With Project Shark already going well in Egypt, Blue O Two wanted to start running trips in the Maldives. With its abundance of sharks and rays, there was a perfect opportunity to offer some great information and education to guests whilst diving out there. When asked, I was more than happy to get out there and help to get things going.
After a couple of flights, changing in Dubai I arrive in Male, the capital of the Maldives where I was met by Alsan, one of the two dive guides on Blue Voyager which was to be my home for the next month. A short ride out in the Dhoni dive vessel to the main boat and I was shown around.
The itinerary for the trips during the month was to explore the southern and central atolls and once the guests arrived on the boat at the start of each trip, we set sail immediately in the afternoon in order to be at the first dive spot ready for the morning check dive. The Maldives is made up of 25 atolls which have been formed over the past 50 million years as a result of ancient volcanic islands slowly dying and then sinking into the depths of the ocean, leaving behind large round circular areas of fringing coral reefs with over 1200 smaller islands within their vast lagoon areas. The string of atolls sit on a huge undersea mountain ridge in the Indian Ocean and so create a unique ecosystem with currents having cut channels through the fringing reefs which then exit and enter the massive inner sea with the tide. This means that there is almost always medium to strong currents running and this in turn attracts big numbers of larger oceanic fish, including a variety of sharks and rays.
Over the next days of the safari trips, we were to dive over a varied selection of channels, reef walls and coral reefs all created through the unique geological underwater topography of the area. Numerous species of sharks were seen on practically every dive and the variety of ray species was absolutely incredible. It was a great opportunity for the guests to really experience the beauty of not just diving in tropical waters with all the colourful fish life, but also be able to actually get the time to look at and appreciate the grace and power of the elasmobranchs which we were specifically interested in.
During the trips, I gave a series of presentations about various aspects of sharks and rays. Project Shark was created in order to try and add to the overall diving experience and also provide additional information which guests would hopefully find useful not only on this particular trip, but in their future diving trips as well. Starting with simple identification procedures and the key features to look out for, I also talked about subjects such the biology and behaviour of sharks, evolution, environmental threats the sharks are facing and what we can do to help them. With each presentation, it was then possible to relate the information to what we were all seeing on the dives in order to really add an additional level to the experience.
When diving on the outer edge of the atoll reefs in the channels cut by the current, it could be quite hard work with the currents but then this was the reason for the stunning marine life being there. Carefully using reef hooks on the edge of the channel wall, we were able to observe the sharks and rays cruising up and down effortlessly right in front of us, displaying their power and the natural streamlining developed over millions of years of evolution. After giving the presentation on their biology, it was great to have the time to see nature in action! Numerous grey reef sharks, blacktip reef and whitetip reef sharks were seen on almost every dive along with eagle rays, often four or five together gliding past.
Over the course of the trips, our cruise director, Albert, and dive guides, Alsan and Thithi were able to take us to a wide variety of sites, each one targeting specific shark or ray species so as to get the best possible opportunities to identify and see the differences throughout the elasmobranch kingdom. Sites such as Alimathaa where tawny nurse sharks gather in huge groups due to the proximity of a tuna processing factory gave divers a chance to see sharks at very close quarters so you could really appreciate their beauty. Other sites included Hammerhead Point where, as the name suggests, scalloped hammerheads come in close to the reef and are happy to check out divers for a short time. Other more sheltered sites were home to vast numbers of stingrays from five or six different species found in the Maldives, again coming right up to and over the divers. Instead of just talking about the creatures, it was a great way to bring the presentations to life and give meaning to what was being explained.
As well as being completely amazed and enthralled by the stunning diving to be experienced in the Maldives, the added benefit of doing the Project Shark trips really meant that the guests got the maximum benefit from not only the diving but also the evenings on the boat while having a beer and joining in on the presentations. It gave the guests both a great safari at the time and also something to take away for future diving trips. Hopefully they would also spread the word about the world of sharks and rays in order to help protect them and allow future generations the opportunity to experience the same wonders of the underwater world.