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What to Expect During a Liveaboard Scuba Diving Trip in the Maldives

January 27th, 2015 Comments off

Once you dive abroad, there’s no other way to travel. Ordinary cruises or beach holidays no longer seem to cut it after taking a scuba diving vacation.

One way to dive abroad is to book a liveaboard or dive safari package, in which divers stay on a custom cruiser, whose itinerary revolves around hitting selected dive sites in the region. Liveaboards combine the benefits of a cruise and the facilities of a scuba dive centre all in one. In the Maldives there are also guesthouses that offer dive centres, as well as resorts, but here we will focus on the Maldives liveaboard option.

 

liveaboards What to Expect During a Liveaboard Scuba Diving Trip in the Maldives

Left to right: Scubaspa cabin, Maldivian Dream cruiser, MV Orion Jacuzzi


 

Arrival and meet & greet in Male
Well, it will actually be at the airport in Hulemale, but the main arrival port of the Maldives is referred to as Male International Airport, where almost all visitors to the Maldives will arrive and depart from. Some may hop onto a connecting domestic flight to start liveaboard tours in a more remote atoll, but majority of itineraries start from this transport hub.

Most liveaboards will arrange for a representative to meet guests at the arrivals area, from where they will be guided and transported to the liveaboard cruiser at the designated time. Once aboard, guests are welcomed and are encouraged to settle in.

An obligatory check dive is carried out at the first dive site to check gear, skill levels of the group and get a refresher on dive essentials.

 

Multiple daily dives
Depending on the day and dive boat, this will range from 2-3 dives per day. This count doesn’t generally include the arrival and departure days, when no dives take place for safety reasons. There needs to be an adjustment period for the body between flying high and diving deep.

Night dives and/or early morning dives will be mixed in for certain dive sites that are best seen at those times.

 

Flexible diving
In the disclaimer of many dive boat itineraries you may see a notation that exact sites could vary depending on local conditions, and even diver experience. Liveaboards have the flexibility to choose a different dive site if the conditions are not favourable at the planned site. Fortunately, this means divers can still hit the water when weather doesn’t cooperate at one particular site. The dive guides know the areas well, and can make the best decisions to ensure divers get a great experience.

 

Focus on safety
The impeccable safety records of liveaboard companies in the Maldives have come thanks to diligence of crew, guides and guests themselves. In addition to accompaniment by professionally trained and highly experienced dive guides, every ship is fully equipped with emergency equipment as required – oxygen, first aid, fire alarms and extinguishers, and life preservers. Additional safety equipment available can include safe air analysers and lost diver tracking systems.

 


 

Geared towards diving
In the Maldives the traditional boat is called a dhoni. There are smaller and larger versions, and a custom equipped dive dhoni is used by the liveaboards to get divers up to dive site entry points and to store dive gear and compressors. The liveaboard itself is usually a cabin cruiser yacht with 2-12 cabins, chartering 14-24 guests at a time.

All the conveniences for divers will be there, and all is tailored to ensure maximum dive time. Divers unpack gear only once and a dedicated dive dhoni transports the eager group to the selected dive locations where conditions are at their best. There are camera rinse stations and battery charging stations on board, as well as wet and dry storage areas and staff available to refill tanks.

 

Diverse dive sites
One of the best and adventurous elements of liveaboard diving has to be the access to dive sites across several atolls within just one trip. It’s not uncommon for itineraries to hop from North and South Ari to North and South Male and to others like Vaavu and Rasdhoo all in a 7-day trip. The same experience can’t be achieved when staying at one island base location.

Some dive boats will also start in an outer atoll working its way back to Male, or vice versa, making for an even more unique and varied itinerary.

 

Constant temperatures in the air and water.
While air temperatures average around 27 degrees Celsius, the water moves around the 28-29 degree mark. There are wet and dry seasons but, so close to the equator, it stays within a narrow temperature range throughout the year.  Not to mention, the sunrise and sunset take place at about the same time year-round, keeping the number daylight hours remaining constant too.

 


 

A range of other activities
More than diving is on the menu for liveaboard tours. While scuba addicts would like to stay submersed all day long, it’s just not possible. Fortunately, guests of liveaboards are given facilities and activities to keep themselves active (or not so active depending on their wishes). Lounge chairs and jacuzzis are now a staple of most liveaboards in this region. As for activities, guests can enjoy evening and daytime excursions, such as a beach BBQ dinner or picnic on an uninhabited island, a guided Male visit, a local island visit and fishing. These activities are often included in the package price.

 

Luxury
Air-conditioning and ensuite bathrooms are standard for Maldives’ liveaboard safari boats. Depending on the cruiser, spa facilities and fitness classes like yoga and pilates may also be on offer.

 

This is the liveaboard holiday in a nutshell, in the Maldives. But of course, to put into words the real experience is impossible. Get yourself into the warm waters of the Maldives this year. A spring holiday is in the cards for you, as Theia’s April deal is now on – Click for more info here

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Mantas Win the Popularity Contest in the Maldives – But Why?

January 21st, 2015 Comments off

Maldives’ marine life is blissfully unaware of the popularity contest among species in their community. Sure, the angelfish are colourful and the clownfish are cute, but would a scuba diver come to the Maldives just to see them? Likely not. But there are, indeed, creatures that bring divers in droves.

What is it about the manta ray that mesmerizes onlookers and leaves them awestruck? What makes our hearts stop for a moment and brings a smile to our face just getting a glimpse of these birds of the deep sea? The reasons can be hard to put a finger on.

Let’s look at why mantas are winning all the popularity contests in the Maldives, and getting all the attention.

 

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Manta glider and its front fins


 

Why the Maldives?

It’s not secret that manta rays are not native to the Maldives. The pelagic species grace the open waters and near-reef habitats of tropical and sub-tropical regions all over the world, from the Caribbean to the Red and Arabian Seas and the Indo-Pacific. Swimming with mantas is a popular activity in Hawaii, Great Barrier Reef, Galapagos, Micronesia, Bali, Costa Rica, Fiji, Indonesia and Thailand.

In the Maldives there exists the conditions for unique manta ray encounters. During the Southwest monsoon season, at Hanifaru Bay, manta rays come out in droves to feed on the influx of krill brought in by the currents. Up to 200 mantas at a time have been witnessed in this location, which is now a protected site with boat and scuba diver access restrictions. The active Hanifaru period covers about July to early October when this so-called feeding frenzy can occur. As it’s not a daily occurrence, those divers that are in the Maldives specifically to see this phenomenon may want to plan several days of diving there in Baa Atoll.

Yet this is not the only place to see manta rays in the Maldives. Manta Point (aka Lankanfinolhu Faru) of North Male Atoll, as well as sites in Ari Atoll and Vaavu Atoll are all known for manta sightings. Generally, the Maldives dry season from December to May attracts mantas to the western side of the atolls, while the rest of the year they stay more to the east – all dependent on the flow of currents and the plankton flow that follows.

 

 
 

Size and stature

Size gets one noticed. The larger species are often the most popular in any environment – elephants, giraffes, moose, and bears all seem to draw attention. A manta ray’s larger-than-human size is part of their attraction. Their winged shape may also remind people of birds which, for the most part, are non-threatening to humans. Their wing span can get up to 9 metres, but average at about 6.7 metres.
 

Demeanour

Filter feeding lets the manta ray feed calmly and unaggressively. They glide and swoop through the water using the two cephalic fins around their mouths to direct some of the oceans smallest creatures into its mouth – krill, shrimp and planktonic crabs. The spiralling manta displays of Hanifaru, when the currents are right, are the most dramatic example of this awesome spectacle.

This filtering while swimming practice makes their movements graceful and pleasing to watch. While we would be equally mesmerized by a tiger, for example, fulfilling its role in the food chain, the toothy hunter’s methods of feeding are much more graphic. Not to mention that the tiny plankton and other miniscule creatures, which mantas feed on, can hardly be seen with the naked eye. Certainly, one way is not more important or better than the other, but in terms of human perspectives mantas give us a more relaxing show.

Their calm gliding is not an indication that mantas are not capable of moving fast, however; They can accelerate at the blink of an eye if needed.

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Distinctive marking on each manta. Photo asands, Flickr


 

Habits

Another practice that brings the manta many onlookers is their cleaning ritual. Manta rays live in symbiosis with smaller “cleaner fish” that remove parasites from their bodies. As the manta swims along the fish nibble at its flesh, and the fish obtain their own nutrients from this meal. Scuba divers visit cleaning stations around the Maldives to watch this harmonic relationship in action, evidence of the interdependent nature of the marine and reef environments.

 

Their image as gentle giants comes from all of these elements – size, demeanour, etc. Manta rays are known to come close to divers in the Maldives, but divers should be cautious to come in direct contact with them as it could cause removal of the protective mucous layer on the skin and cause lesions on the manta as a result.

Manta rays win the popularity contest in the Maldives then for good reason – they encompass the laidback, beautiful atmosphere of these islands. Photographers make sure you bring your wide-angle and fish-eye lenses to capture the massive manta. For all who get to experience it, a manta encounter will surely make your dive holiday.

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15 Things to Do in 2015 in the Maldives

January 15th, 2015 Comments off

Now that January is in full swing, we start making goals and plans for the year ahead. Especially as the chilly winter weather hits, it’s travel plans to warmer places that fill our thoughts.

Here are some great reasons to make the Maldives your destination of choice this year:

Find an octopus and watch it transform and camouflage
You may have already seen an octopus without even knowing it. These creatures can change colour to match their environment, and even seem to mimic texture.  On top of that, they are fascinating creatures with an unusual anatomy – they have no spine and their brain is spread around the body. They even have problem solving abilities, like finding objects in which to hide.

Witness the symbiotic relationships of Maldives marine creatures
There are many examples of interdependence among the Maldives marine community.  Cleaner wrasse and manta rays, and clown fish and the anemone are two of the most common. This can be witnessed in places like the Lankan Station, Rangali Madivaru, Kudarah Thila and Donkalo Thila, all found in Ari Atoll. There’s also the North Male Manta Point among many other locations to see this symbiotic relationship play out.

 

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Nudibranch. Photo: Dominic Scaglioni, Flickr

 

Spot a nudibranch
A case of when the tiny things of the world are disproportionately impressive, nudibranchs are small but colourful. You can find them on shipwrecks, but you’ll need to look closely. Your macro photography skills and steady buoyancy will come in handy to capture them on film.

See coral polyps come out of their hard coral exterior
By day, the reef is more of a background to the more lively and colourful show of life going on around it. By night, however, the seemingly inanimate coral comes alive as the living polyps or inner bodies come out to feed. This is when you can witness a sight not seen by all divers, only those who are patient and in the right place at the right time.

Watch the sea bottom come to life
As the octopus and coral demonstrate, things are not always as they seem in the marine environment. In the same way, the sand is a hiding place for sneaky creatures like sting rays. Even nurse sharks like to stay in the sand sea floor bottom during the day when resting. Don’t look too quickly past the sand or you may miss spotting those sandy looking creatures that lie within.

Get up early and spot a hammerhead shark in Rasdhoo Atoll
Since they don’t come up to recreational dive depths and they are particular about their schedule, spotting hammerhead sharks is no easy feat. That doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause – on the contrary it’s a great endeavour that offers a rewarding outcome. Spotting species that are elusive is that much more exciting.

 

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This dude is ready for a high five. Photo: Malcolm Browne

Pretend to high-five a turtle
Spotting a turtle is always a treat. A photo at the right angle can make for a Finding Nemo-style image.

Get an onboard massage or spa treatment
Luxury, onboard spa experiences are now offered by ScubaSpa, which can be combined with scuba itineraries.  This is great for diver/non-diver couples or for a papered yet active vacation.

Revel in the seclusion
On the flight in, be sure to notice the distance between islands and the location of this nation in the middle of the ocean. Then, once out on the ocean, soak up the feeling of being truly away from it all.

Swim with a whale shark
Getting up close and personal with these gentle giants is an activity for which many come to the Maldives.  They can be seen by scuba or snorkelling in the right spots, know to dive instructors.

Drift dive a Maldivian Kandu or Channel
Strong currents are characteristic of this mid-ocean nation and drift diving is a perfect way to enjoy them.

Explore a shipwreck
Several submerged ships attract divers and vibrant marine life in this distant archipelago. Fesdhoo Wreck and Maldives Victory Wreck are two well-known sites worth exploring.

Black out during a night dive
That is, turn off your lights to witness the underwater world in peaceful, eerie darkness. Only when it is safe to do so and as you feel comfortable.

Visit a local community, inhabited island or even book a stay there
Exempt from the incoming Green Tax, and with comparably basic facilities to private resort islands, guesthouses are an alternative accommodation option in the Maldives. Facilities and activities at many guesthouses are provided at a very high level, and the experience of staying on a locally inhabited island is a great way to experience the culture of the Maldives.

 

 

Discover an outer atoll of the Maldives
Hanimaadhoo in the north, and Laamu atoll, from where some Southern dive safari itineraries start, as well as Addu Atoll in the south are all accessible by domestic flight and beyond the reach of the typical visitor to the Maldives. If those seem a bit far, try discovering an atoll you haven’t visited that still remains within reach. Break the mould with Meemu, Vaavu or other outer-central atolls that liveaboards include in their regular itineraries.


Divers have endless reasons to visit this reef-filled destination. One final one could be the liveaboard dive safari deals that pop up throughout the year. There are several offers on the table now, including a last-minute, limited space deal on MV Orion.
Read the details on this Constellation Fleet special – click here.

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Become a Champion of the Maldivian Environment

January 6th, 2015 Comments off

The game of catch-up may finally be won in the Maldives, as tax dollars will be aimed at waste management systems that match demand.

After several years of discussion, the Maldives will be introducing their new “Green Tax”. From November 2015, tourists will be charged $6 USD per bed, per night for safari boat (liveaboard) and resort stays. The funds collected from this tax are intended for improvement of waste management issues that have been an on-going problem for the water-logged, tourist-filled nation.

Tourists are being referred to as “Champions of the Environment” in the Maldives for their contribution to the Green Tax, but how will this affect you as a tourist in the Maldives and how did this tax come about?

 

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A nation of water and little land. Photo: Badr Naseem

 

SCOPE OF THE SITUATION

To give you some background on the amount of waste and where it’s going, here is some background information.

Tourists in the Maldives outnumber residents 3:1 annually. That is to say, each year the population of the Maldives more than triples, with visitor numbers surpassing 1 million in 2014, and residents accounting for around 350,000.

With not much land area for the waste to go, councils and businesses in the Maldives must be diligent and creative in their disposal of solid waste. Up until now waste management practices, especially around the greater Male region, have been severely lacking. Almost all tourists come through the Male region, and many of them stay there.

While some resorts aim for self-sufficient waste management practices, the combination of the business and government facilities cannot keep up with the constant garbage disposal requirements – amounting to 860 metric tons of solid waste per day, in the nation as a whole.

On a more individual scale, one resort produces about 1.3 metric tons per day of solid waste, together amounting to 134 mt per day for all 101 resorts. On the other hand, the over 150 safari boats generated a total of about 8 mt per day. A large percentage of the resort waste is said to be from organic waste – food and landscaping. Safari boats obviously do not have any landscaping waste.

One thing to note is that, by bed count, resorts make up over 80% of the visitor accommodation in the Maldives.

With private enterprises making individual efforts to deal with tourist wastes and the rest of the volume heading to local landfills, the responsibility lies with every party involved as each generates a portion of the waste total.


 

CURRENT PRACTICES

While private enterprises make certain efforts to avoid contributing to local landfills, the council waste practices are in need of an overhaul. There is much talk and controversy over the current landfill at Thilafushi, aka “Rubbish Island”.

This eye-sore of the otherwise picturesque islands takes on over 300 tonnes of rubbish daily, where some of it is burned. Many are concerned about the island’s generation of air pollution and seeping toxins from hazardous waste into the sea via the soil. Unfortunately, for various reasons, it seems that responsibility for, and management of, this main dumping site has been unclear. This has led to ineffective practices for several years. Hopefully this new focus on the issue will mean getting a grip on this unfortunate issue.

Current practices for dealing with waste vary depending on the type of waste. Food waste is often dealt with by sending it out to sea, while some resorts place it in compost for their gardens. Some waste is incinerated (paper, cardboard), and glass is crushed and transformed for construction materials. Even resorts that have extensive waste management plans often send a portion of waste that cannot be treated to local landfills.

Some airlines and organizations are suggesting that tourists try to collect and take their rubbish with them from the country, leaving it at a connection location or at their outside destination.
 

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Keeping beaches pristine takes some landscaping and maintenance. Photo: MattJP, Flickr


 

DIRECT EFFECTS ON TOURISTS

What tourists can expect in 2015 are some changes in how their holidays are taxed in the Maldives, though this does not necessarily amount to an overall increase.

Here’s the scoop: The bed tax of $8 per night has been abolished from Nov 2014 and the Green Tax will begin from Nov 2015 ($6 per night). The T-GST (Tourism Goods and Services Tax) has increased from 8 to 12%, currently in effect. Tourists are effectively paying less nightly tax but more Services tax, and the nightly tax is now allocated to environmental efforts, specifically waste management to start.

Visitors can have a certain satisfaction of knowing tax dollars are being contributed directly to resolution of environmental issues.

All in all, the Green Tax can give Maldives enthusiasts an optimistic outlook on the state of the environment in this isolated island nation. The new tax will apply to stays from November 2015.

If you’re keen to get to the Maldives earlier in the year, there are deals to be taken advantage of. Emperor Atoll’s February, Sharktastic cruises, with Nitrox included, are specially priced from 994 euros per person per week – Get more details here.

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In Case you Missed Them – Best Tips and News of 2014 in Maldives

December 29th, 2014 Comments off

As another year comes to a close, many of us take time to ponder what our own year had in store for us. It’s a great practice to see how far we have come, when the time just flew by. We wanted to make sure that no great tip or news bit got lost in the sea of information we all have to absorb every day.

In case you missed them, here are our top tips, tidbits and news from 2014. Make the most of 2015 with these tips!

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Curious turtle. Photo: Mathias Apitz (München)

 

DIVE TIPS

  • Reef drop offs and in steady currents is where divers should look to find the most abundant marine life
  • Staying hydrated through fruit, vegetables, non-caffeinated drinks, and of course, water, will keep your body in top condition for diving and help avoid the risks of dehydration.
  • Top two diving skills to master this year are buoyancy control and nitrox diving, the benefits to your dive experience and overall holiday will be immeasurable
  • Top dive sites: Baa Atoll’s Muthafushi Thila for its colour, and Hanifaru Bay in the right conditions for unfathomable displays of manta rays and whale sharks. Recommended by photographer, Christian Loader
  • Top ways to relax in the Maldives are yoga and Pilates classes, star gazing, spa treatments, and of course watching the underwater world go by while diving or snorkelling.
  • First time divers were reminded to always have a buddy and to double check each other’s equipment, to breathe efficiently, swim horizontally and hands-free, and to plan sufficient time between diving and flying.
  • Dive buddies were reminded to communicate actively, mastering the proper hand signals, not take risks with skill and training level, and know how to respond to an emergency.
  • Honeymooners saw that leisurely beach bum trips are not the only option for an exceptional celebration following tying the knot. Active honeymoons, on liveaboards or from dive- and surf-focused guesthouses, can make for a couple’s holiday like no other in these special islands.
  • Local islands, rather than resorts, are the place to go to escape the feeling of mass tourism and have a more exciting “adventure” holiday. Recommended by: Alexander Brown
  • Deals on dive packages pop up somewhat frequently – and if you can travel last minute or are flexible with dates you can wind up with mega value diving in the Maldives. Staying current with our Facebook Page and newsletters will make sure you don’t miss and potentially awesome promotions.

 

 

ABOUT THE MALDIVES

  • A land of sea, the Maldives is less than 1% landmass. The rest is either water, covered in water or living in water.
  • These are not islands for bird watching, yet creatures like eagle rays and manta rays may trick divers into thinking they are watching birds fly through the sky. Dolphins also take to the air as they playfully jump the waves in the Maldives’ sea.
  • Sandbanks are a sight to see and experience. Just tiny patches of sand appearing out of nowhere in the ocean depths. Recommended by: photographer, Lucie Mohelnikova

 

FOR BETTER PHOTOGRAPHY IN 2015

Here are some of the top tips for great underwater photography from our blog and from our talented, featured photographers.

  • Check seasonal events ahead of time such as planktonic blooms bringing mantas & whale sharks, and time your visit to be able to witness them. Recommended by photographer, Hamid Rad
  • Using red camera filters can give your photos more colour by widening the spectrum when light diminishes at deeper depths.
  • We looked at many common photo-taking mistakes, such as blurry photos, running out of storage or battery and only shooting the obvious. We advised mastering buoyancy, bringing backup batteries and storage cards as well as taking on the challenge of looking a bit closer and taking more time when exploring the reef.

 

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Clown fish on red. Photo: Mathias Apitz (München), Flickr

 

MALDIVES DIVE NEWS

Scuba diving is synonymous with the Maldives and the industry is constantly evolving.

There were new liveaboards on the scene in 2014. All shined up and ready to sail, these new ships are great picks for a liveaboard tour in 2015:

  • ScubaSpa Yang, sister ship of the ScubaSpa Ying, was brought to the seas and began its Far North itineraries in December with a splash. As their name suggests, they offer more than just diving – spa treatments are given in the onboard spa for a bit of pampering at sea. Their super introductory offer stretches into January 2015 and includes up to 17 dives and one spa treatment.
  • Newly refurbished in 2014, the Emperor Voyager caters for comfort and relaxation, with sofas, hammocks, deck chairs, a sea view lounge and a jacuzzi. Not to mention, all the diving you can dream of. Snorkellers and non-divers welcome.

New to the Maldives Dive Travel roster, these are established boats that became part of the Maldives Dive Travel website:

  • In sailed the MV Emperor Atoll, boasting Sharktastic and Pelagic Magic tours for great dive sightings. Breath easy with free nitrox for the best dive experience.
  • The decked-out-for-luxury, Leo Blueforce continued to wow divers with their Big South and Classical South tours. Spa-like facilities are also available on board this vessel, with a sauna, steam bath and, not one – but two – jacuzzis. The quality diving has not been forgotten either as nitrox and rebreathers are available.
  • Ocean Divine also came aboard, so to speak, early in the year. Owned and operated by an avid diver and surfer, this boat caters to both water adventure sports, depending on the Maldives’ season.

In other dive news, rebreather technology popped up in the Maldives. This sleek technology allows for more efficient gas usage with closed circuit scuba systems, with recycling of a diver’s air. The air in rebreathers is warmer and dive times are stretched even further than with nitrox. Now, many Maldives’ guest houses and liveaboards are rebreather-friendly or cater to make rebreathers available.

 

That covers the highlights of Maldives dive news and our tips for great diving and marine photography. Let us take this moment to wish you a happy, dive-filled New Year!

The New Year already has some great itineraries planned. Book your first dive trip of the New Year using one of the great promotions now on Emperor Atoll – click here for more information.

Categories: Maldives Tags:

Maldives Photographer of the Month – Hamid Rad

December 24th, 2014 Comments off

A commute to work that is but a short boat ride to the “office”. Combining passion with bringing awareness to environmental conservation. This month’s selected Photographer of the Month is a great example of how following your passion in life can lead to great things.

Check out these picture perfect scenes by photographer and marine conservationist, Hamid Rad, and read his tips and techniques for great underwater photography.

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Interview with Hamid Rad – Maldives Photographer of the Month

Q1. What made you get into underwater photography and photography in general?

Hamid: I got hooked by photography through my passion for nature & wildlife, more specifically the world that lies beneath the surface.

 

Q2. How would you describe your style of photography and what you want to “say” with your photographs?

Hamid: I am trying to aim towards a minimalist approach of photography by trying to keep compositions simple, using natural light rather than strobes and strong contrasts. I really enjoy silhouette shots as they emphasize all these points.

 

Q3. When did you first go to the Maldives and what attracted you to go there? Was photography a motivation or an afterthought?

Hamid: I come from a marine conservation background and always wanted to wonder the abundance & diversity of Maldivian waters. As a photographer, to work in such a place offers unique opportunities and a chance to witness some of the most unique natural events such as the seasonal manta ray gatherings in Hanifaru Bay, in Baa atoll which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

 Maldives Photographer of the Month   Hamid Rad

 

Q4. What are some of the challenges of underwater photography and how do you overcome them? What are some of the most challenging things you have photographed?

Hamid: The main challenges of shooting underwater are colour loss & lack of light, especially if you intend not to use artificial light (strobes). The deeper you go, the less light penetrates and warm colours are less visible. Most underwater photographers use strobes in order to compensate for the lack of natural light & have vibrant colours.

Amongst the most challenging creatures to photographer in the Maldives, sharks can be tricky subjects, and not because of their reputation of fearsome reputation. On the contrary, their natural wariness can make it difficult to get close enough for a good shot.

 

Q5. Where are your favourite spots, above and below the surface, to take photographs in the Maldives? What makes them stand out?

Hamid: Ari atoll holds a special place for me as it is where I first started working in the Maldives and offers an incredible array of marine life and types of diving. Some sites such as Hafsa Thila or Fish Head in north Ari atoll or Cocoa Thila in south Male boast with life, from small critters to grey reef sharks, napoleon wrasses & schools of jackfish & fusilliers.

Some other sites such as Hanifaru Bay in Baa atoll or Gangehi in north Ari atoll, with seasonal planktonic blooms, see large gatherings of manta rays & whale sharks.

 

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Q6. What is it like to stay in the Maldives? Tell us about your average day when you’re there.

Hamid: “Another long day at the office”, something I keep telling myself every day, ‘commuting’ to work with a short boat ride, thinking my life working in a cold, crowded city was just a dream.

 

Q7. What is one thing you wish you knew before you started taking photographs in the Maldives (or in general)? Do you have any tips for visitors trying to capture their moments in the region?

Hamid: I can say that the Maldives met my expectations in terms of photography. For underwater photographers, I believe the Maldives is a place where you have to come back to and get a chance to explore different areas, offering a variety of photographic opportunities. Check seasonal events ahead of time such as planktonic blooms bringing mantas & whale sharks and time your visit to be able to witness them.

 

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Q8. What technology/software/camera gear do you use to capture and process your stunning tropical & underwater scenes?

Hamid: I use a Canon 600D SLR & mostly shoot using a wide angle Tokina 10-17 lens in a Nauticam housing.

 

Q9. If your camera was to get stuck in one mode or setting, what one would you hope it would be? Why?

Hamid: Automatic I guess, necessary adjustments can then be made in post processing.

 

Q10. What projects do you have in the pipeline that we can look forward to seeing?

I try to show my work as much as possible and plan to do a photo show of large prints sometime in 2015.

 Maldives Photographer of the Month   Hamid Rad

 

hamid rad bio photo 150x150 Maldives Photographer of the Month   Hamid Rad
About Hamid Rad: Before focusing on underwater photography, Hamid had been involved in different aspects of tropical marine conservation in Mexico, Honduras, the Seychelles & the Maldives, from daily data gathering on coral reefs to working with communities on local environment management policies. Being in the water day after day gave him the opportunity to develop a passion for underwater photography. Establishing his own style, he refined his work to a minimalistic approach, working mostly with natural light, on basic composition & tones.

People care about what they know. Through photography, Hamid found a way to reach people and raise their awareness about the fragility & vanishing beauty of our oceans.  View more of his impressive work here on, Flickr, Facebook and his website.

Make the Maldives your destination of choice for 2015, and kick off the year with some great deals on liveaboard tours.  So far, both Theia and Emperor Atoll are showing their excitement for the New Year with January and February deals.  Find the deal that caters to your Maldivian Dive Holiday Dream, here on our News Page.

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How to Go Pro with your Video Footage in the Maldives

December 17th, 2014 Comments off

You’ve probably seen those amazingly crisp, quality videos of underwater footage online and dreamed of reproducing something similar. Unfortunately, in the past, underwater cameras were either expensive or produced disappointing results.

GoPro has emerged as the travel-friendly, full HD, convenient and relatively affordable option for recreational action shooting. Like any new tech device, there is a learning curve, as well as additional bits and pieces to acquire before the user can maximize its function.

Equipping the GoPro for best shooting conditions, and any camera for that matter, is done with accessories and knowing how to use them. With these tips you’ll be bringing your dive memories to HD life in no time.

 

 

Holding the Camera

Tripod adapter – The piece that allows the camera to be secured to your mount of choice, whether it be a perch or a leash.

Leash – Consisting of a wrist strap with a cable and screw for attaching the tripod & camera, a leash makes sure the camera is secure and does it in a way that doesn’t constrain you from taking photos or from any movement, which is key.

Mount – Floating hand grip with adjustable wrist strap – benefits of a mount: more stable than hand-held filming with potential for more angles. Longer, telescopic poles allow even greater angles and to get close to those fish and hiding creatures in the cracks. Another advantage is being able to take action selfies, group shots and just below the surface shots from the boat deck (in case a pod of dolphins approaches).

Deck – for ideal stability, decks are best. When considering which one to buy, lighting and where a video light would be fastened is a consideration. A V-shaped deck will allow you to set the unit down, which is a bonus.

 

Clearest Most Colourful Results

Filters & Lighting
As the light fades at deeper depths, so do the vibrant colours. To bring out the natural vibrancy of the flora and fauna of the deep, lack of light can be substituted by dive torches and/or filters. Red filters can combat the loss of those tones underwater. Those blue-green underwater photos can be made more colorful with the use of a filter. If you are hesitant to splurge on all that equipment at once, a red filter may do the trick in balancing the colours of you photos and video. Though the ideal combination would be a torch plus the filter.
Beware that not all filters are made to the same quality standards. Cheaper ones will likely yield mediocre results. One recommended filter is the SRP.

As for artificial lighting, some say that the GoPro is a camera the works best with more light. Unlike a short photo flash, video lights provide continuous illumination of the scene that you are filming, like an underwater flashlight that can attach to your equipment.

Close-ups are made outstanding with the appropriate light, and wide frame scenes are contrasted best with filters that bring out colourful fish on a beautiful blue background.

 

Avoiding disappointment

A Clear View
While it takes more battery power, using the camera’s LCD screen is an indispensable feature for underwater filming. It’s next to impossible to get an identical experience a second time; you don’t want that manta to be out of frame, or that turtle to be a blurry mess. By using the screen you can frame your subjects, ensure proper lighting, and keep spots off of the lens that could ruin your shot. Since battery power is used up more quickly, you’ll want to have backup power.

To keep the lens clean you can also use a type of Lens Pen that is a dual brush and eraser that properly cleans the area from spots and particles that could ruin your images.

 

 

Maintain Power
Spare batteries – With multiple dives per day and so much to see, having spare batteries is essential.
External charger – To make sure you always have batteries that are charged and ready to go, and especially when you’re using multiple batteries, an external charger is a must-have.

 

Made to Dive

The new GoPro versions, from 3 and on, have been released with a housing rated for 40 meters. This is ideal for recreational divers. For those who want to take it deeper on a regular basis, a separate housing is available for 60-meter depths. These newer cameras also allow for great wide-angle shooting, which is ideal for the underwater environment and capturing the infamous pelagic.

 

The standard GoPros from the Hero 3+, and on, provide a great starter for your underwater filming. To take your footage to the next level, it will be beneficial to build up a kit of accessories, including mounts, lights and filters.

Now it’s time to put your videography skills into practice. Check out this awesome deal for the liveaboard Theia’s Best of Maldives itinerary – Click here for more info

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Diving for Mega and Mini Fauna in the Maldives

December 12th, 2014 Comments off

Both the underwater flora and fauna of the Maldives are a sight to see. The fauna though, both large and small, are the real stars of the show. Certain species stick to a limited area but most others are found throughout numerous dive sites across the archipelago.

Coral reefs are found at many depths, fringing the islands and creating vibrant habitat for diverse fish, crustaceans, sharks and many others. These reefs, made of tiny fauna themselves, are the backbone of oceanic life in the region.

Where the coral reefs begin to drop off into the sea is one place where a diver can soak in the most densely populated marine life. Depending on the depth, and when the visibility is clear, parts of the reef may be lit by the sun. The more light, the more vibrant colours can be seen.

reef life Jon Connell 600x407 Diving for Mega and Mini Fauna in the Maldives

Colourful flora and fauna of the Maldives. Photo: Jon Connell

 

Fantastic Fauna

One of the most famous regional creatures that divers are most keen on spotting are whale sharks. As the largest fish species in the world, many of them call the Maldives’ Baa Atoll home. Normally individuals are spotted and the area depends on the time of year, and where the currents have brought in their food source.

Certain types of turtles and sharks also have their particular spots, but most other fauna aren’t so picky.

At the drop offs of coral reefs and where there are decent currents are where divers will find gray reef sharks and white tip sharks. Sharks generally have a ferocious appearance and reputation, but these sharks are somewhat friendly and curious. When they are annoyed, they show obvious hints that they’ve had enough attention. Some signs to leave sharks alone include, when gray sharks tend to droop their pectoral fins slightly, taking on a hunched posture, and also exaggerating their side to side swimming movements. It’s rare to witness this because most divers practice common sense and do not go out of their way to annoy sharks, they just let them be. The welcoming nature of the coral reef is astounding; even with divers intruding, marine life seems to go on as usual providing wonderful displays of nature.

 

 

Deeper down the reef, hiding in holes and crevices, are the moray eels. Divers often spot them with their heads sticking out of their holes with their enormous mouths gaping, showing their razor sharp teeth. While this looks somewhat threatening, in actual fact the eel is intending no harm; eels breath in this way with their mouths open. They can, however, become aggressively territorial if their privacy is overly invaded.

At the 2-metre depth mark divers will notice they are in the habitat of triggerfish, trevallies, barracudas, cornetfish, fusiliers, and large groupers. Listing all of the fish that you see in one dive would certainly be a challenge, but may be a fun one to attempt.

The most widespread fauna that is often mistaken for a “flora” are the corals. Forming the overhangs and natural terraces that provide shelter for the rest of the marine life, corals themselves are equally interesting. During night dives are when divers are best positioned to see coral polyps come outside their outer layer, when they are reaching out for food.

Even tucked within caves, coral grows, and there an adventurous diver can find small fish, like squirrel fish, that swim in groups as they explore the unreachable nooks of the reef.

 

nibbling hawksbill turtle Tchami 600x400 Diving for Mega and Mini Fauna in the Maldives

Nibbling hawksbill turtle. Photo: Tchami

 

Diving the reefs

Being distracted by the energy and excitement of the reef is easy to do. Divers have many things to keep in mind though to ensure their safety and the safety of their dive buddy. The pull of currents is one element of the marine environment to understand and respect. Generally, your dive instructor will talk about that day’s current conditions before the dive and advise the best way to see the reef safely.

It’s also tempting to move around while diving, checking out many different areas of the reef. On the other hand, divers that can keep calm and still for a time, just might experience the wonders coming to them. Movement tends to keep some creatures hidden, so when you stop moving the creatures may decide that you are part of the environment. When they become comfortable, the turtles, fish and all the other go back to their normal routines – nibbling at coral, interacting with each other and maybe even approaching the quiet diver. With slow, smooth movements, the most intimate scenes can unfold before your eyes.

Sounds great right? Come join the crew and guests of the Emperor Atoll liveaboard for some great diving. Their January and February Sharktastic Cruises are now available for super special pricesFind out more here

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11 Facts to Supercharge Scuba Diving in the Maldives

December 5th, 2014 Comments off

On first glance the Maldives is no less than awe-inspiring, with its pure white sandy beaches, blue-green lagoons and awesome sense of seclusion. Beyond what the photos show, the islands of the Maldives do boast some impressive facts that will take your admiration for these islands even deeper.

 

Water country
With close to 1200 islands making up the Maldives nation, one might think that there is lots of land to go around. In fact, land makes up less than 1% of the country’s surface area, with its tiny islands scattered in the Indian Ocean, north to south over the equator.

 

water islands Shazwan 600x450 11 Facts to Supercharge Scuba Diving in the Maldives

Water, water everywhere! Photo: Shazwan, Flickr

 

Swimming with sharks
Contrary to popular, uninformed belief, there are many species of shark that are quite harmless to humans.
In the Maldives it is common place to dive among reef sharks, nurse sharks, and even hammerheads.

 

Currents
Drift diving and channel diving are two of the most interesting forms of diving in the Maldives, thanks to the currents passing through. Stronger currents call for stronger scuba skills, so some dive sites are limited to advanced divers for that reason.

Currents, and their changing with the monsoon seasons, also bring pelagic species where the plankton and other food sources are swept in.

 

Unfathomable isolation
Highly touristic and known for diving, yet only a small percentage of the Maldives islands are inhabited. Tourists reach only a very limited percentage of the Maldives’ atolls.  At 430 kilometers from the India mainland, at the closest points, seclusion is an understatement for describing the atmosphere of the Maldives. When travel by boat is just too far, sea planes and domestic flights are used to access remote areas of the archipelago.

 

The Cousteau Legacy
The legacy of the great marine explorer, Jacques Cousteau, lives on through his grandson in the Maldives. The initiatives by Fabien Cousteau aim to involve local communities in marine conservation, including his Plant A Fish initiative in the Maldives.

 

Objects may appear closer
Light refraction under water magnifies what you see. A magnified object can appear 25% closer than actuality in the waters of the Maldives.

 

Small islands, big creatures
The largest fish in the Maldives is the whale shark, at around 9.5 metres in length and weighing around 9 tonnes.  They are a main attraction for Maldives divers and snorkelers alike.

 

whale shark Gilda 600x450 11 Facts to Supercharge Scuba Diving in the Maldives

Tiny diver beside massive Maldives’ whale shark. Photo: Gilda, Flickr

 

Sound all around
If you have ever found it tough determine where certain sounds are coming from underwater, don’t worry – it’s not your ears playing tricks on you. Sound actually travels faster in water than in air so it’s harder to determine a sounds origin.

 

Lack of colour
Great photographers have some tricks up their sleeves to bring out the colours of marine life. Being able to capture such multicolour beauty at certain depths is actually challenging because the environment doesn’t naturally appear that way – the deeper one goes the less colour we can see.

When diving things may not seem so colourful once depths of 20 metres or so are reached. That’s due to loss of light as a diver descends further into the water. As the light dissipates, the first colour to go is red, then yellow and the last remaining is blue. The loss of two of the primary colours, red and yellow, can make your photos seem unicolor without a few adjustments.

One way to combat this is to use a red filter on your camera. Or, when multiple filters are used the camera can be adjusted for the lighting conditions at any depth.

 

Protection
The biodiversity and uniqueness of particular areas of the Maldives have been given special designation. Hanifaru Bay and … are protected from heavy scuba and boat traffic, as they are home to manta rays and many other diverse species, and their wonderous natural habits like feeding frenzies and cleaning stations.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) are two organizaitons that recognize the characteristics of the Maldives as having global significance.

Baa Atoll has been designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve along with the Galapagos Islands and other large scale natural environments of significance around the world. IUCN has indicated many Marine Protected areas around the Maldives where human activity is under some restrictions in the interst of protecting the surrounding environment.

 

 

Unique dive sites
Broken Rock of South Ari Atoll is aptly named for the canyon formed from the broken rock, creating a 2-part thila or pinnacle dive site. Another top site that is world-renowned is Fotteyo Kandu, a channel dive where many fish and sharks congregate. In the early mornings divers can descent to catch a glimpse of hammerhead sharks. On the other hand, a different kind of dive is the British Loyalty, the Maldives’ biggest wreck. Sitting pretty, covered with coral formations at 33m, this wreck is about 140 metres long and has been a site to behold since the 1940s.

 

On top of all of these great features, the Maldives offers a wide range of liveaboards that let you experience it all. Divers can even mix in a bit of luxury with their dive discovery by hopping aboard one of the spa-dive boats – ScubaSpa Ying or ScubaSpaYang. Check out ScubaSpa Yang’s opening offer here.

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Match Ying and Yang in North Atolls of Raa and Baa

November 26th, 2014 Comments off

Raa and Baa atolls are a scuba diving destination pair, like Ying and Yang. The two regions actually cover the north and south areas of the administratively named, Maalhosmadulu Atoll. Raa is north Maalhosmadulu, and Baa covers the south. For diving they are more commonly referred to by their Raa and Baa (easier to pronounce) names.

Get to know some of the great dive sights within:

 

manta on reef KAZ2.0 600x450 Match Ying and Yang in North Atolls of Raa and Baa

Manta rays love Baa Atoll and you will too! Photo: KAZ2.0

Baa Atoll

Angafaru
This is a marine protected area due to its marine biodiversity. Known for appearances including hawksbill turtles, sea cucumbers, clams and groupers. A shark nursery and a manta cleaning station are also found in the area.

Nelivaru Thila
Rated among the top dive sites of the Maldives and globally, this is a place where turtles like to go. There is lots to see on the north side of this shallow, long thila made interesting with small caves and canyons. Not to mention of course the fauna attractions like snapper, tuna, turtles, scorpion fish and manta rays. Suitable for all levels of divers.

Dhigali Thila
Another world top dive site, Dhigali Haa is made up of one main deep pinnacle and two smaller ones to the site’s western edge. The thila’s top is lively with creatures that enjoy the current, such as anthias, dottybacks and abasslets. The shape is sloped on one side of the pinnacle with drop offs on the other 3 sides forming rock piles, a run through and canyon.

Down along the site, as you descend, playful unicornfish may come to enjoy the diver bubbles. Divers can see the food chain at work with jacks, blue-dash fusiliers and trevallies feeding on smaller bait fish, and observe the calmer scribbled filefish, yellow-lined snapper and small fans in other areas. A native species of snail is also found here, the Maldivian sponge snail.

 

 

Eydafushi Local Island
As the capitol of Baa Atoll, this is an inhabited island of around 2000 people. It’s a great place to see the daily life of Maldivians. Out on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, life is a bit more laid back here than a typical mainland town.

Dhonfanu Thila
Dhonfanu Thila is a reef that boasts lively fish aggregations like the broad-striped fusiliers and moon fusiliers that continuously seem to pour over the edges of the reef. The mind boggling topography is densely packed with all sorts of fish from parrotfish and angelfish to starry rabbit fish and unicorn fish among hundreds of others – quite the menagerie! No surprise that this diverse spot is near Hanifaru Bay.

The shelter provided by the overhangs is an attraction for masses of soldierfish and yellow-lined snapper. The presence of so many fish brings with them cleaning wrasses too, who help a fish and, in doing so, find a meal.

Diving Dhonfanu usually involves using the current to sweep you in at the point of the reef after dropping before reaching the thila. The pinnacle shape comes into a point facing the current. A narrow swim-through takes divers from 25 meters to 18 meters while brushing past bushes of black coral.

 

Raa Atoll

Beryian Kuda Thila
This is about a 20 minute dive starting at about 12m and reaching down to 35 meters. Next to Bodu Thila, this site is layered with overhangs and exciting marine life.

Kinolhas House reef
Off Kinolhas local island, this site has a channel on its outer side.

Kottefaru Thila
Awesome for anemones and its canyons, this site is a great 35-minute dive. Rainy season brings manta rays here too.

Kuroshigiri Canyon
A top site in the area, this site is teeming with life and interesting topography. Overhangs and multiple small thilas are a joy for marine life, and therefore for divers as well. Soft corals make for beautiful scenery in the backdrop.

Rainbow Caves and Maafaru Caves are on the west side of the atoll near the south. The mystery of caves is enough to intrigue any diver. These ones are definitely worth exploration.

 

 

Fenfushi Giri
From just 2-3 meters down to 30 meters, this dive site is a popular choice for its easy diving and crowded marine life. The dive is about 45 minutes of delight. Video above.

Fares Canyon
A remote dive site used as a lookout point for mantas in December and May. The shallow sandy bottom of the channel is home to many bottom dwellers. Some interesting coral ridges rise several feet from the bottom, forming a very impressive canyon. Schools of snappers inhabit the area and several large green turtles calmly peruse the reef! The outside edge is a cleaning station for manta rays and the majestic napoleon.

Maavaru Caves
This awesome dive site can be appreciated better when the currents reach their peak. Soft corals sit on a magnificent cliff in full bloom, ready for passing plankton. A large barrier provides shelter from strong currents where other sites would be very difficult dive with the same conditions. Its ideal for photography opportunities.

You can uncover on your own the beauty of sites like Fasmendhoo and The Labirynth, so as not to ruin the surprise.

 

You will discover these sites, and more, on one fantastic liveaboard tour. That’s the North Tour by the new ScubaSpa Yang, sister ship of the established ScubaSpa Ying. Or, if you’re a shark enthusiast, check out the special price now on for Emperor Atoll’s Sharkastic Cruises here.

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