• Thu
  • Dec 25, 2014
  • Updated: 12:04pm

The tame sharks of Paradise

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 July, 2011, 12:00am
 

A quick word of advice: Do not scream like a banshee as if you were in the movie Jaws should a shark swim by you at arm's length.

If you ever find yourself on holiday in the Maldives, that is.

There are more than 20 species of shark living around the tropical islands and very few of them pose any danger to humans. Locals and tourists alike love feeding the sharks so they are even less likely to attack people.

Another word of advice: Do not look surprised, or disgusted even, when someone spits into their snorkelling mask and rinses it out with sea water. It is a handy trick to keep your mask from fogging up. You may soon find yourself heartily spitting into your mask just like the locals.

Ah, the Maldives, those sparkling gems of the Indian Ocean. They are ringed by pristine, soft sandy beaches, clear tranquil waters, and more.

Here's the good news. Even if you only splash about now and again in a chlorine-choked public pool, you can still become a competent enough diver or snorkelling champ. Most Maldives resorts provide a range of equipment from boards and flippers to scuba tanks. They also provide training courses from basic to advanced in a safe and monitored environment.

Then you can head over to the beach and immerse yourself in a spectacular underwater world just a few minutes from shore.

Surely the chance of diving to the wreck of a freighter that sank in 1981 off North Male Atoll is inviting enough.

Meanwhile, at the Banana Reef in the same atoll, a wealth of geographic structures awaits: cliffs, caves and overhangs. The place is host to colourful marine life with strands of tiny coral polyps waving gently in the current.

What better way to spend a well-earned holiday than to soak up the richness of wild underwater gardens with colourful corals stretching as far as the eye can see? You can frolic with dense clouds of curious little reef fish, trawl the seabed for shy hermit crabs, or search for schools of plump groupers. You can mimic the unhurried, languid movements of the occasional giant turtle or trail - from a safe distance - reef sharks.

If you are lucky, you will get to see majestic mantas glide gracefully to several cleaning stations situated around the reef. If you are really lucky, you will be able to watch Spinner dolphins at play. And if fortune is really smiling down, you may catch a glimpse of a whale shark!

If you feel you're not up for diving, you can still have a whale of a time (pun intended) snorkelling on the shallow reef top.

Make sure that your mask is sufficiently tight so as to prevent seawater from seeping in because it can sting your eyes. The weird feeling of having a hard foreign object in your mouth as you clench your teeth on the mouthpiece will disappear eventually. Remember not to dip too deep so the entire breathing tube will not go underwater, sealing off your oxygen supply.

There are other things to look out for. As your mask only allows you a limited range of vision, you will have to periodically look up and check if you are about to crash.

Here is another handy trick: scatter a handful of breadcrumbs and get up close and personal with teeming masses of hungry fish. Purists will cry 'Cheat!' while biologists will wonder about fish conditioning and ecologists will mutter about the balance of the reef ecosystem, but you'll love the sight.

This is possibly your only chance to pet a fish. Nothing compares to the feeling of colours seemingly bursting alive before your very eyes. You will almost feel irrationally afraid of accidentally crushing one of the eager fish darting around you as you attempt to touch them. Break surface from this whirling, cheerful chaos only for lunch.

Other options include 'snorkel hopping' and 'snorkel safaris'. Yes, that's right. 'Snorkel hopping' involves going from one island to another (or anywhere in between really), often in a speedboat.

A 'snorkel safari' is when a guide brings you to the best vantage points during the early, mystical hours of dawn or in the evening so you can see less common marine creatures that only come out at night.

But hurry. As a country with the 'lowest highest point' in the world at just 2.3 metres, the Maldives is sinking fast. What are you waiting for? Pack your suntan lotion and off you go!

Tips

Visa

A visa is required to enter the Maldives, and is issued upon arrival at the Maldives International Airport. Visitors must possess a passport, return or onward tickets, and one passport-sized photo. A tourist visa lasts for 30days, although visitors can apply for an extension.

Health and safety

No vaccination certificates are required to enter the Maldives. However, you are advised to get vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, polio and hepatitis. You should drink only bottled water - not water from the tap. There are two hospitals in the Maldives.

Currency

Major currencies such as US dollars and euros are accepted at resorts and banks. Note that the banks are open only on weekdays. Hong Kong dollars can be used only in large holiday resorts. Most resorts in the Maldives accept credit cards and travellers' cheques. HK$1 is equal to about 2 rufiyaa, the currency of the Maldives.

Weather and climate

The Maldives is a tropical country and is warm to hot throughout the year. The temperature does not normally fall below 25 degrees Celsius. There are two monsoons each year. The one that occurs from November to April brings very little wind and rain. But the one between June and August brings heavy rains and strong winds.

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