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Diving the Maldives | Hanifaru Lagoon | manta rays and whalesharks

DESTINATION OVERVIEW
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The tropical charm that is the Maldives has developed beyond all recognition – and into a truly grown-up diving destination. There are stylish island resorts, a raft of liveaboards and now the chance to witness a stunning marine phenomenon... introducing Hanifaru Lagoon.

Baa Atoll lies northwest of North Malé Atoll and until a few years ago, this area was almost unheard of. Now though, the news of the incredible manta ray aggregation has leaked out and more and more people are flocking to see this extraordinary event.

It's nothing to see 50, 100, 200 manta rays at a time – who knows how many, it's impossible to count them. What makes this tiny speck of ocean even more astounding is that the mantas are often joined by whalesharks – you will feel like a mad thing from a horror movie as your head attempts to do 360 degree spins to see them all. Words cannot do this justice.

Hanifaru Lagoon, Maldives dive photo gallery Scuba diving features

Marine Life Manta rays
Whalesharks
Seasons July to October for manta aggregations, diving all year round
Visibility 10 – 30 metres
Water temperature 25 – 29º C
Deco chambers Bandos, Male
Flights to Malé from across Europe, Singapore or Dubai
Liveaboards The range is expanding and becoming more upmarket but it's worth using operators who are experienced in these waters. There are many island resorts in both atolls.
INFORMATION EXPLORE
PROS and CONS

Without a doubt, being submerged, or snorkelling, amongst so many manta rays (and a couple of whalesharks) is going to be one of the top diving events of your life. There is no guarantee that the congregation will arrive when you do, but there are very good dives in the vicinity if not. It's worth noting that the season is short (July to October) and this is also the season when the weather is at it's most unpredictable. Because of that, try to book at least a 10 or 12 day trip to allow some flexibility in schedules. If the mantas are AWOL, the boat will relocate and then return.

ENVIRONMENT Although the why's and wherefore's have not been investigated fully, Hanifaru's shallow lagoon captures incredible amounts of plankton. This natural occurrence relates to tides, the moon phase and currents. At times, the water inside the lagoon turns dark with microscopic critters and even darker with more mantas than you will ever see elsewhere in your life.
OPINION You simply have to do it. It will be crowded, it will not be peaceful and idyllic but this is an unmissable marine phenomenon. We travelled with Maldives Scuba Tours who pioneered this region. Their boats, Sea Spirit and Sea Queen are British owned, traditional in style, small but well laid out and with all diving conducted from an additional vessel that shadows the main boat.
CONSERVATION
Looking after Hanifaru Lagoon

This tiny marine lagoon became famous after news of its occupants reached the international media. Once that happened, the number of visitors exploded and local authorities realised it needed protection. The Maldivian Government tagged the lagoon as a marine protected zone and in mid-2011 adopted UNESCO protocols for a World Biosphere Reserve.

A code of conduct is now in place. This will restrict numbers of divers and snorkellers entering the lagoon. From 2012, the authorities will only allow snorkellers into the protected zone, time will be restricted to 45 minutes and there will be an entry fee.

While this is not the best news for divers, snorkelling in the lagoon is still exciting and will make a great diversion from all the wonderful dive sites in Baa Atoll. There will also be a visitor centre on a neighbouring island with educational facilities, which is of vital importance to educate the 'day-trippers' that arrive from local resorts.

More diving destinations in the Maldives
Central atolls
To see the full Hanifaru video, click here...
MANTA ETIQUETTE | When you go, learn what you can and must not do. Respect the animals and don't harass them. Try to stay out of their way as they swim through the lagoon and stay still if they approach you, giving them space to manoeuvre away and around all the people in the water. And don't touch!
.LIVEABOARD .REVIEW Maldives Scuba Tours Sea Spirit
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Complete reports on this area are in
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