies from place to place but although these local islands establishments are referred to collectively as ‘guesthouses’ in the Maldivian tourism industry, some would be better described as boutique hotels, with spacious rooms, in-house restaurants serving top-notch food, and a handful even have their own pools.

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Photo by Mohamed Seeneen

 

So why is this relevant for divers?

Well, thanks to the influx of tourists, most of these islands are now home to a PADI dive centre, and in some cases (such as guesthouse-capital Maafushi Island) there are several. Many of the guys running these centres have had years of experience in the resort industry, meaning that the service is of a high standard. Dive rates tend to be cheaper than in the resorts too, so if you’re on a tight budget it’s a great option. Most centres dive with traditional Maldivian dhoni boats so the level of comfort is similar – and of course the dive sites are the same regardless of how much you’ve paid to get there!

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Vaavu Atoll, photo by A. Verdier-Ali

 

Why not just join a liveaboard?

True. Before the advent of the guesthouse industry, divers looking to spend the majority of their budget on diving had to join a liveaboard cruise. Which is fantastic if you and your spouse are both divers. But a non-diver on a diving liveaboard? They’d soon understand the meaning of cabin fever. This is why a local island stay is a fantastic choice for budget-conscious divers looking to travel with a non-diver. Whilst in some resorts snorkelers and divers normally join separate excursion boats, in local islands both tend to go out together because operations are smaller. This means that you’re not away from your loved one for very long – you can enjoy the cruise there together, looking out for dolphins, enjoying the sun (bliss!) – but when you reach the dive site, you can descend for your dive whilst your non-diver companion can stay at the surface to snorkel. And if they don’t fancy the boat, they can always stay on the island and enjoy the beach with most local islands having now reserved portions of their beaches for guests, so that they can sunbathe in bikinis.

 

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Vaavu Atoll, photo by A. Verdier-Ali

The local island experience

Staying in a local island has a lot advantages. It’s much cheaper and there are some great accommodation choices. A much larger portion of your budget can go on diving, which is always a plus. But travellers should not expect the same experience as being on a resort. On a local island, guests are expected to live amongst the islanders and respect cultural norms, covering from shoulders to knees when away from the beach. As mentioned there’s no booze – but then if you’re diving you should be restricting that anyway. Food is more limited but still delicious – think lots of fresh fish, barbecues and coconut water. So if you’re looking to experience the real Maldives, away from the glitz of the resorts, to discover the warmth of local hospitality and a way of life that has changed little for centuries, a local island is a great place to start.

 

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Baa Dharavandhoo, photo by A. Verdier-Ali

About the author: Adele Verdier-Ali is a freelance travel writer and content marketer who has been living in the Maldives for over six years. She’s a certified PADI rescue diver and when she’s not underwater, she writes about Maldivian culture and tourism. You can read more of her thoughts over on www.littlebirdjournal.com

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Photo by Mohamed Seeneen