Addu Atoll is home to the second largest city, Addu City, in the Maldives. Over 300 miles south of the capital Malé and just south of the equator this collection of islands has some of the best diving in the Maldives. Being at the southern end of the chain larger fish are seen in greater numbers. Tiger sharks, white tip reef sharks and silky sharks are all seen around the atoll as well as barracuda and tuna. However to see these creatures the diving is not easy.
Currents and Reef Hooks
The diving in this part of the world has strong currents. Not just a little bit strong but really strong. The reef hook became our friend. Allowing us to remain in one spot, watching manta rays and sharks whilst the current whistled by. It took some getting used to. First of all finding a suitable rock that would hold the weight of a diver against the current. This needed to be secure rock with a lip for the hook and no coral or life living on it. Then having the confidence that you aren't going anywhere and being able to inflate your jacket fully so you are above the reef. This is a huge psychological boundary. If the hook doesn't hold the air in the jacket will take you to the surface rapidly. However, the benefits were worth the learning. Feeling the line vibrate in the current and being able to watch the underwater world go by was a great feeling.
The reef hook enabled us to stay at the manta cleaning station for the entire dive. This would not have happened if it hadn't been for the reef hook. We would have been long gone, as we discovered on intentional drifts when there were no mantas! We also sat on the outer side of the atoll looking in to the blue watching the sharks cruise by. Not a care in the world about the current we were battling.
Soft and Squishy
In contrast to the large species and deep fast dives, the Maldives also has shallow reefs. These are pretty and covered in life. Even on these sites the current can run and it isn't until you hit the water that the amount of current will be known. Even if a dive starts with no current, by the end you may be drifting. The reefs within the atoll are protected from the ravages of the Indian Ocean, but the visibility is not as stunning as the outer reefs. It is a fine balance to find the perfect location. As well as the soft and squishies, turtles thrive in the shallow reefs. Green and hawksbill turtles were seen on every shallow dive.
Wrecks - British Loyalty
During World War 2, Addu Atoll was a hidden British naval base. The British Loyalty was an oil tanker that was hit by a torpedo in 1944. Somehow the submariners had managed to fire the torpedo through the anti-submarine nets that protected the natural harbour. She survived the hit but remained in the harbour until the end of the war. Before the British withdrew in early 1946 she was scuttled as target practice by a British warship in to 33m of water. This dive was murky as the weather had been a little rough. The hold and engine rooms were vast and exploring in the darkness revealed the remains of the way she originally appeared. These caverns were entered through huge holes made by the torpedo blast. The stern still has the prop in place, now covered in black coral and guarded by batfish. As she lies on her starboard side, the port side is exposed and is home to a beautiful coral garden at 16m. Somehow the murk becomes a benefit in black and white.
Surface intervals on the boat were spent near the smaller deserted islands. Soaking up the sun and watching the turtles on the surface.
One day was spent being surrounded by dolphins. A huge pod that was very definitely happy to be alive. Lunch time was spent in the small local restaurant with time for a siesta before heading out for an afternoon dive.
We had great fun and were under no pressure despite having another group on the boat. This isn't easy diving and divers really need to be confident of their skills. The first dive included a mask clear and out of air assessment. In 25 years of diving this was the first time it had been checked, but it was a reassurance of safety awareness. Lots of dives started with immediate descent, no faffing on the surface. Straight in and straight down. This is a skill that takes practice. Fitness was essential I soon discovered as some dives involved a lot of finning against the current to reach the reef. This was however worth the effort as the reefs were beautiful.
The diving here is worth the journey and will leave you with memories, both good and amazing. Our last dive with silky sharks, nurse sharks and sting rays will remain with me for a very long while!