The importance of a good dive buddy

From the very beginning of a divers training, the importance of being and having a good buddy is emphasised, it is one of the key aspects of recreational scuba diving. As well as helping reduce risk, a buddy should enhance your dive from start to finish – a shared experience is always the best!

Benefits of buddy diving:

  1. They are an extra pair of hands when donning the scuba gear and taking it off again at the end of a dive – why struggle alone when a buddy can help?
  2. In the water, they can offer reminders about planned/actual depth and to check how much air is left – on a really exciting dive where sharks and rays are swimming all around, divers can be easily distracted and forget these basic checks – a good buddy means another chance to remember
  3. Should a diver need a little help such as with a cramp in their leg a buddy can help to alleviate the problem quickly and effectively – the divers can then get back to enjoying the dive
  4. In absolute emergency situations such as running out of air, a panic situation or entanglement, a buddy is an immediate source of life-saving help, without which the consequences could be life-threatening
  5. Navigational help – two brains are often better than one in navigational challenges!
  6. Someone to share amazing sightings with and most importantly, a witness to the countless sharks, super rare critters and giant manta rays seen – without a buddy the story just wouldn’t be believable!
  7. A second pair of eyes on the reef and in the blue – diving with a buddy presents double the chance of spotting something really amazing.
  8. Safety stops can be a time of quiet contemplation of the dive just completed and they can also be a time of funny faces and silly signals…and a lot of laughing bubbles drifting up to the surface – a buddy can be an excellent source of entertainment, diving is meant to be fun after all.


Divers usually find themselves travelling without a dive buddy in tow but this is not a problem at all – especially when diving with Prodivers Maldives. Buddy teams are agreed on the boats and the instructor guiding the dive is always very happy to accompany anyone who isn’t paired up. It’s beneficial for the buddy teams to stay with the guide anyway as they know the reefs like the back of their hand and can point out all the really cool stuff.

As divers get more experienced they may be tempted to go and dive on their own, they may think that they can handle anything and become quite blasé about the risks involved. The fact is that scuba diving is a high-risk adventure sport IF embarked upon alone, but when the correct procedures are followed and the buddy diving system is adhered to, the sport enjoys an excellent safety record. No matter how experienced a diver is a good buddy is as essential as the tank on their back!

4 Tips for Hosting AWARE Week Activities

In celebration of AWARE Week, a co-branded PADI® and Project AWARE® initiative aimed at empowering more divers to look after the underwater world, PADI dive operators and shops around the world will join together in a global movement for ocean protection by running conservation-minded events and activities from 15-23 September.

Whether it’s becoming a debris activist, saying no to single-use plastics or making responsible seafood choices, no action is too small to protect and preserve our ocean planet. AWARE Week provides you with the tools and inspiration to encourage positive actions for the health of fragile underwater environments, fins on and fins off.

Interested in planning an AWARE Week event in your area? Here are some ways to get ready and bring together your student divers, friends and family to act for change in your local community.

  1. Get ready to teach Project AWARE specialty courses: If you’re not a Dive Against Debris® or AWARE Shark Conservation Diver Specialty Instructor, apply for your rating today. One hundred percent (that’s right, 100%!) of your application fee is donated to Project AWARE. Not a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor yet? No worries, PADI Divemasters can apply to teach the newly revised Project AWARE Specialty course after taking a Project AWARE Specialty Instructor Training course from a PADI Course Director.
  2. Mark your calendar and start promoting your AWARE Week activities:
    Download AWARE Week social banners to spread the word. Create a Facebook event and use the #AWAREWeek hashtag on Instagram and Twitter to encourage participation and join the online conversation.
  3. Make your dives count and help clean the ocean: If you want to make your dives count for ocean protection during AWARE Week, conduct Dive Against Debris surveys. Download your Dive Against Debris survey toolkit, which includes the must-have materials you need to successfully plan and conduct a survey dive including tips to choose your survey site.
  4. Display the AWARE Week video in your local shop and gather interest for the Project AWARE specialty courses: Dive Against Debris Specialty, AWARE Shark Conservation Diver Specialty, and the newly revised Project AWARE Specialty. Ask people visiting your dive shop to leave their contact details if they’re interested in taking part in AWARE Week. Closer to the date, send them an invitation to sign up for a Project AWARE specialty course during AWARE Week or to any other event you may organize, a club night, a fundraising challenge – you decide.

Whatever you do during AWARE Week, make it fun and make it count for ocean conservation. If your students complete a course during AWARE Week, make sure they receive the PADI limited edition card supporting Project AWARE’s conservation work, and use this opportunity to celebrate the beauty and wonders of the ocean!

From kids to seniors, non-divers to pros, we can all make a difference in our global community. Join the AWARE Week celebrations!

For more info or to download the AWARE Week Toolkit for help hosting an event in your area, visit the newly launched AWARE Week website.

 

Riding a Whale Shark? Outrageous and Unacceptable!

Unbelievable! Maybe you’ve seen the viral video of scuba divers in Indonesia riding a whale shark? In this day and age, someone has the nerve to do something like this? It makes me furious!

This kind of behavior is not okay for anyone, anywhere, anytime, but especially unacceptable for us divers. It’s a big deal – not just for the poor animal being mugged to exhaustion by divers amid its survival struggles (though that is a supreme part of it), but for the entire dive community. We’re supposed to be the ambassadors of the underwater world – the collective voice of care and concern that speaks up to protect our endangered seas from abuses like overfishing, plastic debris, shark finning and wide-scale pollution. Marine Animal Protection is one of PADI’s Pillars of Change, and I know the vast majority – probably more than 99.9% – of divers would never do something like this, and actively support what the dive community’s doing to protect the oceans.

But, this video paints us as hypocrites who exploit marine animals for our own entertainment – but not only that, these divers were breaking international and local laws (whale sharks have been protected by Indonesian law since 2013) that the dive community has been breaking its back to help put in place. Researchers think that whale sharks have declined 63% in the Indo-Pacific in the last 75 years, around 30% in the Atlantic, with a 50% reduction overall in the last decade. This is why IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) considers the whale shark endangered.

Whale Sharks are intelligent marine animals, seeing one suffering at the hands of joy riding scuba divers is outrageous! You should be outraged too – and I know many of you are as evidenced  by the thousands of enraged posts this video prompted and continues to prompt. I’ve noted reports that the divers (or some of them) have been arrested, and we’ll trust Indonesian law to be just. The arrests themselves show that the issue and law are taken seriously – as they should be.

Please speak up if you have not yet. The world needs to know that this isn’t us. This isn’t diving. Your voice matters – as Irish statesman Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good [people] to do nothing.” Silence is often taken as acceptance – and that cannot stand! If any nondivers you know saw the video, tell them it shows unacceptable, irresponsible behavior. Your personal contact delivering the message makes a big difference – it is a voice of authority because you’re a scuba diver, freediver or both. We can all help turn this negative incident into positive change by educating divers and nondivers about the Responsible Shark and Ray Tourism Guide jointly produced by Project AWARE, WWF and Manta Trust.

Like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax – speaking for the trees, we are divers, speaking for the seas. We are champions of our ocean planet, so let’s act like it. Please help spread the word that the diving family is a force for good in the world, and we don’t and won’t tolerate these kinds of behaviors.

Dr. Drew Richardson
PADI President & CEO

Shark Week 2018 with Prodivers Maldives

 

Picture by Ray van Eedden
Picture by Ray van Eedden

Shark Week 2018 saw the teams at Prodivers dive centers celebrate these amazing creatures in the best way possible – spending time with them in their natural environment, the ocean. The teams’ love of sharks is well-known, as is the Maldives for being a world-renowned shark diving hot-spot, and their love was shared on dives and snorkel trips as well as in the classrooms, on the boats and pretty much anywhere else they could! Prodivers even shared their sharky love with the world on Facebook and Instagram too! If you missed Shark Week don’t worry – every week is a shark week with Prodivers Maldives!

Take a look at how the Prodivers teams across the Maldives celebrated Shark Week 2018:

Hurawalhi
Instructor Steve and repeater guest Markus opened shark week on Hurawalhi with an amazing dive on Kuredu Express, where grey reef sharks were hunting and cleaning. Steve and Markus, together with other guests, were lucky enough to snorkel with a whale shark, also on Kuredu Express, just before the last dive of shark week.

The Prodivers team on Hurawalhi did in total 20 dives in which we saw 7 different species of sharks: 1 whale shark, 1 white tip reef shark, 88 grey reef sharks, 3 silver tip sharks, 1 lemon shark, 5 black tip sharks and 2 nurse sharks.

Lily Beach Maldives Diving

Komandoo
Besides the fact that it’s always shark week on Komandoo with the baby blacktip reef sharks patrolling around the island all day, the divers and snorkelers on Komandoo were very lucky as they had a couple of special encounters with Guitar Sharks during shark week around the island.

All scooter divers also enjoyed uncountable sightings of nurse, grey reef, lemon and silvertip sharks while crossing the channels of the Lhaviyani.

Kuredu
There’s just one word for Shark Week on Kuredu: EPIC!

Kuredu’s Shark Week couldn’t have been better: It started off with an epic early morning sunrise dive at Kuredu Express with grey reef sharks, a mobula manta ray, a silvertip shark and even dolphins under water! The team did scooter introductions and insane channel crossings where they saw a big school of eagle rays accompanied by lots of grey reef sharks, lemon sharks, around 50(!) silvertip sharks. The participants of the PADI Maldivian Shark & Ray Distinctive Specialty Course were also very lucky: Before they jumped in for their dive at Kuredu Express, they spotted on the top reef a whale shark and had the chance to snorkel with it! As this is a very rare sighting in Lhaviyani Atoll, all guests and the whole Prodivers team were super excited and happy about this incredible encounter!

Shark Week Maldives Diving

Lily Beach
Lily Beach arranged exciting trips for divers of all experience levels to search for sharks and identify the different species of common in South Ari Atoll. The highlight of the week was definitely a mature guitar shark on Kalu Giri, followed by a whale shark whilst snorkelling at Ari Beach. The biggest surprise: a massive silver tip reef shark at Vilamendhoo Thila during the current check, during the dive grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks and a nurse shark resting on the top reef. Even the Bubblemakers spotted blacktip reef sharks during their sessions in the lagoon. Big smiles everywhere as we spotted sharks on all our dives during this special week.

Vakarufalhi
Vakarufalhi had an amazing week of sharks! As they had their boats filled with experienced and advanced divers, they were able to visit some of our more challenging dive sites. Diving into a strong current is always thrilling, and comes with rewards: among black-tips, we spotted some silvertip sharks! Silvertip sharks are a rare, oceanic species, that live nearby deep drop-offs. The place they can be often seen by divers is a shallower reef, serving them as a cleaning station- just like the dive site named 7th Heaven. Divers on the house reef also had a good time with the sleepy nurse shark and some white-tip reef sharks! The lagoon is a nursery for baby white-tip sharks, while their parents can be encountered around the reef, and for the ones who are obsessed with big fish: a whale shark has been seen also during the week. Vakarufalhi is only 30 minutes away from the marine protected area near Digurah Island, well known for whale-sharks!

Marine Science Workshop at Hurawalhi: The First of its Kind in Lhaviyani Atoll

Hurawalhi Maldives is proud to announce that the resort’s Marine Biology Center, a Manta Trust research facility, is set to host a Marine Science Workshop, the first of its kind in Lhaviyani Atoll.

The workshop, which will take place on Saturday, 14th July 2018, invites marine biologists, dive instructors, snorkel guides and tour operators in the region (Lhaviyani Atoll) to come and meet their fellow ocean advocates and to equip themselves with the knowledge and tools to provide their guests with the most up-to-date information; what’s more, the workshop will look to further instill sustainable tourism values and practices in the atoll’s community, and facilitate better research collection and collaboration in the atoll.

The workshop will be led by Manta Trust’s Project Manager and Hurawalhi’s Resident Marine Biologist, Kirsty Ballard, who will educate attendees about Manta Trust’s Maldivian Manta Ray Project‘s most recent finding. Kirsty will be joined by representatives from Atoll Marine Centre and Olive Ridley Project who will discuss their current turtle and clownfish research projects.

Event update and photo gallery

Marine Science Workshop Hurawalhi Maldives

The Workshop was a huge success! Participants from Hurawalhi, Kuredu, Komandoo, Kanuhura, Cocoon and Atoll Marine Centre had a fact-filled day. Hungry for knowledge, they were all ears during introductions from Kirsty Ballard who organised the event and Mohamed Solah, Director of Operations at Hurawalhi, and subsequent presentations: Kirsty further expanded on the Manta Trust research and findings, Dr. Stephanie Köhnk (Olive Ridley Project team member and Turtle Biologist and Educator at Kuredu) provided insights into sea turtle research, Atoll Marine Centre team shared knowledge on turtles, clownfish breeding programme and coral propagation, and CorAlive spoke about coral accretion methods.

Hurawalhi was pleased to have had the pleasure to host the Marine Science Workshop. We are certain that the resort’s Marine Biology Center will play an important role in educating marine users and providing tools to ensure tourism activities are conducted in a sustainable manner also in the future.

This was the first marine science workshop of its kind in Lhaviyani Atoll and both Hurawalhi and Manta Trust are confident in saying that it provided an excellent starting point for an even more increased and integrated research collaboration within the atoll.

Save the Dates: AWARE Week is Coming 15-23 September

From 15-23 September 2018, the PADI® family will join forces with Project AWARE® to celebrate the environment and education. The week’s focus is on teaching the three AWARE specialty courses – Project AWARE, AWARE Shark Conservation Diver and Dive Against Debris® – and inspiring divers to act on what they learn to protect the aquatic environment. Based on the successful 2017 AWARE Week project in the United Kingdom, this year’s AWARE Week has gone global.

WHY YOU NEED TO TAKE PART

Perfect Timing – As the dive season slows in northern climates and ramps up in the southern latitudes, divers are ready for reasons to get in the water. The bonus is they get to learn more about things that matter to them and are able to contribute by diving against debris or observing sharks. It also helps them step up the continuing education ladder. Participating in AWARE Week allows you to really connect with customers while boosting your September certifications.

Build Advocates – The more divers know about the state of the ocean and the threats to aquatic resources, the more likely they’ll be to make better personal environmental choices and become advocates for change. Education is the key to supporting PADI’s Ocean Health and Marine Life Protection Pillars and furthering Project AWARE’s efforts. Training Dive Against Debris divers not only expands your participant list for your monthly Dive Against Debris surveys, but it also creates more people who will say no to single-use plastics. Showing divers the continued pressure being put on the shark populations will create more people to defend sharks on both the local and global level.

Personal Improvement – If you already can offer all of the AWARE specialties, then teaching them during AWARE Week will help you build certifications toward your next professional level. If you aren’t authorized to teach Dive Against Debris or AWARE Shark Conservation Diver yet, then this is a great time for you to add to your professional qualifications. Get the training you need and/or send in your application soon so that you’re ready to teach in September. Also note that your instructor application fee is donated to Project AWARE.

WHAT ELSE CAN YOU DO

Fill the Week – Connect courses with events to fill the week. Offering a big Dive Against Debris survey at your local dive site is obvious, but also plan to offer other activities. Invite local environmental experts to speak to your divers about sharks, rays or any other endangered or threatened species in your area. Show environmental videos that explain the extent of plastic pollution or highlight how to make better choices to protect the environment. Try to focus on what’s occurring locally because that’s where your divers can make the biggest change.

Download Tools – Go to projectaware.org to get all the tools you need to teach AWARE Specialties along with supporting promotional graphics from the AWARE Week host page.

One more important thing: The Project AWARE Specialty is being updated to guide divers through the “10 Tips for Divers to Protect the Ocean Planet,” including discussions about how to take personal action. Watch for announcements about the release of the new instructor guide as you prepare for AWARE Week.

For more information, visit the AWARE Week host page for PADI Members. 

 

Underwater Symbiotic Relationships – Part 1

Symbiotic relationships occur when two different organisms live together. We can divide these relationships in 3 types:

Mutualism: when both individuals benefit from the relationship;

Commensalism: when only one benefits from it, while the other species is not affected;

Parasitism: when not only just one specie benefits from it but also causes harm to the other one.

We, as divers, are lucky to observe many of these underwater living arrangements. Here are just two examples:

Anemone and Clownfish

Here is a classic example of mutualism. The clownfish, also known as Nemo or anemonefish, seeks shelter in the midst of the stinging tentacles of the anemone. The anemone’s poison can paralyze other fishes but the clownfish has a thick layer of mucus and is immune to it. The anemone offers protection and a safe place for the clownfish to lay its eggs. Moreover, the clownfish also gets a little bit of food, as it eats the anemone’s dead tentacles and leftovers.

But the clownfish also has a lot to offer. It helps to scare away some predators and gets rid of parasites. Scientists say that it might even help to oxygenate the anemone as it swims through it. The fish’s excrement are full of nitrogen, which contributes to the anemone’s growth.

The anemone can also host crabs and shrimps, offering protection without getting anything in return (commensalism).

Goby and Pistol shrimp

That is a very interesting mutualistic relationship. The shrimp is almost blind, making it very hard for it to spot predators in time. In the other hand, it is a very good digger and a specialist when it comes to burrows. By contrast, the goby has an excellent eye-sight but is quite defenseless when it comes to predators. So, what a better way to survive than to combine their strengths to minimize their weaknesses?

During the day, the goby stays at the entrance of the burrow, keeping an eye out for any predators. Meanwhile, the shrimp is busy digging and improving their house. The long antenna of the shrimp is always in contact with goby’s fins. If any danger comes to sight, the goby flicks his tail in a certain way and the shrimp quickly goes back inside. If the predator gets any closer, the goby also retreats to the safety of his burrow.

When night comes, the pair goes back inside their shelter. The shrimp closes the entrance with pebbles to guarantee a good night’s sleep.

Do you want to find out more about other symbiotic relationships? Read blog part two, next week.

 

Guest Blogger at Ocean Dimensions

Diving and snorkelling in the Maldives is like no other place on Earth. Located at the incredible Kihaa Maldives Resort, Ocean Dimensions offers a range of courses and activities to allow novice and seasoned pros the chance to experience the wonders of the Indian Ocean.

With over 20 years in the Maldives, the Ocean Dimensions team not only offers its experience, but also its passion to those who would like to share and enjoy the waters around Kihaa and the world famous Baa Atoll, a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve.

Kihaa is the closest resort in the Maldives to Hanifaru Bay, a unique protected area that offers the chance to swim with manta rays and whalesharks as they come to the area to feed.

Underwater Symbiotic Relationships – Part 2

There are so many interesting symbiotic relationships happening underwater that we thought we should come back with more on the subject. If you missed our first article, you can read it here. There we explained the different types of symbiosis and introduced you to two interesting pairs. This month, we decided to talk about two other symbiotic relationships. One between a giant and a tiny fish, and the other invisible to our human eyes.

Cleaner wrasses and manta rays

Being manta season, we couldn’t leave this one out. Here is another example of mutualism, where these little fishes get food while ridding the mantas of dead skin and parasites.
The cleaner wrasses usually set up “shop” in a coral block, so the mantas can visit them. They swim around it with the mouth wide open and let the cleaners do their job. It is just like a spa or even a medical center, as the wrasses also keep the manta’s wounds clean, helping them to heal much faster.
Fun fact, the female mantas seem to spend much more time in the cleaning stations than the male ones. Does it remind you of another animal species?

Zooxanthellae and coral

Zoo…what??? We know, we know, that’s a difficult one to pronounce, but let us explain. Zooxanthellae is a brown-yellowish alga and we can definitely say it plays an essential part in the existence of coral reefs. These little algae find shelter in the coral polyp and start an interesting symbiotic relationship. The algae produce nutrients through photosynthesis, benefiting the host, which in turn expel a waste in the form of ammonium, a nutrient for the algae. Keeping this chain of food supply within, the coral has access to more food, therefore growing faster.

Global warming and coral bleaching

Coral bleaching has been a hot topic for many years now, but do you actually know what it is? The phenomenon is correlated to the symbiotic relationship above.
When the ocean gets too warm, the corals get stressed and expel the zooxanthellae, exposing its white skeleton. If the temperature quickly goes back to normal, the algae might come back, and the coral will slowly recover. A prolonged exposure to high temperature, might lead the coral to starvation, causing its death.

Guest Blogger at Ocean Dimensions

Diving and snorkelling in the Maldives is like no other place on Earth. Located at the incredible Kihaa Maldives Resort, Ocean Dimensions offers a range of courses and activities to allow novice and seasoned pros the chance to experience the wonders of the Indian Ocean.

With over 20 years in the Maldives, the Ocean Dimensions team not only offers its experience, but also its passion to those who would like to share and enjoy the waters around Kihaa and the world famous Baa Atoll, a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve.

Kihaa is the closest resort in the Maldives to Hanifaru Bay, a unique protected area that offers the chance to swim with manta rays and whalesharks as they come to the area to feed.

Are Our Efforts in the Maldives to Reduce Plastic Waste Really Worth It?

We are overwhelmed with the fantastic response from businesses and like minded travellers looking at ways to improve sustainability through sustainable initiatives like banning single use plastic straws in the Maldives and around the world. Everyone is discussing what we will lose if we don’t take action now, but what will we gain? Is there really any benefit to this massive international surge of environmental awareness and initiatives? We discuss here some exciting things we will gain from all our efforts:

Creating Employment

Once people get into the habit of bringing reusable bags when they are shopping people will seek more durable bags so they last longer, thus creating new job opportunities for manufacturing durable sustainable shopping bags, thus creating employment! In Male Maldives Authentic Crafts Cooperative Society (MACCS) an advocate for alternatives to single use plastic bags in the Maldives are producing bags for life and working with corner stores, supermarkets and households to reduce the usage of single use plastic bags.

Saving Energy with a More Efficient Production Process

To produce nine plastic bags it takes the equivalent energy of driving a car 1km. Considering the typical life span of a plastic bag is about 12 minutes of use, this is a very inefficient use of time, energy and products. Creating sustainable, reusable bags makes more sense and uses far less energy.

Happy Marine Life!

There is an estimated 46,000 to 1,000,000 plastic fragments floating within every square mile of the world’s ocean. Often they are mistaken for food by animals, birds, and marine life like fish and sea turtles. The consumed plastic then congests the digestive tracts of these animals, and can lead to health issues such as infections and even death by suffocation. By us all working together to reduce this waste, marine life, birds and other animals won’t have to suffer these terrible infections or slow painful deaths from excessive plastic waste. Meaning they will have a safer, happier environment to live in and both guests as well as those who live in the Maldives can continue to enjoy our marine life bio diversity.

Healthy Humans

Plastic fragments in the ocean can absorb pollutants like PCBs and PAHs, which are known to be hormone-disrupting chemicals. These chemicals can be consumed and make their way through the ocean’s food chain which then pass into humans who eat fish and other marine organisms.Given that tuna forms part of the staple diet of Maldivians and that the fishing industry is also a key exporter of fish products, less pollutant means healthier humans!

Money Saved on Clean Up Can Be Used For Other Things

A lot of time, money and selfless effort from individuals and groups are contributed to the efforts of ocean and beach clean ups. Image what this money could be spent on if we were no longer fighting the plastic battle. Not to mention the extra time we would all have on our hands! A week doesn’t go by where there is not a beach clean-up organised on at least one island in the Maldives. Let’s estimate that there is 50 people cleaning for 4 hours once a week;our conservative estimate is over 10,500 hours a year being donated for free time by locals and tourists. Together with the expense of rubbish collection bags, gloves and travel.

Saving Money on the Weekly Shopping

Plastic bags cost about 3-5 cents each to produce, and that cost is either incorporated into prices of the items sold at stores or you as the shopper have to pay for the bag, either way you as the consumer are absorbing all the costs of these plastic bags. It is said that the average American shopper will use 500 bags per year, 80% of these are plastic. Image the money you will be saving if stores didn’t need to apply these additional costs into your shopping. More money to save for your vacations to the Maldives!

Some Top Tip on Staying Plastic Free on Your Holiday to the Maldives

Reusable Containers

The popular traditional afternoon snack hedhikaa is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. However take outs are often presented in the blue plastic bags. So by bringing your own reusable container you are refusing a single use plastic bag.

Refuse Plastic Straws

Let’s face it most of us don’t need to use a straw and those that do can use alternatives. So the next time you order a drink or enjoy a local coconut, refuse the plastic straw and tag us online #strawwarMV

Re-useable Water Bottles

So many more places are offering fresh, clean drinking water to re-fill your water bottle. So instead of drinking small bottles of water and throwing them out, re-fill your own water bottle.

Join a Beach Clean Up

We know you are on your holidays when you visit the Maldives but as you will be visiting the local islands why no find out if there is a beach cleanup organised during your stay. We work closely with Save the Beach and The Cleaning Quest, if you let us know before you arrive we can incorporate it into your tour package.

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.

Mobula Ray madness at Gili Lankanfushi

What’s that…? A bird? A dolphin? No it’s a ray! A mobula ray can be seen leaping over one metre out of the water and making an impressive splash for reasons only known to itself.

Even with its large size the mobula ray is an elusive animal with the largest brain to body ratio of any fish. It has a complicated classification record and life history, making it not only a mystery to divers and snorkelers, but also researchers. It is from the family called Mobulidae, which also includes oceanic and reef manta rays. They can be found worldwide in temperate and tropical waters. Different species prefer different oceans; for example the giant mobula ray can be found relatively commonly in the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic, whereas the short-fin pygmy mobula ray can be found in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific. Large aggregations can be encountered in Hawaii, Republic of Maldives and Mexico, but recently due to population decline these aggregations are getting smaller and less frequent.

Mobula rays are often referred to as devil rays, due to their horned appearance which results from their cephalic fins (fins on either side of their mouth) being rolled up. Despite their name devil rays are considered harmless and shy. Originally there were thought to be 12 distinct mobula ray species, but due to advances in molecular biology and genetic studies it has been concluded that there are only nine species and that manta rays are included in the mobula ray family. Currently two separate species of manta rays are recognised, but there could be a third: the black morph manta ray (Manta birostris sensu). This species is currently undergoing DNA examination by Dr. Andrea Marshall of the Marine Megafauna Foundation.

The current classifcation of mobula rays. Picture: Zoological Journal of the Linnaean Society.

From fossil records it has been concluded that mobula rays first appeared 25 million years ago with other species evolving over time. For example, the manta ray species appeared in fossil records five million years ago. Mobula rays originally evolved from stingrays, which is why some still possess the stinging spine at the base of their tail. Unlike their predecessor who have spiracles to aid their breathing mobula rays must constantly stay mobile to oxygenate their blood.

Mobula rays are the only species of vertebrate that have three working limbs (pectoral, pelvic and cephalic fins). The smallest species of mobula ray is around one metre in wingspan whereas the largest, the oceanic manta ray has an impressive eight metre wingspan. Mobula rays are known to perform amazing aerial displays, including high jumps, twists and belly flops. There is debate over the reasons behind this; theories include communication, courtship displays, escaping predation threats and removing parasites.

Mobula rays are ovoviviparous. This means that females produce eggs which are hatched internally so that they give birth to live young. Normally a single pup is delivered, but occasionally two can be born. Mobula rays have long gestation periods; for example the giant devil ray has a pregnancy period of two years. All species of pups are born relatively large; for example manta ray pups are around one metre in wingspan at birth. This is because there is no maternal bond between mother and pup, and so after birth the pup is left to fend for itself, usually its only defense against predation is its size. Some species, however do have the additional defense of a stinger.

It is estimated that mobula rays live between 40 – 50 years, with females reaching sexual maturity between eight to ten years and males at six years. There is a period of two – five years between each birth and females can have offspring for around 30 years. The mating seasons for these rays depends on the species and location. In Japan oceanic manta rays have been seen to mate in summer, whereas in the Maldives higher sexual encounters are seen in October, November, March and April. Mating occurs in warm water and generally around cleaning stations. Males will venture to cleaning stations in search of a receptive female. These females illustrate their reproductive readiness by releasing mating hormones into the water.

Courtship displays are long (sometimes lasting weeks) and very expressive. Up to 30 males surround the receptive female and compete to mate. They form mating trains whereby they follow the female, who performs elaborate acrobatics that the males must follow. The most impressive male will be selected and have mating rights. The male will then bite the left pectoral fin of the female to hold her in place. They will then go belly to belly and the male will insert one of his claspers into the female for fertilisation. This process takes place in a couple of seconds after which the male disappears. Mating brings together large numbers of rays as does feeding.

Mobula rays can be found individually, although they generally form large schools when food is in high concentration. They are considered planktivores, although they can feed on small fish and zooplankton. They consume food by using their cephalic fins to funnel the plankton into their wide mouth. Different feeding methods are used depending on food availability; for example benthic feeding can be seen in low food concentrations, whereas surface feeding using barrel rolls and feeding trains can be seen when concentrations of plankton are higher. Cyclone feeding is the rarest type of feeding and can only be seen when the plankton concentration is 80% or higher. Hanifaru bay in Baa Atoll (Maldives) is a world renowned manta feeding site and one of the few places on Earth where cyclone feeding can be seen. In manta season (June – November) sightings of 200 manta rays and a couple of whalesharks are common.

It has also been found that devil rays can dive to depths of two kilometers for over an hour to find plankton, making them some of the deepest diving animals in the world. As the temperature at this depth is low the rays must come up and bask in the sun to rewarm and oxygenate their blood. Some rays have a dark band between their eyes which helps warm their brains faster. The oceanic manta ray also has a counter-current heat exchange system which allows them more control over their body temperature than other fish, making them effectively warm-blooded and enabling their deep dives.

Mobula ray populations are declining because they are vulnerable to overfishing, boat traffic, habitat decline, pollution, by-catch and entanglement. They also have limited reproductive capacity, limited habitat range and are slow growing. The biggest threat to mobula rays are targeted fisheries. They are hunted for their gill rakers which are used in ‘medicine’. There is NO evidence to suggest that gill rakers help with any ailments, in fact it is suggested that gill raker ‘medicines’ may actually pose a significant health risk to those taking it, especially pregnant mothers. In a study mobula ray gill raker samples were chemically analysed and arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead were detected in all samples. Arsenic levels where found to be 20 times higher than permissible levels and cadmium triple permissible levels. A study found a 163% increase in profitability in gill raker markets in China over a three year period, highlighting that this trade is getting worse. A mobula ray population reduction of 50% has been observed in some areas.

In the Maldives all mobula ray species are protected. More countries are also now protecting their mobula rays due to the tourism potential. For example, in 2011 in the Maldives mobula rays were worth eight million dollars to the dive tourism industry – rays are certainly worth significantly more alive than dead.

Over the last two months we have had many sightings of the short-fin pygmy devil ray on snorkels, dives, from the jetties and the villas. Although we cannot be sure why we have had a sudden increase in mobula ray sightings we have hypothesised that it could be due to upwelling currents bringing in plankton which the mobula rays are then feeding on. Either way we are very lucky and we hope to share the experience with you!

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.