Manta mayhem in the Maldives Northern Atolls

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Manta mayhem in the Maldives Northern Atolls

juve-eagle-ray---benWith an early arrival the guests stepped on board the Maldives Siren accompanied by repeat group leader Roberta Cwiertnia. The early arrival gave us time to make a relaxed first check dive on the outside reef of Daharavandhoo Island. With everyone weighted, checked and grouped we decided to risk the weather and make a night crossing to Noonu Atoll. The risk paid off with a smooth night crossing. We awoke bright eyed and bushy tailed to a beautiful sunrise to dive at what is unarguably one of my top 5 dive sights in the whole of the Maldives, Christmas Tree Thila. I’ve ranted about it before but I really can’t express the beauty and interest I find on this tiny Thila. The past few times I’ve been here the site has been completely covered in glass fish. This time they seem to have been mainly snapped up by the marauding dog tooth tuna, jacks, bluefin trevally’s and bonitos leaving only small scared pockets hunkered down in the overhangs. A fantastic dive to be sure though with sightings of grey reef sharks being harassed by jacks wanting to scrub up against their sand paper like skin.

another-turtle---benWhen the weather and scheduling allows we make our way to the northern atoll of Noonu for two dives; Xmas tree obviously being one but the other is equally impressive. Miyaru is the Devagee word for shark. Miyaru Thila is named well. The large flat block of reef acts as a cleaning station for the resident grey reef sharks. When the current is running as it was today these amazing creatures pause mid tail stroke and open their teeth lined maw to be cleaned by fearless cleaner wrasse. The Thila is an oasis of life with an abundance of eagle rays, reef sharks, octopus, marbled rays, mantis shrimps and both bearded and devil scorpion fish. Fearing strong current I dived in early before our second dive here to set a decent line for our group. Aware it was going to be my last dive here on this special site I took a little time to look on and say goodbye. Breathing as lightly as possible as not to scare them I was escorted down the reef by 5 eagle rays as we took a look at the inquisitive grey reefs checking out this solo alien puffing and blowing bubbles. I’ll certainly miss diving here.

MAry-Ellen-robertaTwo days later and we were heading south again this time through Lhaviyani Atoll on our way back to Baa. We made an early start on the crossing to get ahead as I’d been in telephone contact with the researchers at the manta trust and things were sounding exciting in and around Hanifaru Bay. As we approached the Atoll I made one last call to hear the news that over 40 manta ray were feeding close by Dhonfanu Island. We donned snorkelling equipment in preparation for our first look at these beautiful creatures. Setting quite a pace we had to fin hard to keep up with the manta rays but we could all agree it was worth it. After the Manta Trust team had kindly given the guests their presentation, we checked Hanifaru again. For the next 1h30 minutes we had what was the best manta experience of the year! Around seven manta rays were feeding at the surface. They were so close we were continually bumped and nudged as they fed. Manta’s feed by flattening their cephalic fins to channel the water into their mouths where the Zooplankton is filtered out. They seem to swim in tight circles herding their tiny prey into a tight ball before swimming quickly and cramming as much as possible into their mouths. The water was cooling us after such a long snorkel and the constant treading of water tired us considerably. Not one person complained however realising that this was surely a once in a life time spectacle!

The Manta Mayhem certainly wasn’t over as on day six, after a fantastic dive on the coral encrusted Fesdu Wreck we did our now famous night dive inside Fesdu Lagoon to dive with more of these giant rays!! But with the weather on the turn we had to start planning our itinerary on safe anchorage but it didn’t stop us diving more of my Ari dive site favourites. Fish Head Thila came up trumps as usual with grey reef sharks and turtles keeping us company throughout!

purple-anenome-fish-robertaEveryone, including the liveaboard crew, was very sorry when our final day of diving eventually came. With only a few miles between us and our final destination we made a dive at one of our regular sites; Kuda Giri Wreck a firm favourite in South Male. The wreck’s well preserved holds and decks hide away all sorts of fascinating macro from pipefish to glorious flatworms. We also sported its resident Giant Napoleon wrasse drifting over the decks. A gap in the clouds that evening just made it possible for final goodbyes and cocktails on the sundeck. Another memorable trip on-board the Maldives Siren brought to an end our Northern Itinerary season… now its back to concentrating on the Central Atolls before we head South in January. All the best, Tom

Photos by Roberta Cwiertnia & Benjamin Haddad

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