THE MALDIVES - Dive Atlas Of The World: An Illustrated Reference To The Best Sites - Jack Jackson

Dive Atlas Of The World: An Illustrated Reference To The Best Sites - Jack Jackson (2016)


by Sam Harwood

ANYONE WHO HAS VISITED THE MALDIVES will remember the breathtaking sight as the aircraft makes its descent to the international airport. The coral reefs that comprise the North Malé Atoll are clearly visible; on one side of the reefs the ocean is a deep, inky blue while on the other side the waters of the lagoons are turquoise. The atoll is peppered with sandbars and islands surrounded by reefs.

North Malé Atoll and South Malé Atoll form one large administrative district, also known by its alternative Dhivehi name, Kaafu. The capital city, Malé, and the airport are both in the southeastern corner of this atoll. In spite of the fact that over the past 10 years these centres have become extremely busy, it is only necessary to travel a few kilometres (miles) to escape the hustle and bustle to enjoy peace and tranquillity as well as some fine diving.


North Malé Atoll offers an exciting mixture of channel and thila (a reef formation) diving. Because of its proximity to the capital and the concentration of resort islands in the southern area, the dive sites can be extremely crowded at certain times of the year. However, the best sites are exposed to strong currents, which tend to deter the less experienced, which has helped to ensure the survival of the reefs of the area.

A deep channel, Vaadhoo Kandu, separates North Malé Atoll from South Malé Atoll and this narrow ocean pass acts as a funnel for the prevailing currents. From December to April, in the northeast monsoon season, clean oceanic waters flow into the atoll and visibility is often excellent. During this same season, many of the channels on the western side are the favourite haunts of Manta Rays (Manta birostris) and Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus). From May to December, in the southwest monsoon season, the opposite applies, although Manta Rays and Whale sharks can still be found on the eastern side.

The inner ring reefs have been depleted by earlier coral mining for building purposes, but the Maldivian government has now introduced laws to control this practice.


Although this region is quite close to the international airport, it is surprisingly quiet and offers some fascinating diving. At least seven wrecks can be found on the Gaafaru Reef 1, which is separated from the rest of the atoll by the 3km (2-mile) wide Gaafaru Kandu (channel). Many other ships have come to grief on this reef, but years of relentless pounding by the ocean swells have by now obliterated all evidence of their sad fate.

There are ten resort islands in this section of the atoll, most of which are small and were among the first to be established as tourist islands. Among the few uninhabited islands, Rasfari 2, on the exposed west side of the atoll, offers some exciting and challenging diving. During the northeast monsoon, between December and April, visibility tends to deteriorate on the western side of the atoll, but the average visibility of this region is 20-25m (65-80ft).


Rasfari is an ocean reef off an uninhabited island. The site is exposed to south and northwesterly winds, but sheltered during the northeast monsoon. Large ocean swells can build up and currents are moderate to strong.

The reef slopes gently down to a plateau with an average depth of 20-30m (65-100ft), then drops off into the ocean depths. A small thila, with a reef top at 25m (80ft), sits in the centre of this plateau and divers can make their descent onto the main reef, then swim some 70m (230ft) over the plateau and onto the top of this thila. The currents around the thila can be strong, and reaching the peak can be quite difficult, but efforts to do so will be rewarded by sightings of many large fish. At times, as many as 25 Grey Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) can be seen gathering, as well as Spotted Eagle Rays (Aetobatus narinari), Giant Reef Rays (Taeniura melanospilos) and some Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda). Having explored the thila, divers can drift on the current back to the main reef. The diving is so exciting and there is so much to see that divers have to be careful not to get carried away and forget to check air consumption and decompression.

This is a protected marine area, which means that the removal of any natural object or live animal is forbidden, as is any activity that could damage the area or its marine life.

The resort islands near this dive site are Nakatchafushi, which is 15 minutes away by dhoni (ferry), Kudahithi (25 minutes), Boduhithi (35 minutes), Hembadhoo (60 minutes) and Ihuru (60 minutes).


Boduhithi Thila sits in the middle of the Boduhithi channel. During the northeast monsoon it is a sheltered site, but for the rest of the year it is exposed and currents can be very strong.



Wreck of the Maldives Victory, a 3500-tonne, 110m (360ft) cargo ship lying parallel to the reef of Hulhule Airport Island. The midhips mast stands intact, reaching to 12m (40ft), where a shotline is attached. The diver is looking out from the bridge.

During the sheltered northeast monsoon period the channel acts like a funnel for the currents flowing out of the atoll. When this outflow hits the ocean it creates an upwelling of plankton-rich waters over the thila. Consequently, this is a wonderful place to watch Manta Rays (Manta birostris) congregating in large numbers to feed. Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus) also gather here, scooping the plankton into their cavernous open mouths like giant vacuum cleaners.

The coral heads in the southeast corner attract a variety of reef life, while in the current Whitetip Reef Shark (Triaenodon obesus) and Longfin Batfish (Platax teira) can be seen schooling in large numbers. Divers jumping in at this point can explore caves and overhangs as they drift along the reef. Where the ocean meets the southwest corner, mantas can often be seen hovering above, while they are being cleaned by small fish. The site is also excellent for snorkelling, because the Manta Rays often echelon-feed in formation on the surface.

This site is within easy reach of nearly all resorts in North Malé Atoll and can be quite busy during the northeast monsoon season.


The capital island of Malé and the international airport are both situated in the southern section of North Malé Atoll, which makes it a busy part of the country. There are not many uninhabited islands, but as many as 17 resort islands in this area. Their easy access from the airport, usually by high-speed boats, has made them a very popular tourist destination. Some have conference rooms, freshwater swimming pools and restaurants offering a wide choice of international cuisine. Other large islands, such as Meeru and Lohifushi, offer simple accommodation, an informal atmosphere and an excellent selection of sporting activities such as catamaran sailing and tennis. There are some much smaller and quieter islands in the region where guests can enjoy a more relaxed style of holiday.


When young, Three-spot Dascyllus Damselfish (Dascyllus trimaculatus) live in a commensal relationship with a large anemone. This one is outside the anemone’s skirt.

There are six protected marine areas in this southern section of North Malé Atoll - Hans Hass Place, Lion’s Head, Kuda Haa, Banana Reef, HP Reef and Paradise Rock.


HP Reef sits on the western arm of North Malé Atoll, just off the main reef of Himmafushi Island. The wind blowing against the direction of the tide can result in short, choppy seas. Strong currents in the channel can cause surface eddies. Yet this is one of the best dives in the Maldives. However, it must be said that to enjoy this site, divers must be confident in strong currents and it is not suitable for beginners or snorkellers. The visibility is generally good, averaging 30m (100ft). The thila is made up of enormous boulders, piled up to create a superb collection of caves, crevices and overhangs. Blue, yellow and orange Den dro neph thya Soft Tree Corals and Gorgonian Sea Fans line the walls of a stunning vertical tunnel, that is formed where the reef drops from the top at 12m (40ft) to a depth of 25m (80ft).

The currents flowing in and out of the atoll wash the thila, thus providing perfect conditions for both reef and pelagic fish. Divers can enjoy the sight of large schools of Grey Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), Spotted Eagle Rays (Aetobatus narinari) and Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda) swimming by.

Girifushi is a protected marine area and also an army training camp where rifle practice sometimes takes place. When an exercise is planned, a red flag is flown from the island and diving in the channel is forbidden. Many resort centres within the atoll bring divers to this site.


Manta Point, on the western seaway of North Malé Atoll and in the southeast corner of Lankanfinolhu Reef, is one of the most popular dive sites in the Maldives. It is within easy reach of both North and South Malé atolls. From May to December, in the southwest monsoon season, a large number of Manta Rays gather here for cleaning.

The top of the reef is at 12m (40ft) and slopes gently down to 40m (130ft). The current along the reef can be very strong and there is often a heavy swell and surge, which can make it a difficult dive for novices and snorkellers. The Porites corals are home to a myriad of cleaner fish and the Manta Rays sail in and hover over the coral heads, while these busy little cleaner fish set to work. Divers need to be patient and position themselves close to, but not on, the coral heads and, provided discretion prevails, the mantas will carry on with their cleaning rituals despite the spectators. Any attempt to touch the mantas will scare the whole group away from the area.

In addition to the mantas, divers can see huge schools of Zaiser’s Bigeyes (Priacanthus hamrur), Indian Ocean Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus vittatus) and Napolean or Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus). In addition, there are often large numbers of turtles and various species of moray eels (of the family Muraenidae) swimming around the area and hiding in the many caves on the western point of the reef.

Divers are advised to swim away from the reef on surfacing, because the swell around the reef can be difficult for boat captains to manoeuvre safely while people are climbing back on board.

The site is visited by most of the resorts in the southern part of North Malé Atoll and from South Malé Atoll.


Occaboli thila is found east of Bandos Resort Island, in the Bodu Kalhi channel. It is sheltered at most times of the year, but the wind blowing over the tide can stir up some choppy seas and currents can be very strong. It sits well inside the atoll so that visibility is not always of the best, but the wide variety of fish life make it a site worth visiting.

There are two parts to the dive - the main reef, which is 200m (660ft) around, with an average depth of 10m (33ft), and a small, narrow thila, which lies 50m (165ft) off the southeastern corner. From May to November, during the southwest monsoon, Manta Rays can be seen hovering over the coral heads of the main reef, awaiting their turn to be cleaned. Anemones live on top of the reef with their symbiotic clownfish (Amphiprion, a subspecies of Pomacentridae).


The small thila, which forms the second part of the dive, is about 75m (250ft) long and only a few metres (yards) wide at the top, with one end rising to 12m (40ft) and the other to 18m (60ft). At some time in the past a coral rock has broken away and the resultant canyon between thila and reef is covered in corals. When the current flows into this canyon, schools of fusiliers can be seen swarming into the gap, making it a popular hunting ground for Bigeye Trevallies. The canyon is also home to a family of Hump head (Napoleon) Wrasse.


Oceans contain many seas and gulfs. Common usage has made the terms ‘oceans’ and ‘seas’ interchangeable, but technically seas are subdivisions of oceans. The International Hydrographic Bureau, the agency responsible for world standardization and coope ration in the measurement and description of the physical features of the oceans, recognizes 54 different seas.



For many years the Maalhosmadulu atolls were undeveloped and the only visitors came on safari boats. In 1995 a luxury island resort was opened in South Maalhosmadulu (Baa), followed by four more. In addition, there are 10 fishing islands and some 38 beautiful uninhabited islands, some of which are used for growing fruit and coconuts.

The best diving in South Maalhosmadulu is found on the many thilas inside the fringing reefs of the atoll. The channels are quite wide and therefore do not attract the wide variety of marine species that can be found on the thilas. Due to the width of the channels and the shelter provided by two nearby atolls, currents in this region are not as strong as elsewhere in the Maldives. Between December and May the water is calm and visibility usually very good. During the rest of the year the seas can be rough and visibility tends to be reduced. However, during May, June and July a large number of Manta Rays (Manta birostris) and Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) can be found here and this is an excellent time to observe these fascinating marine creatures.

North Maalhosmadulu Atoll (Raa) has only recently been opened to tourists, so there is a wealth of diving to be explored. Judging by the topography, the dive sites would be similar to those of South Maalhosmadulu.


Kakani thila lies 500m (1640ft) northeast of the resort island of Kihaadhufaru on the east side of the atoll. The thila is 150m (500ft) long and 50m (165ft) wide, with a reef top at 10m (33ft). On the north side the seabed drops over a step midway along the reef, descending sharply from 30m (100ft) to more than 60m (200ft). Along the ridge there are caves and overhangs which are home to large schools of Indian Ocean Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus vittatus), Bluefin Trevally (Caranx melampygus), barracuda and Napoleon Wrasse (cheilinus undulatus). The whole area is covered in orange and yellow Dendronephthya Soft Three Corals that are a feature of this particular region. There are also many large caves on the vertical face of the thila, making this an exciting dive with bountiful fish life and stunning topography.

Dive boats from all the resorts in South Maalhosmadulu visit this site.


This site derives its name from the number of sharks that can be seen here. It is one of the best sites in the atoll to see Whitetip and Grey Reef Sharks, including many juveniles. Situated 3km (2 miles) to the northwest of the uninhabited island of Dharavandhoo, it is a favourite site with the five resort islands in the atoll.

The site also offers excellent opportunities to see stingrays. Because the site is well inside the atoll, the water is calm, although the ocean currents still flow through the Dharavandhoo channel. Divers should jump in on the main reef and descend onto the branch of coral that projects from the basin off the main reef. From here, provided divers do not invade their space, the sharks can be observed as they school and rest on the sand floor.


Faadhippolhu atoll lies 120km (75 miles) from the capital, Malé. Although it is one of the smaller atolls, only 37km (23 miles) wide and 35km (20 miles) long, it has a population of 8000. The Felivaru Tuna Fish Canning Factory, which was opened as a joint venture between a Japanese company and the Maldivian government in the late 1970s, employs around 200 staff, most of whom live on the two nearby islands of Hinnavaru (population 2500) and Naifaru (population 3000). However, the government has set up schemes to encourage inhabitants to move to the nearby island of Madivaru to ease the overcrowding. There are three other inhabited islands on the west side of the atoll and another on the east. There are also many large islands with dense vegetation, most of which are situated on the outer rim of the atoll. In total, there are 50 uninhabited islands and five resorts in this atoll at present, but with the pressure of increased tourism to the Maldives, it is quite likely that the government will allocate other uninhabited islands in the atoll for development as resorts. Kuredhu Island Resort is one of the largest in the Maldives.

The atoll offers a great variety of excellent dive sites, with coral reefs, narrow channels and wrecks near the island of Felivaru. Around the southeast corner there is a very long reef - from Selhlhifushi in the north down to Aligau in the south. This causes the water in the southeastern part of the atoll to flow less freely than in the northern part; consequently there is less destructive wave action and the giris (submerged reefs) and patch reefs inside the southern part of the atoll are in perfect condition. Inevitably, the gentler currents mean that there are fewer chances to see the large pelagic fish, but these can be seen in the narrow channels of the north.


Collare Butterflyfish (Chaetodon collare) are often found in pairs and groups. Their natural diet consists mainly of coral polyps.


Fehigili is on the eastern side of the northernmost tip of the atoll and currents here can be very strong and the sea very choppy. This makes it unsuitable for inexperienced divers and quite uncomfortable for anyone suffering from seasickness. Once on the reef, the fish life is amazing and there are good opportunities for photographers in the basin at the corner on the ocean side, where the schooling fish seem to be friendly and large.

The inside reef of the Fehigili channel consists of a series of steps, each one about 10m (33ft), descending eventually to the ocean drop-off at 40m (130ft). Where the steps meet the corner of the reef there are caves and overhangs full of Dendronephthya Soft Tree Corals and huge schools of soldierfish (Myripristis spp.), squirrelfish (Sargocentron spp.), Harlequin Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chae to do noides) and many other varieties.

Divers can descend a little deeper to the atoll plate at 35m (115ft), where a huge overhang is adorned with Dendronephthya Soft Tree Coral and bright orange Tubastrea corals. This protected area is a good place to see schooling barracuda, trevallies, tuna and other fish coming in from the ocean.


Some of the best sites in the Maldives are in Ari Atoll, about 60km (37 miles) west of Malé and separated from North Malé Atoll by the Alihuras Channel. It is one of the largest atolls in the archipelago, measuring about 80km (50 miles) long and about 30km (20 miles) wide.

There are many resort islands spread over the length and breadth of this huge atoll, ranging from very small, exclusive places with just 50 beds to Kuramathi, the largest resort in the Maldives, with 508 beds. The complex area of reef formations provides every type of dive imaginable, making this an ideal destination for experienced and novice divers and snorkellers. The area is dotted with numerous thilas where the shallow reeftops provide good light for coral growth. The sides are often sheer, dropping away to around 30m (100ft), interspersed with intriguing caves and overhangs, sheltering a wide variety of reef and pelagic fish. Most sites are small enough to be explored in a single dive.

From December to April there are some really exciting manta points, where divers can sit in shallow water and watch these awesome creatures as they hover around the cleaning stations. It is not unusual for Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus) to be in the same area. In the southwest season, from May to November, the population of Grey Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) appears to increase. This could be due to the slightly cooler water at this time of the year. Manta Rays are not quite so common in the area during this season, but encounters with the Whale Sharks are often reported.


Diver over a coral reef. Tiered coral heads like these may be hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Coral is characterized by its skeleton and often named for its shape.


The Maldives anemonefish or clownfish (Amphiprion nigripes) gains protection by retreating among its host’s tentacles. The host is exclusively Heteractis magnifica.


Schooling bannerfish (Heniochus diphreutes), a type of butterflyfish, is often considered to be indicative of healthy reefs. They occur primarily along outer reef slopes.


There are ten fishing islands in the south of this large atoll, one of which, Mahibadhoo, is the administrative capital. In addition, there are 16 resort islands and 11 uninhabited islands, some of the latter being little more than a sand bar, while others are quite large, with rich vegetation.


Kudarah Thila is situated just one kilometre (half a mile) southeast of Kudarah Resort Island. The topography is quite complex and spring tides can bring extremely strong currents, making it unsuitable for novice divers.

The thila is divided into four large coral heads resting on a plateau and rising from 40m (130ft) to 12m (40ft). The entire thila is no more than 100m (330ft) in diameter and can be encompassed in a single dive. Each coral head is undercut from 15m (50ft) to 25m (80ft) with superb caves full of corals, Gorgonian Sea Fans and Whip Corals. A swim-through archway in the southwest corner leads into the centre well of four pinnacles, where there are deep ravines harbouring a stunning amount of marine life. The hollow centre of the thila goes down to 20m (65ft) and thousands of Bluelined Snappers (Lutjanus kasmira) school in the gullies, shadowed by yellow trumpetfish (Aulostomus chinensis). Grey and Whitetip Reef Sharks can be seen on the points of the current.

Divers must be careful not to go into decompression on this dive, because there are no shallow points on the reef at which to carry out stops.

This is a protected marine area. Many resorts in Ari Atoll visit this site by dhoni (ferry) but the nearest resort islands are Kudarah and Vakarufalhi (10 minutes) and Machchafushi (20 minutes).


Hukuruelhi Faru, or Madivaru, is on the south side of Rangali channel. Faru is the Dhivehi name for a circular reef that is exposed to the ocean and rises up from the ocean floor, while madi means ray, so it is not surprising that, in the northeast season, this has superb manta cleaning stations. The reef slopes down gently from the top at 8m (25ft) to the ocean bed at 30m (100ft). The manta cleaning stations are spread all along this reef, but they are at their most active midway along the northern side. Here a deep basin, almost 100m (330ft) across, has formed in the coral and the mantas are attracted by the waters that eddy here as the currents flow out of the atoll.

To the east of the basin the reef drops steeply to the sand floor at 30m (100ft). About 25m (80ft) down this wall is a large cave, which runs along the reef for 200m (656ft). To appreciate the splendour of this site, divers should stay low on the reef and keep as still as possible. Patience will be rewarded when the mantas come in to hover like spaceships, awaiting their turn at the cleaning stations.



Manta Ray (Manta birostris) with wrasse cleaner fish. Manta Rays frequently glide into cleaning stations all over Ari Atoll. These harmless filter-feeders can grow to 6½2m (22ft) wide.


A diver hovering over a mixture of stony and soft corals that is common where the currents are strong when the tide is in full flow. The brightly coloured soft corals swell up to their full glory in strong currents.

This site has been designated a protected marine area by the Maldivian government. Many resorts in Ari Atoll offer day excursions to this site during the manta season.


There are seven inhabited islands in this region. Thoddoo Island, at the far north of the area, is an important fishing island and famous for the bandiyaa, a dance performed by a group of local girls. It is a large island in the middle of the ocean pass. Visitors are welcome, but only small fishing boats are able to anchor off its shores. The island of Rasdhoo is not a resort island, but it is located next to the large island of Kuramathi, on which there are three individual resorts. Consequently, Rasdhoo now has over 30 tourist shops and provides the hub for air transfer services to the Kuramathi resorts. Altogether, there are 11 resorts and about 13 uninhabited islands in this northern part of the atoll.


Situated just 3km (2 miles) northwest of Maayafushi Resort Island, Maaya Thila is one of the best-known dives in the Maldives, with an amazing variety of marine life - Grey and Whitetip Reef Sharks, turtles, stonefish, frogfish, Longfin Batfish (Platax teira) and many other species. This site can be very busy, but it has been given the status of a protected marine area, which will help to conserve its marine life.

The thila is small enough, at 30m (100ft) in diameter, to swim around in one dive, but as always, the underwater activity is concentrated around the point of the current. The top of the thila is at 8m (25ft) and at the edge due north of this point there is a large overhang full of bright orange Tubastrea corals. A large satellite rock can be seen off this point and is well worth visiting. The top of the rock, at 15m (50ft), is covered in corals, while the vertical sides drop down to the atoll plate at 40m (130ft). Grey Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) can frequently patrol the channel between this rock and the thila, while Whitetip Reef Sharks (Triaenodon obesus) can often be seen resting on the sand.

To the south of the thila there is another, smaller satellite rock, which also merits investigation, although the coral growth on this side of the thila is not as beautiful as that on the northern side. This is an excellent site for night diving.

Because this site is so well known, it is visited from many resorts within Ari Atoll.


Mushimasmigili is an uninhabited island and this site can be found just 4km (2½ miles) to the south. Mushimas is the Dhivehi word for ‘little fish’ and the site is named after the small brown fusiliers which can be seen in their thousands on the thila. This protected marine area is also home to a resident school of Grey Reef Sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos), which often pass quite close to the divers and there is usually a family of Humphead (Napoleon) Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus). The top of this small thila is at 10m (33ft). It is oval in shape and about 100m (330ft) long and 60m (200ft) wide. The southern side drops down in two steps, from 8m (25ft) to 20m (65ft) and down again to the atoll plate at 42m (138ft). At the southeast corner a large overhang, known as The Fish Head, projects from the thila. This provides shelter for a huge school of thousands of Bluelined Snappers (Lutjanus kasmira). The drop on the north and west side is steeper and at 20m (65ft) the reef is undercut with an overhang that curls around a large part of the thila.

This is an excellent dive for all standards of diver and offers the opportunity to observe a wide variety of marine life. It is popular with most resorts in Ari Atoll and some resorts in both North and South Malé Atoll run day excursions here.


Located in the north channel of the fishing island Maalhos, this thila is exposed from May to November and conditions can be difficult. At all times of the year the currents over this area can be fierce and not suitable for inexperienced divers. However, this 200m (660ft) long thila is one of the most beautiful and colourful in the Maldives, with stunning corals adorning the many caves and overhangs that run the length of the site. Reef fish abound in hundreds, with great schools of Bluelined Snappers (Lutjanus kasmira), soldier-fish (Myripristis spp.), Moorish Idols (Zanclus cornutus) and Indian Ocean Oriental Sweetlips (Plectorhinchus vittatus). There are several large coral heads on the ocean side of the thila where divers can see Great Barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda), Spotted Eagle Rays (Aetobatus narinari) and Whitetip Reef Sharks (Triaenodon obesus). The shallowest point of the thila is 10m (33ft), so decompression diving should be avoided.

Day excursions are made from resorts on the east side of Ari Atoll. The nearest resort islands are Fesdu (45 minutes), Moofushi and Madoogali (both 50 minutes).


Felidhoo atoll and next-door Mulaku (Meemu) atoll are quiet in terms of tourist resorts and fishing islands. It is only recently that the government agreed to the opening of the first two resorts in Mulaku. However, the boot-shaped atoll of Felidhoo has been a great favourite with safari boat operators for some time because it offers many excellent dive sites as well as being a very beautiful area of the country.

Fulidhoo in the north, Thinadhoo, Felidhoo and Keyodhoo on the east and Rakeedhoo in the south are all locally inhabited islands, where the locals rely heavily on tuna fishing for their livelihood. There are also a number of uninhabited islands. Fotteyo, the largest of these, is the easternmost point of the Maldives archipelago. Bodumohoraa and Hulidhoo are both idyllic tropical islands with superb beaches, ideal for snorkellers, while Kudiboli, a small uninhabited island on the west side, has safe anchorage for safari boats. To the south of the main atoll sits Vattaru Falhu. A falhu is a shallow reef rising up from the atoll floor and forming a crescent facing the inside of the atoll. Vattaru circles the island of Vattaruhuraa, which has dense vegetation and no beaches. The shallow fringing reef makes access extremely difficult.


There are only two resort islands in Felidhoo atoll, Alimathaa and Dhiggiri, both of which are beautiful, with excellent diving.

The many channels which break the outer rim of this atoll offer some exciting diving, although dives tend to be deeper than the thila diving that is normally found in the northern atolls and success tends to depend on currents. The reefs on both the east and west sides drop down to great depths, rather than shelving out at around 40m (130ft) as is more usual for the Maldives.

From December to April clear blue oceanic water flows in through the narrow channels, bringing in large numbers of pelagic species and Grey Reef Sharks. On the western side of the atoll Manta Rays and Whale Sharks can be found feeding on the plankton-rich waters flowing out into the ocean, particularly during the season of the southwest monsoon. However, seas can be rough at this time of the year, so diving the channels can be difficult.


Fotteyo Kandu is the first channel to the west of the uninhabited island of Fotteyo, which sits on the north fringing reef of the atoll. It is a beautiful dive site and worthy of several visits, for there is so much to see. A vertical wall on the fringing reef causes a funnel effect with the water that is flowing into the channel and this is what attracts the great variety of marine life.

Fotteyo Kandu is about 200m (656ft) wide and is split into two narrow passes by a thila, which shallows to within 3m (10ft) of the surface. The west pass is around 100m (330ft) wide, the east pass much narrower, about 30m (100ft). The average depth of the channel is 20m (65ft) until it drops off vertically into the ocean, descending many hundreds of metres. Spotted Eagle Rays (Aetobatus narinari) frequently hang in the currents that flow through this narrow passage. In the western pass, there is a catacomb of caves in the wall of the ocean drop-off, spreading from 20m (65ft) down to a depth of 50m (165ft). The roofs of these caves and overhangs are festooned with corals. The area abounds with reef fish. Divers can drift over the sandy floor of the channel where they will find triggerfish - this has been dubbed triggerfish alley - and dolphins can often be seen and heard swimming through the channel.

The water is generally calm except when the wind is against the tide, when big overfalls can build up. Also, the currents into and out of the channel can be very strong. This is a popular site and many resort islands run day excursions to here for divers.


There are two dives, one on each side of the Rakeedhoo channel. Rakeedhoo is the southernmost point of Felidhoo atoll and there is a huge flow of water in and out of the channel. It is quite narrow, but just too wide and too deep to cross, and conflicting currents can create turbulent water and overfalls across the entrance. However, the dives on each corner of this channel are wonderful.

On the eastern side are vertical walls peppered with numerous caves at depths of between 20m (65ft) and 40m (130ft). Here Giant Reef Rays (Taeniura melanospilos) lurk, while large groupers (Epinephelus spp.), turtles and families of Humphead (Napoleon) Wrasse live on the top of the reef. This is a splendid drift dive from the outer fringing reef into the channel. In good conditions it is an excellent site for snorkelling.

On the west side of the channel the floor slopes quickly down to the atoll plate before meeting the ocean drop-off at 30m (100ft). Here again, there are many large caves lined with corals, Gorgonian Sea Fans and Whip Corals. It is possible in the right conditions to hang in the ocean at a depth of 35m (115ft) and gaze up at these caves - the contrast of the deep blue water beneath and the bright colours in the caves make a stunning sight. This is a good site for seeing big pelagics and a school of Bigeye Trevallies can often be seen in the channel.


Diver and mature Humphead (Napoleon) Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus). One of the largest fish on the reef, they occur singly or in small groups feeding on molluscs and other well-armoured invertebrates.


Bigeyes and snappers often share the same sheltered caves and crevices during the day and disperse to feed at night.

Although Alimathaa and Dhiggiri are the only resort islands in this atoll, other resorts run day excursions to Rakeedhoo Kandu.


These two atolls, opened to tourists in 1997, lie just south of Ari Atoll. South Nilandhoo is 150km (95 miles) from Malé and has two resort islands, the small and very pretty island of Velavaru, and the larger Vilu Reef. In the smaller North Nilandhoo atoll, only one island has been developed as a resort. This is Filitheyo, which has an accessible house reef and a high standard of accommodation.

In South Nilandhoo there are eight fishing islands and over 38 uninhabited islands. The island of Ribudhoo is famous for the beautiful jewellery made by the locals. North Nilandhoo is smaller, with just five inhabited and 18 uninhabited islands.

The region has considerable historical significance. The famous anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl excavated several sites here and discovered evidence of seven Hindu temples on the island of Nilandhoo. This island is also home to a mosque dating back to the 12th Century, which was built with stones from the ancient Hindu temples. This mosque is one of the oldest and most revered in the Maldives.

Diving in both atolls is exciting and varied and suitable for divers of all levels of experience. The small number of resorts in the atolls means that all sites are relatively quiet and that fish abound. There are two known wrecks off the island of Kudahuvadhoo in South Nilandhoo atoll. The Liffey foundered in 1879 and the smaller Utheema I went down in 1960.



Dharaboodoo point lies off the east of the island’s house reef. The site is best dived between May and December on flood tides. Five large coral outcrops have broken away from the main reef and now lie in the channel. Currents sweep through the passage that these coral blocks have formed with the wall of the reef, making it attractive to a multitude of schooling fish, while corals adorn the whole area.

Where the house reef has collapsed, there are huge caves and overhangs from the surface down to 35m (115ft). The reef is home to huge schools of fusiliers, snappers and groupers.

Filitheyo resort and safari boats are the only means of access to this site, so it is quiet. Because it is relatively new, the fish are also less used to divers and tend to be more shy than elsewhere in the Maldives. It is a wonderful site and well worth a visit, especially in the southwest monsoon season.


An atoll starts to form when a volcano rises above the sea. Stony corals, marine animals which secrete calcium carbonate to form a skeleton, begin growing near the ocean’s surface to form a fringing reef around the volcano. When the volcano subsides, the coral continues to grow upwards and outwards to form a barrier reef enclosing a shallow lagoon. Eventually the island formed by the volcano sinks, leaving a ring-shaped reef, or atoll. If the island sinks faster than the coral can grow, then you are left with a seamount below the surface of the sea.

A reef is made up of many layers of coral, with the top layer of live coral colonies growing on the calcified remains of dead coral. Stormy seas break off chunks of coral, which crumble to form sand.


Urchins, like the one in the foreground, are a problem for swimmers. They are rarely poisonous, but the spines break off under the skin and the irritation can last for weeks. Like the sea stars, they can move with the aid of their tube-feet.



The narrow isthmus of Koh Phi Phi Don, the only inhabited island in the Phi Phi group, is where the accommodation is.


Koh Bangu, commonly referred to as Island Number Nine, is the northernmost in the Mu Koh Similan Marine National Park. Its northern shoreline has protected anchorages.