In my last post, I introduced Fulidhoo Island in the Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives. One of my readers, Len (lenjourneys.com), asked me what it feels like to be in the water with sharks. I love this simple, direct question. Thinking about it though, the answer is rather complex. In this post, I’ll share my feelings about diving with sharks (coming from someone who doesn’t do this often) and introduce you to the underwater world around Fulidhoo Island.
The Maldives has over 1000 coral islands, grouped into 26 atolls and spread over an enormous 90,000 ㎢. Different atolls hold different marine attractions; some known for manta rays, others for whale sharks and still others, like Fulidhoo in the Vaavu Atoll for sharks. While Fulidhoo’s water is home to a diverse host of creatures, many divers go there specifically to see the big, sharp-toothed guys.
We’re at a dive site called Boamas Kandu (kandu in the local language means channel and it’s in these passageways that sharks are best viewed). The excellent visibility and bright conditions belie the fact that we’ve descended down to 30 m. I look over at Lubab our Fulidhoo Dive guide and catch his shark signal—one hand sticking straight up by his forehead. My heart skips a beat as I see the grey reef sharks in the distance. He signals again indicating we should form a compact group and rest at the edge of the channel. I appreciate his precise and calm instruction.
I’ve seen sharks on past dive trips and it always comes with a mix of excitement and apprehension. I remind myself to breath. At least a dozen sharks cruise along the channel— all gleaming silver skin, torpedo-like-bodies, intense eyes. They are magnificent and show no interest in us.
It’s a weird phenomenon. When I’m at the surface, thinking about being down with the sharks, my mind can take me to scary places. Statistically, far more people die and get injured taking selfies or falling out of bed than diving with sharks, but my overactive imagination thinks…what if this is the day one of them goes postal—maybe he’s a bad egg, had a rotten life…these thoughts are silly and fleeting, but they’re there.
Then, when I’m down in the water, safely lodged among our little group (yes, I do tend to pick a spot in the middle) a crazy thing happens. I become beautifully calm and feel an overwhelming awe and gratitude for being able to observe these incredible animals. We squeeze out as much bottom time as safety allows, but all too soon we must leave this epic nature show.
A signature dive in the area is the Alimatha Jetty night dive, where massive schools of nurse sharks congregate. Equipped with torches, we descend to the bottom at about 15 m where we attach ourselves to rocks with grappling hooks so we don’t need to fight the moderate current. Before I can even complete this little task, we are surrounded by nurse sharks—dozens and dozens of them, coming in from the front, the back, the sides. They are so close I can feel the powerful thrusts of their long tail fins. Stingrays dart in and out of the scene and we are sitting right in the middle of the frenzy.
At first, I feel like a target character in an underwater video game set to hyperspeed. Once I settle down, no longer turning constantly to see what’s coming at me from behind, I’m able to let the action unfold. I train my eyes and thoughts on a smaller field of vision so I’m not completely overwhelmed by the drama. This opportunity won’t last long. I take in their silky skin, taut bodies, tiny eyes and suction mouths (that are deceptively strong). Gorgeous!
On the boat ride back, I ask: “So, has there ever been an unpleasant shark/human incident at this site?” The worst anyone can recall was when an over-zealous photographer wielded his stick-mounted camera too close and the shark took a chomp out of it.
In case you get the impression that Fulidhoo diving is just about sharks, let me assure you it’s not. Rays are among my favourite marine animals and we see lots, including the spectacular eagle rays. There are loads of moray eels and I’m thrilled to add a new one to my list—the exquisite honeycomb moray. From the prehistoric looking humphead wrasse (Napolean wrasse) to the entertaining clownfish (Nemo), there’s a wide assortment of tropical reef dwellers.
The shallow reefs themselves are the only disappointment. The coral reefs in the Maldives, like most other tropical regions, have been significantly affected by coral bleaching related primarily to increased ocean temperatures. It’s very sad to see the dead swaths of grey and white that in the past were vibrant, multi-coloured organisms. It’s a complicated subject that requires its own post, but it would be remiss of me not to share my observations.
Seeing the big guys wasn’t the main reason we selected Fulidhoo, it just turned out to be a bonus. Although Mike and I have been diving for many years, we are take-it-easy, tropical-vacation-only divers. My main concern was finding a reputable dive operation on an affordable local island. We chose perfectly with Fulidhoo Dive for our 6-day dive package. The team is professional and friendly, and exercise the utmost safety and respect when entering the habitat of marine creatures small and large.
So, what’s it like diving with sharks? It’s scary, thrilling, peaceful, inspiring all rolled together. Will I do it again if I get the opportunity? Absolutely!
Special thanks to Natascha Leisi, a fellow diver with Fulidhoo Dive, for her beautiful photos. You can see more of Natascha’s underwater images at https://www.instagram.com/taschaleisi/
For information about Fulidhoo Island and non-diving activities, check out my post: Affordable Maldives: Discovering Fulidhoo Island.