From dry land, the Maldives present the perfect picture of paradise – white sand beaches trimmed with palm trees rolling into the fluorescent blue sea. And the utopia continues as you head underwater, with an endless natural aquarium stretching across all 26 atolls. Made up of over 1000 islands, the Maldives are a haven for snorkelers and divers as they provide a captivating playground for countless sea species. The variety of sealife is too great to be covered in one list, but we’ve outlined a few of the fishy friends you can expect to encounter during your trip.
Over 70 species of colourful reefs encircle the Maldives, creating a treasure trove of marine life. Stunning coral plates – called ‘house reefs’ – surround many resorts and give guests direct access from the beach. Others are ringed by huge blue lagoons, requiring a short boat trip to nearby snorkelling sites. Some of the best snorkelling though, can be found along the reef walls of uninhabited coral islands that are only accessible via dive boats.
No matter your setting, each exploration of the Maldives’ magical underwater world will expose you to a diversity of sea life. Among a mixture of hard and soft coral, you may find yourself observing squid, starfish and schools of brightly coloured fish one day, then delighting over manta rays, crustaceans and an appearance from a dolphin the next.
More than 700 species of fish and other marine life have been observed in the ocean around the Maldives, including larger species like sharks, tuna and wahoo in deeper waters. Around the reefs you’ll find fish of all shapes and sizes, from the easily recognisable clown fish hiding among the sea anemones to toothy barracuda patiently waiting to feed. Impressive manta rays, spanning up to six metres across, have also been spotted closer to shore. You’ll also see plenty of dolphins cavorting above the reefs and enjoying the company of divers before heading back out to sea.
With over 26 types of sharks in the Indian Ocean around the Maldives, divers in search of these feared sea creatures won’t be disappointed. Around the reefs you’ll meet small white tip reef sharks, which are so used to divers they’ll barely acknowledge your existence. Meanwhile out in the open ocean you’ll find larger species such as the strange-looking hammerhead and patterned zebra shark, resting on the sea bed. Though the deeper waters are also home to oceanic white tips and tiger sharks, and the shallower to many of their smaller cousins, the Maldives are still one of the safest places to snorkel and dive in the world.
The Maldives are one of the few places in the world that magnificent whale sharks call home all year round. From May to December, these gentle giants tend to favour the western side of the archipelago before heading east until mid-April. The southern tip of Ari Atoll is a great place to dive and snorkel with these placid beasts – although daunting in size, they’re harmless to humans and feed mainly on tiny plankton. A visit to the Maldives is a rare chance to enjoy an unforgettable swim beside these majestic creatures, also recognised as the largest fish in the ocean.
Five of the world’s seven turtle species can be found in the Maldives, including the common hawksbill and green turtles. Sea turtles remain under threat across the world and are officially listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, so the chance to observe them in their natural habitat is a magical experience.
Between June and November, the loggerhead, hawksbill, green and olive ridley turtles all come ashore to lay their eggs – a fascinating sight for any animal or nature lover. Baa Atoll, located on the west of The Maldives atoll chain, is the best place to spot these rare creatures.
What’s been your favourite sea life spot in the Maldives, or what creature is on your bucket list to see?