To see reef sharks:
Hafsa Thila, north Ari Atoll
Teeming with life, soft corals and overhangs to explore you'll find clouds of fusiliers being chased by chunky tuna at Hafsa Thila. Head down to the edges of the and you'll see plenty of grey reef sharks cruising along the edge of the reef as well as occasional black and white tip reef sharks. Harmless and entirely unfazed by divers, these sleek predators are often accompanied by a clutch of remora, or suckerfishes, attempting to cling on and hitch a ride. If the remora get bored they may try and sucker on to your fins too.
To see whale sharks:
Maamigili Kandu, south Ari Atoll
Whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, have to be on every diver's wildlife bucket list. The resident whale shark population in the Maldives is estimated at around 140 and the Maamigili area offers one of the best chances in the Maldives for a whale shark encounter. The currents and plankton-rich waters along the channel in this Marine Protected Area regularly attract these gentle giants — be sure to pack a camera.
To see hammerhead sharks:
Rasdhoo-Madivaru, northeast Ari Atoll
More experienced divers should set their alarms early and aim to arrive at this site before sunrise. The chance (never guaranteed, of course) to see scalloped hammerhead sharks makes the early start palatable. It's a case of descending into the blue and waiting to see if the hammerheads decide to circle. Even if there are none in sight there's plenty of other life from groupers to schooling jacks and moray eels. Also the reef formation itself is interesting one — a spur extends from the reef across the channel and on the seaward side it descends to a staggering 200m.
To see manta rays:
Madivaru Lagoon, north Ari Atoll
To maximise your chances of seeing another Maldives big hitter, head to this site between the months of November and January when manta ray sightings reach their peak. When strong currents channel plankton into this lagoon, mantas come to feed at a depth of around 15m. Nothing compares to seeing one of these majestic, winged creatures glide by on a dive. Be aware of movements in the distant, deeper blue to as you might catch a glimpse of a passing whale shark here too.
To see stonefish:
Maaya Thila (aka Maayafushi Thila), north Ari Atoll
Maaya Thila is one of the Maldives' most famous dive sites and completely worth the hype. You can circle the 80m diameter Thila (or pinnacle) in one dive when the current isn't too strong, coming face to face with Moorish idols, dopey tall-fin batfish who'll eyeball you right up against your mask, great barracudas and whitetip reef sharks. For the eagle-eyed diver, or with good instructors leading you, stonefish sightings are also on the cards. These scowly-faced, curious-looking creatures (the most venomous fish in the world) are camouflaged so well against the sea bed that they can often be missed or mistaken for a lump of rock or coral.
Ianthe Butt explored the depths of the Maldives with the knowledgeable dive team at TGI Maldives (tgimaldives.com), Constance Halaveli (halaveli.constancehotels.com).
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