Support Sea grass

We all could do with reducing our carbon footprint and one easy way is to support local and global sea grass conservation initiatives.

Known as the lungs of the ocean, sea grass can produce 10 litres of oxygen per 1m2 everyday! Sea grass meadows are also a fantastic carbon sink as they sequester carbon dioxide from the water and this can slow the effects of ocean acidification created by global warming. This beautiful plant could be the key to stabilising the negative effects of climate change.

Yet despite this, 29% of global sea grass beds have already disappeared with 7% more being lost per year. In an attempt to address this issue, the Marine Biology team at Gili Lankanfushi is conducting a sea grass regrowth experiment. At the resort we have sea grass growing in shallow lagoons around the island and in a 10m2 area on the south east side of the island, we have been collecting data on how fast sea grass regrows after it has been removed.

The experiment has currently been running for six months, so it is too early to be accurate, but results currently show that 10% of the area has signs of regrowth. To date, we are only seeing shoots of a robust species of sea grass called E.acoroides. This is a species found in the tropics in water depth of one to three metres with light wave action.

Aerial view of Lankanfushi Island and sea grass beds

In the beds we find nursery fish, crustaceans, worms and sea cucumbers using the leaves as a nursery and haven against the current. We also often see resident green sea turtles feeding on sea grass as it is their primary diet and they consume 2kg per day!

Marine Biologists are very pro sea grass because sea grass beds stabilise sediment and reduce erosion by creating a network of roots. They also increase the water clarity and quality by soaking up nutrients or chemicals that run into the water. If given the choice, we would regenerate the meadows surrounding the island as with an increased meadow size, the resort would benefit from cleaner and clearer water and an increased population of nursery fish species and green sea turtles. By regenerating the full size of our sea grass meadows we would also offset some of our carbon footprint.

We have been in touch with sea grass specialists from Seagrass Watch and SeagrassSpotter and hope to work with these global conservation projects in the future. We have learnt from their wealth of experience that it takes around 3-4 years to naturally replenish a small sized, single species sea grass meadow and around 10 years to replenish a large sized multi-species meadow. If we helped regrowth by planting sea grass seeds, the areas would be replenished in around 2 years.

This brilliant plant could be the key to stabilising the negative effects of climate change. We hope resorts in the Maldives consider regenerating their sea grass beds to help offset their carbon footprint.

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.

Crown of Thorns Eradication

As the corals of the Maldives are already vulnerable our understanding and removal efforts of the crown of thorns starfish is paramount to the health of our reef.

Everyday Gili Lankanfushi has sightings of the voracious crown-of-thorns starfish (COT) Acanthaster planci. Native to coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific region and the largest species of starfish (Asteroidea), they are generally seen at depths of up to 30 metres. However, they have also been known to travel between Atolls at great depths of around 200m. There are four species of COT, but it is A. planci which is responsible for coral mortality in the Northern Indian Ocean and the coral triangle. COTS are corallivores and during optimal conditions can grow to over half a meter in diameter and have more than 30 arms.

Crown of Thorns

Generally COTS can be considered a keystone species because they can maintain healthy coral reef diversity by primarily feeding on fast growing corals, such as staghorn and plate (Acropora sp.) and enable the slower massive corals to establish and develop. When coral coverage is low, often resulting from COT outbreaks, COTS will eat PoritesMontipora, sponges, algae and encrusting organisms. One COT can consume all the coral in a 6 to 10m square radius annually, so the impact on an already vulnerable reef is catastrophic. The feeding behaviour is dependent on population density, water motion and species composition. COTS are covered in venomous spines coated with saponin which causes irritation and pain at a puncture wound. The spines are long, sharp and lowered to avoid drag.

Fossil evidence suggests that COTS developed millions of years ago. However, COT outbreaks have only occurred in the last 60 to 70 years and with increasing frequency and intensity. The first recorded outbreak occurred in the 1950s in the Ryukyu Islands off Japan. Combined with anthropogenic threats and other stresses outbreaks are greatly detrimental to coral reef survival and the fish associated with the reef.

Crown of Thorns destruction: 1 – healthy coral, 2 – freshly killed coral, 3 – recently killed portion colonised by algae and bacteria, 4 – long dead coral

COT outbreaks in the Maldives are relatively recent; the first recorded outbreak was in the 1970’s, the second in the 1990’s. Currently we are experiencing an outbreak which started in 2013. It began in North Male Atoll and has spread through to Ari Atoll, Baa Atoll, Lhaviyani Atoll, South Male Atoll and large densities have recently been documented in Shaviyani Atoll.

Outbreaks result for a variety of reasons. Firstly, when there is an excess of nutrients entering the water as a consequence of runoff from sewage, fertiliser and other island practices. The resulting eutrophication leads to increased plankton for the COT larvae and decreased juvenile mortality. Secondly, loss of COT predators; napoleon wrasse, lined worm, harlequin shrimp, starry puffer fish, titan and yellow margin triggerfish and triton’s trumpet (red and spangled emperor and parrotfish have been known to feed off young COTS before they have spines).

COT being predated upon by Triton’s Trumpet.

Loss of predators occurs due to overfishing for the souvenir trade, bycatch and habitat destruction. This leads to a drop in already low predation pressure and results in a COT population surge. Finally, COTS have excellent adaptations as they are resilient organisms with an selected life history (high growth rate, typically exploit less crowded ecological niches and produce many off spring). COT females can produce 65 million eggs annually between October to February. The eggs are released into the water column and are fertilized by clouds of sperm from nearby males. After fertilisation larvae are in their planktonic form and remain that way for weeks. After settling on the sea floor and developing into their adult form they develop their spines and start feeding off coral. This process can take around a year. COTS are most vulnerable before their spines are developed. Additionally, they can survive between 6 to 9 months without food, and body parts lost due to stress or predation can regenerate within 6 months.

Short and long term methods are being established around the world to minimise the effects of current outbreaks and to help prevent future outbreaks. The marine biology team at Gili Lankanfushi is focused on the removal of COTS. Our primary aim is removing these creatures from the overwater villas and jetty’s. Guests and hosts report sightings of COTS, and our team of marine biologists will remove them by injecting them with vinegar. This method is labour intensive and is carried out as regularly as possible by both the Marine Biology team and the Dive Centre.

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.

 

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.

 

 

How to inform PADI about my DAN Europe insurance

Text by Laura Marroni Exec. Vice President Planning & Administration, DAN Europe Foundation, Continental Europe Office DANEUROPE.ORG

DAN Europe, does offer three plans which include such a coverage:

  • Pro Bronze
  • Pro Silver
  • Pro Gold

All of them cover third party liability and legal defence up to €4,000,000.

Whenever you take out any of these plans, you can take advantage of a useful service:

You can request a notification to be sent to PADI EMEA right after completing your purchase, informing them about the insurance you have just activated.

How to do so? Take a look at the following pages to find it out.

Suppose you are a new DAN user and you go for a Pro Silver.

First off, you start the online process via the DAN Europe website by clicking on “Join / Renew

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After setting up your own DAN account (or logged on to your existing one), you are supposed to choose a plan. Recall you want a Pro Silver, so this is the page you end up on:

dan-2

Now, pay attention to the box whose title is “Training agency”.

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If you wish a notification to be sent to PADI EMEA upon completing the purchase process, you need to:

1. Tick the box dan-1

2. Click “Edit Training Agencies” and look for PADI EMEA on the list of organizations.dan-2

3. Type your PADI number in the box on the right. If you haven’t been assigned a PADI number yet, you can select “pending”.dan-3

4. Click on “Save” and this will come out.dan-4

Please note that no notification has been sent yet.

As soon as you complete the process and your payment is confirmed, we will automatically send a message to PADI EMEA stating that you have just purchased a Pro Silver plan.

This will save you time as you will take out your insurance and inform PADI about it in one go.

Silver Sands Celebrate!

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Aquafanatics @ Anantara Dhigu Resort, Anantara Veli Resort, Naladhu Maldives

In 2016 Silver Sands is celebrating ten years since it opened its first dive, water sports and excursions operations in the Maldives.

In ten years, they have opened ten Operations and ten PADI Dive Centers J WOW that’s an incredible achievement.

Their first Maldives operation, called Down Under and Wave, opened at W Maldives in 2006 and they have gone from strength to strength since then.

Down-Under-Wave-at-W-Maldives

Down Under & Wave @ W Maldives

In 2007 their second operation Aquafanatics, started in the Anantara Dhigu Resort, Anantara Veli Resort and Naladhu Maldives complex of hotels. In the next five years they opened Immersion and Glide at Velassaru, FLOAT at Per Aquum Huvafen Fushi, Dive Centre at Shangri-La’s Villingili and Spa Maldives, Deep & Breeze at Robinson Club, Elements at Anantara Kihavah Villas and FLOAT at Per Aquum Niyama… PHEW they have been busy!

The next few years were spent consolidating these operations and their reputation for quality and customer service. In 2015 they opened Meradhoo at Jumeirah Dhevanafushi Resort & Spa and, to celebrate their tenth anniversary and 10 years of luxury services in the Maldives they opened their 10th Operation, Vommuli Dive & WS Centre at the ST. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort in Dhaalu Atoll in September 2016!

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Vommuli Dive & WS Centre @ the ST. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort

 

 

 

But they’re still not stopping! In February 2017 they will open their 11th Operation in the Maldives at Kandima Maldives.

Recently, Aquafanatics was the first PADI Freedive Center registered in the Maldives followed in July 2016 by Elements also registering as a PADI Freedive Centre.  Showing that Silver Sands are constantly moving forward and embracing everything that the aquatic environment has to offer.

FLOAT @ Per Aquum Huvafen Fushi

FLOAT @ Per Aquum Huvafen Fushi

Silver Sands Operations currently employs over 250 employees including 65 PADI Professionals from many different parts of the world and owns over 70 vessels including several Yachts. Their reputation is built upon the core principles the company espouses:

“To be renowned as the Maldivian water sports and dive adventure company of choice amongst both local and international clients”.

Immersion Glide @ Velassaru Maldives

Immersion & Glide @ Velassaru Maldives

“To offer our clientele the best dive and water sports experience through activities designed uniquely for each client, delivered by a core of highly qualified staff using state of the art equipment”

What amazing goals to have and they highlight exactly the qualities that make PADI proud to have them as PADI Dive Centres!

Congratulations to Silver Sands and all their staff, we’re already looking forward to celebrating your twentieth anniversary!

Meradhoo @ Jumeirah Dhevanafushi

Meradhoo @ Jumeirah Dhevanafushi Resort & Spa

 

We’ve done it again!

Prodivers Maldives is Best PADI Overseas Dive Centre!

prodivers-blogFor the second consecutive year, Prodivers Maldives made a splash at the Sport Diver Awards – we’ve again been voted Best PADI Overseas Dive Centre!

With so many excellent diving operators around the world, competition was of course harsh, so allow us to thank you for showing your support for our teams at Kuredu, Komandoo, Lily Beach and Vakarufalhi. This is one of the most prestigious awards in the diving industry and it means a lot to us that not only do you seem to enjoy diving with us and give our instructors thumbs up after each dive, but that you also encourage us to keep up the good work by supporting us in competitions like this one.

Prodivers has been present in the Maldives since 1988 and day after day, the dive centre teams, the management, the resorts we are based at and our partner companies work hand in hand to constantly improve on your experience. Be it your first or 40th time at Prodivers Maldives, we want your to feel safe, well taken care of, entertained and excited during your time with us.

Thank you again for helping us receive the Best PADI Overseas Dive Centre Award 2016 and also for contributing your share to the Maldives becoming the Best Diving Destination. See you at Kuredu, Komandoo, Lily Beach, Vakarufalhi – and from 1st of December also at the fabulous Hurawalhi!

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What is it really like to be an Examiner?

What’s it like to be a PADI Examiner? Guest blogger Adele Verdier-Ali shadows Maldives Regional Manager Matt Wenger as he conducts a two-day Instructor Examination at the Villa College Marine Faculty campus at Sun Island Resort & Spa Maldives to find out…

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Photo by Ahmed Shan

“Coffee,” croaks Matt as he finally joins me for breakfast at the sprawling beachside restaurant of Sun Island Resort & Spa, “I need coffee.”

Bleary eyed and less than his usual chipper self, Matt doesn’t look so good. I signal the waiter who hurries to pour him a cup. Having stayed up answering work emails until the small hours of the night, Matt explains, a zealous native bird calling in the dawn outside his window ensured that he was awake at four. It’s the first morning of the IE, and we both know it’s going to be a long day.

He takes a sip of his coffee, grimaces and pushes it away, “Ugh, I can’t drink that.”

It’s a bad start. And a grouchy examiner is not what the candidates need. Because while many Course Directors might joke that ‘IE’ really means ‘It’s Easy’, I was getting the feeling that this time (for Matt at least) it might just stand for ‘It’s Exhausting’

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No comments, photo by A. Verdier-Ali

No Rest for the Wicked

Having flown in the night before from Male’, the country’s chaotic capital, Matt had wasted no time. After a quick sit down with the head of the Villa College Marine Faculty Dean Shamaa ‘Anna’ Hameed and the Maldives’ only PADI Course Director Hussein ‘Sendi’ Rasheed to clarify the two-day itinerary, he’d jumped straight into the orientation. The candidates, six Maldivian guys, were initially nervous. As I sat at the back of the classroom at the beachside campus, the atmosphere was strained, no one spoke much, and the apprehension was palpable.

Over the next 45 minutes however, Matt achieved something impressive. Not only does he manage to put people at ease, to get people talking and asking questions but at the same time he somehow manages to keep people on their toes. His natural warmth made the candidates feel relaxed, but there was an undeniable boundary. This is PADI, he seemed to imply, and we don’t mess around.

 

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After the Orientation, photo by A. Verdier-Ali

Good coffee + good weather = good start

So back to our search for coffee. We head to the resort’s in-house dive centre in search of a more palatable caffeine fix. The walk to the centre, located at the end of a long wooden jetty at the edge of the island’s house reef, goes some way to raise Matt’s spirits. We spot several juvenile black tip reef sharks glide under the walkway, and the weather, at least, is being good to us. After several stormy weeks, the skies have cleared. The island stretches far into the distance and heaves with palm trees, bobbing above the shore. The lagoon that encircles it is completely flat; conditions are perfect.

“It doesn’t get much better than this, does it?” Matt remarks, as he pauses for a moment to take in the view.

Luckily, the dive centre has an espresso machine. As he sips his liquid breakfast, candidates bustle around him readying their gear.

“Right,” Matt says clapping his hands together, “let’s do this!”

Sun, Sea and Slates

With gear assembled, Matt leads a short briefing to explain what’s going to happen over the course of the morning. The candidates would first perform the Confined Water skills in the lagoon. Then head to the drop off for Open Water Teaching presentations and the Rescue Demonstration. Energy levels seem high but there’s not much talking. It’s go time.

I snorkel a short distance from the candidates and marvel at their efficiency. It’s clear that these guys belong in the water. I creep up to peer over Matt’s shoulder at his slates, hoping to see their scores. But instead there’s a series of letters. It’s a code which he explains in whispers. I realise that a lot of the candidates are getting straight 5s.

Every now and then, Matt turns around, nods his head and purses his lips and if to say “These guys are good!”.

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Sneak peek…… A. Verdier-Ali

 

The candidates’ English is fluent and confident and their briefings are simple and clear. They complete their tasks in swift succession and I’m surprised when it’s already time for them to head to the drop off for part two.

As I’m not in dive gear, I hang back and enjoy the reef. Two adult black tip reef sharks swim by, then a hawksbill turtle and a sting ray. Shoals of filter-feeding mackerel swerve and lunge by.

I head back to the jetty and await the candidates return. After quite some time, I can see them performing the rescue scenarios but it’s obvious that the energy has changed. They’re visibly tired and their adrenaline is no longer seeing them through. Shoulders sag as they exit the water and I worry that someone might have stuffed up.

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Rescue Demonstrations, photo by A. Verdier-Ali

Another quick briefing. Matt gives short precise feedback to justify the lower scores, and there are a few, but overall everyone passes.

 

The Physics of Failing and Failing at Physics

It’s lunch and then the two theory exams. As the candidates sit in silence I take the opportunity to explore the campus surroundings. The building, which was purpose-built in 2006 to train local dive and water sports professionals, sits on the western shore of the island. As well as providing accommodation facilities for the students and teachers, it’s home to two classrooms and an office. The small beach outside is glorious and I snap a few pics of a heron in the shallows, wading amongst juvenile black tips and a cluster of sting rays.

The candidates exit the classroom. All have passed the Standard Exam but three have failed in physics in the Theory Exam. They’d have to resit in the morning.

This dampens the mood of the group who, I observe, function as fish out of the water as well as in it. They move as a shoal, with the whole group affected by the misfortune of an individual. And with that the first day draws to a close.

A Second Chance

It’s late by the time I wander down from my room the next day and join Anna and Sendi by the beach. Usually chatty, they’re sitting in silence. The guys were resitting their exams – another fail and they’d not pass the IE.

And then they appear, three silhouettes against the morning sun. Anna stands up, and the three young men all smile. They’d all passed this time and there is a collective sigh of relief. The Knowledge Development Teaching presentations go by without a glitch and as the candidates exit the classroom the campus rebounds with their whoops and hollers. It was over! As the candidates all dive into the sea it’s as though they are different people. Their reserve melts in the water and they are suddenly animated, laughing and jubilant. It’s only then that I realise just how focussed, just how tense they’d been over the last 24 hours.

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Sharing the good news with family and friends, photo by A. Verdier-Ali

Matt, I notice, stays on the beach, and watches from the distance. From what I can see, he is still in examiner mode, and feels his job isn’t over until he leaves the island. But he does not escape being raised on the candidates shoulders a little later after awarding them their completion certificates. The candidates’ joy is infectious, even emotional to see, especially as they call their parents to share the good news.

The main thing I learn from him is this:

The key to a good IE? Decent coffee.

 

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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