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A
Access: Some islands have huge fringing reefs. These look attractive in pictures but can mean a long walk by jetty to a boat or water for swimming - and possibly no shore diving.
Airport: The main airport is on the artificially extended island of Hulhule near Male, and linked by a ferry service. Transfers are directly from Hulhule to your resort or liveaboard.
Ari Atoll: Boasting some of the finest dive sites in the Maldives, this is one of the largest atolls and is separated from North Male Atoll to the east by the Ariadhoo Channel. Its many channels to the open ocean allow water to pass freely through its lagoon.
Atoll: The only word in English derived from the Dhevehi language, it translates into administrative district. However, common usage has changed its meaning to that of a ring of coral islands growing on the rim of a submerged prehistoric volcano to form a central lagoon.

B
Baa Atoll: More correctly South Maalhosmadulu, Baa Atoll has only recently been developed for tourism. It is very open to the ocean like Ari Atoll to the south, with many channels through to the lagoon, and promises to offer spectacular diving.
Banana Reef: Named for its shape, and also known as the Washing Machine, this reef is close to Club Med in the south of North Male Atoll and subject to strong currents and equally strong eddies from the ocean. However, the current-borne nutrients result in vibrant coral growth and a good selection of marine life, making for spectacular dives.
hspace=3 Big-Eyes: In characteristic bright orange garb, these fish cluster in large numbers at cave entrances and under overhangs during daylight hours.
Blacktip Reef Shark: Not to be confused with the similarly named blacktip Carchahinus limbartus, the melanopterus of the Maldives is a pretty little shark that hunts in shallow water on top of the reef.
British Loyalty: A 5583 tonne Newcastle-built tanker purposely sunk in 1946 after being fatally damaged by
a Japanese midget submarine in 1944 while anchored at Gan in Addoo Atoll.

hspace=3 Blue-Lined Snapper
Probably the signature fish of the Maldives, Lutjanus kasmira are predominantly yellow with four blue horizontal stripes. They hover in vast golden schools near most reefs.
We took two early examples of the APD Inspiration rebreather to the Maldives to try out. They had been supplied with yellow counter-lungs for a more attractive look in photographs. With no noisy exhaled bubbles, I was experimenting with seeing how close I could get to the wildlife without disturbing it.
I put one of my cameras on the seabed and slowly insinuated myself within a vast aggregation of blue-lined snapper that formed a tight school close to the reef. I was soon surrounded and invisible to the diver who came along and decided that he had found a lost camera - mine!
He expressed surprise when my arm reached out from within the seemingly solid golden mass of fish and firmly retook it from him, just as he was about to swim off.


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Children: There is nowhere better than the calm clear water within a lagoon for a child to have his or her first experience of blowing bubbles. The Maldives make an ideal destination for a tropical beach holiday with young children.
Climate: Its a truly tropical destination, so Maldives days tend to be hot and humid all year round. The monsoons have a great effect on the prevailing currents (see Monsoon Seasons).
Coconuts: Falling coconuts cause more deaths worldwide than any unfortunate encounter with marine life! Make it a rule never to sunbathe beneath a loaded coconut palm.
hspace=3 Corals: The vast, spectacular coral banks suffered badly from bleaching in 1998, but the coral is making a steady comeback.
Currency: The Maldivian Rufiyaa is rarely used in resorts. Most tourist transactions are in US dollars.
Current Point: Where a current strikes an underwater obstruction such as a reef, it splits. This is where the most spectacular animals can be encountered, so try to spend as much time as you can at the current point.
Customs: Strict laws prohibit the importing of alcohol, narcotics, pornography and pork products.

Currents
These can be strong depending on the season, but it is the currents that create high-quality diving in the Maldives.
Ill never forget the sight of you rock-climbing, laughed William, my lawyer-buddy from Lisbon. I watched you climbing that wall with your hook with such a determined look on your face!
We were safely back on board the dhoni and heading back towards our mothership. We had been diving in a channel near Lankanfinolhu, otherwise known as Paradise Island, in the south of North Male Atoll.
It had been one of the last dives of an entertaining week. The ocean currents were relentlessly rolling in from the North-east, and this side of the Maldivian archipelago was the first obstruction to the flow after thousands of miles of open ocean. We had dropped in expecting a roller-coaster ride, and we had not been disappointed.

D
hspace=3 Depth: The Indian Ocean around the Maldives can be up to 2100m deep, which is why the islands suffered little permanent damage from the 2004 Tsunami - and why spectacular wall-diving is possible.
Dhoni: Traditional design gives this locally built boat a high prow to its wooden hull, although often this is abandoned out of practicality.
Drop-off: Where the shallow reef meets the ocean and drops away into extremely deep water is a good place to encounter dramatic pelagic species.


hspace=3 Dolphins and whales As Sea Queen made her stately way between the atolls we were joined by a group of melon-headed pilot whales that took station at our bows and easily kept pace with the vessel. Unlike the little spinner dolphins that had previously cavorted at the bow in a joyous yet undisciplined manner, they interacted with the boat in a studied way, each taking a turn to break the surface, and the matriarch taking time out to study us with an intelligent eye. The cetaceans most often seen in the Maldives are spinner and common dolphins. Found in schools of between tens and hundreds, they average 2m in length. Adult spinners are slightly smaller than common dolphins, and highly vocal. Passengers on liveaboards crossing the open sea between atolls are often thrilled to be accompanied by large pods of dolphin or, even more impressive, pilot whales.

E
Electricity: Generally conforms to European specifications - 220/240V 50Hz AC with two-pin sockets.
Express: Where you see this word appended to a dive-site name, expect a high-energy ride.

hspace=3 Embhudu Channel
In South Male Atoll, this kandhu is famous for its excellent shark encounters. Divers enjoy a fast drift back through the channel from the drop-off on powerful north-east currents.
Embudhu Express is a high-voltage dive site when the current is in the right direction.
It goes like a train! The narrow channel faces out of the atoll into the vast expanse of the open ocean. Jump in at the north-east corner on the south side of the channel and make your way to the underwater cliff, where the ancient rock drops down into the depths.
Here you will encounter a great deal of pelagic life enjoying the powerful flow. You will see anything from whitetip reef sharks and grey reef sharks (above) to whale sharks. When youve seen enough, let go and drift at high speed up through the narrow channel into the atolls lagoon.

hspace=3 Ellaidhoo
This island in North Ari Atoll has a wall that runs along one side near the shore and drops to about 35m. You can easily enter it from the beach, and there are guidelines down to some features. Its an easy dive, though there will be some strong currents at either end where the submerged reef shelves away and is exposed to the open ocean.
The wreck of a small supply boat lies at 32m midway along the wall beneath the resorts jetty. Its fun to sit inside the upturned hull (especially with a closed-circuit rebreather) and wait to see what swims by.
I have seen all manner of rays and sharks by doing this. The wall has numerous caverns, too, and makes for an excellent night dive, with the promise of a pre-dinner drink not far away!

F
Faro: An elongated or circular reef rising from the seabed within the lagoon or atoll perimeter.
Faru: A circular reef rising from the ocean floor but exposed to the ocean - and often partially exposed at low tide.
Felhidhu Atoll: An atoll only recently opened for tourism, south of Male. Almost totally enclosed by islands, its lagoon is normally very calm but has less good diving than those with a good flow of ocean water through them. The best diving is therefore on the ocean side.
Freediving: Long before scuba was invented, Maldivians were freediving in excess of 30m to catch baitfish and look for pearls. Champion freediver Tanya Streeter recently made a film in the Maldives, freediving with mantas.
Fushi: A larger inhabited island, usually on the outside reef of an atoll.

hspace=3 Frogfish
Also called an anglerfish, this sedentary predator uses an extension above its mouth as a lure to attract other fish to be swallowed whole.
Frogfish vary enormously in both size and colour, but usually mimic the sponges on which they sit. They walk very slowly on their limb-like pectoral fins - until they strike, when for a moment they become one of the fastest-moving animals on the planet.
Remarkably, frogfish are capable of swallowing prey as big as themselves. Their globular, distensible bodies have a loose and prickly skin.
They are also extremely well camouflaged, often adorned with filamentous or fleshy appendages, and can take on almost any colour from red to green, including black, to fit in with their surroundings.

Grouper G
Gan: An island in the remote southern atoll of Addoo that had an RAF base until the mid-1970s, Gan is now home to the Ocean Reef Club.
Gili: An uninhabited island.
Giri: An area of coral smaller than a thila.
Grey Reef Shark: A small requiem shark commonly seen at current points. After a number of accidents, shark-feeding is no longer permitted in the Maldives.
Grouper: There are many different species but the marbled grouper is often seen around coastal reefs.


hspace=3 Graveyard (Gaaerifaru)
Two wrecks, remnants of a tuna-fishing industry, lie near Felivaru Island in the channel in Lhaviyani Atoll within 50m of each other. The larger, the Skipjack, lies at an angle with its stern on the sandy seabed at 30m, while its rusting bows protrude from the surface.
You can shelter from the strong currents that wash over the wreck in either of its two holds, or in the lea of its massive gantry-mast, which reaches close to the surface.
It is encrusted with sponges and hard and soft corals, and there are massed orange butterfly perch loitering and sergeant-majors busily defending their territory. A school of friendly batfish patrol the open water.
The smaller Gaafaru lies on its port side on the sand.

width=100% Great Hammerhead Shark Four of us were diving at Foteomedukhandhu in South Male Atoll. It was New Year, and we were lucky enough to have a liveaboard to ourselves. With so few divers to disturb the more skittish wildlife, we were hoping to see a few sharks. What we were not expecting was to come face to face with a great hammerhead. It looked at us disdainfully and turned away, disappearing to the further reaches of our vision. We were thrilled to see it. One of the largest predatory sharks, the great hammerheads diet includes sting rays. Often a specimen will be encountered still bearing the barbs of those it has eaten embedded around its mouth. While the much smaller scalloped hammerhead is usually seen in schools, this shark is solitary and can be up to 6m long. It has a massive dorsal fin that appears to be out of all proportion to its body.


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Hook: A suitably large hook deployed at the end of around 1m of line and clipped to a diver allows him to attach himself securely to a suitable piece of firm substrate and then fly, slightly positively buoyant, hands-free in a current and clear of the reef.

Halaveli Wreck
The reef at Halaveli in North Ari Atoll looks tired and is somewhat inauspicious, but the Halaveli Island dive school intentionally sank a small wreck in 1991, and it has become home to some interesting marine life.
Its a firm favourite with visiting divers, because the instructors have taken to feeding the animals regularly, including some impressive marble rays.
You may think a dive here is somewhat unnatural but its a chance to see these large creatures in dramatic close-up. The same goes for other fish, such as the school of batfish that hang around. The deck is at 20m and the mast reaches towards the surface.

Hammerhead Point
Also known as Madivaru (Ray Point), this site is in Rasdoo, a little atoll north of Ari Atoll with its own luxurious resort, Kuramathi. Its narrow channel faces the deep water of the open ocean and is home to a school of scalloped hammerhead sharks.
This is a bluewater dive for shark-lovers, and the best time to see the hammerheads is at first light.
My best sighting of them was made using a closed-circuit rebreather with which I was able to stay at 50m for 40 minutes before coming up the Rasdhoo reef to decompress. The reef, once one of the most spectacular in the Maldives, is making a significant recovery since the coral-bleaching episode of 1998.

hspace=3 HP Reef
Also known as Girifushi Thila, in North Male Atoll, HP stands for high-powered, which describes the currents that run over the coral outcrops on this submerged reef.
If youre up to it, HP Reef offers one of the best dives in the Maldives. The currents flowing in and out of the atoll provide perfect conditions for marine life to flourish.
The thila is made up of giant boulders covered in red and orange dendronephthya soft corals, bodies tumescent to provide stability in the torrent. There are also gorgonia and black coral trees, and the overhangs and caverns are full of sweetlips and squirrelfish. Pelagic species gather to hunt at the current point.
Its only around 20m deep, but you must be confident of being able to use the topography to hide from the current or youll be out of air before youve seen half of it.

I
Islands: Some 1200 islands are arranged in 26 atolls in the Maldivian archipelago. Around 100 have been turned into resorts of different sizes and characters - be sure to choose one that suits your needs.
Indian Ocean: The Maldives is located in the centre of this vast tropical ocean.
Islam: Sunni Muslims predominate in the Maldives, and tourists should dress with respect to the religion when visiting Male or locally populated islands.

J
Jackfish: These silver fish school in large groups and are an important resource for the local fishing industry.

K
Kandhu: A break in the rim of an atoll, or channel that allows water from the atoll to flow from and to the open sea.

L
Language: Dhevehi is thought to be a combination of Sinhala from nearby Sri Lanka, Sanskrit from northern India, and Persian. English is now taught in all schools, and modern Maldivians speak and write it very well.
Latitude: The archipelago lies between the Equator and 7Â North.
hspace=3 Liveaboards: Also known as safari boats, these vessels give their passengers a greater variety of diving than can be experienced by staying on an island. They usually work with a smaller diving dhoni. They can move between sides of an atoll, thus combining manta diving
on the back of the currents and good-visibility diving on the same trip.
Locals: Inhabited islands are partly closed to tourists to protect the devout Muslim lifestyle from foreign influence. Maldivians are generally friendly and non-confrontational.

M
Malaria: There is no malaria endemic to the Maldives, although a few cases have been identified in more remote atolls.
Male: The capital of the Maldives is a cramped and bustling town that does not reflect the character of the other palm-fringed islands.
Monsoon Seasons: There are two monsoons. The north-east season (December-April) is the driest time but produces the strongest currents. During the south-west monsoon (May-November), the most easterly islands may experience strong winds with ocean swells and reduced visibility.
Moresby Channel: Named by Commander Moresby, who commanded the first Royal Navy survey of the area, and from which most current chart datum is derived, it separates the atolls of the Maldives into two distinct groups.
Mosquitoes: With little standing fresh water, there are few mosquitoes on resort islands.
Mushimashma: A type of small brown fusilier fish that schools in large numbers and is prized by fishermen.

hspace=3 Maaya Thila
Scene of one of the worlds most frenetic night dives, this thila is in Ari Atoll, near the Maayafushi resort. You will see both whitetip reef sharks and large marble rays hunting in close proximity and octopus too, out looking for food.
Hawksbill turtles browse for sponges, batfish cruise in open water nearby and frogfish disappear before your eyes, their camouflage is so good.
The top of the thila is only 8m deep and the whole site is only 30m in diameter. Between this reef and a smaller satellite rock, a current squeezes and grey reef sharks can be found surfing on it. Look out for stonefish and scorpionfish too.

hspace=3 Maldives Victory
There will always be speculation about what caused the Maldives Victory to sink, but we do know that the 3500 tonne cargo vessel went down on Friday 13th in 1981 close to Hulule island, site of Male International Airport.
No trip to the Maldives is complete without diving this wreck. It is 360ft long and sits on an even keel. You will find turtles, schooling jacks, giant trevallys and masses of fusiliers at the bows, while her superstructure at the stern invites exploration by those desperate for a scrap-metal experience.
You can avoid the current that sweeps the decks by dropping into either of the open holds. Maximum depth is 35m, but you can think of it as a 25m dive.

hspace=3 Manta Rays
We dropped into the water at Dhonkalu, a low, flat reef in water about 20m deep. We didnt have long to wait before the first enormous manta arrived out of the gloom. The similarity to Heathrow on a Monday morning was not lost on me as I saw that many more of these magnificent creatures were stacked behind the first, waiting as if for clearance to land.
The first hovered over the reef as a collection of small wrasse got to work feeding and cleaning parasites from its gills and underside. Soon the second arrived, and then a third and fourth. Within a few moments we had 40 or more of these gentle and inquisitive creatures swimming slowly around us.
Giant pelagic plankton-eaters that roam the tropical oceans, manta rays are reliably encountered at cleaning stations in the Maldives, migrating from one side of the atoll to the other.
Individual Manta birostris can weigh up to 2 tonnes and have a wingspan of more than 6m. They filter plankton with their fine gill rakers. Generally white on the underside, their dark saddle patterns allow researchers to identify individuals.

Mushimashmagili
Named after the masses of small brown fusiliers that shoal here, this site is some 2.5 miles south of the uninhabited island of the same name in North Ari Atoll. Its the classic Maldivian dive-site. Grey reef sharks congregate at a current point. The resident super-male Napoleon wrasse seems comfortable in the presence of divers, and there are thousands of yellow blue-striped snappers.
This small oval thila is only around 100m long and drops steeply in two steps at the south-eastern corner. Here you will find an overhang filled with black corals and large gorgonia.
When you have outstayed your welcome at depth, the top of this reef is a great place to decompress, with two resident hawksbill turtles usually waiting to entertain you.

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Napoleon Wrasse: Starting life as a male, then changing to female, the dominant female Napoleon changes back to a super-male when a vacancy arises on the reef. Super-males are notable characters on dives, recognisable by the large bump on their heads. They are also known as Maori wrasse, because of the intricate markings on their faces.
Night Diving: Because of the currents, night diving is normally conducted only on reefs and thilas well within the lagoons.
North Male Atoll: Though home to the capital and airport islands in the southern part of the atoll, most islands in North Male Atoll are delightfully quiet and remote.

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Octopus: Masters of disguise, these intelligent creatures are stealthy and difficult to see on the reef in daylight hours. After nightfall you may be rewarded by the sight of one going about its business.
Oriental Sweetlips: Distinctive in their stripy pyjamas, these are another signature fish of the Indian Ocean, and form small schools on the reef.

P
hspace=3 Politics: The Maldives is a democratic republic but there is no party-political system. The parliament comprises two elected members from each atoll (48 members in total) and eight members nominated by the President.
Protected Marine Life: The list includes black corals, conchs, giant clams, berried and small lobsters, turtles, Napoleon wrasse, dolphins, whale sharks and whales.
Pufferfish: Puffers and globefish vary in size enormously but have in common the ability to pump themselves full of water to make it difficult for predators to swallow them.

R
Rangali & Hukuruelhi Kandhus: In spring large congregations of manta rays visit cleaning-stations atop this long reef in South Ari Atoll. There are also many caves and underhangs along the reef side in which to encounter the occasional nurse shark, and the chance of running into a whale shark.
Red-tooth triggerfish: There has recently been an explosion in the population of these small, algae-eating triggerfish, but these, unlike their giant relatives the titan triggerfish, are not aggressive .

hspace=3 S
Safety: A recompression chamber is located on Baros in North Male Atoll. Leisure divers are asked to limit maximum depths to 30m and carry safety devices such as SMBs or flags, which many dive boats supply on free loan to clients.
Sandspit: Also called finolhu, many such islands, devoid of vegetation, make interesting places for beach barbecues and sandcastle building.
Seaplane: Travelling between islands is best effected by Twin Otter seaplane or fast speedboat. The planes fly low enough not to compromise decompression.
hspace=3 Shore Diving: The tops of house reefs are often very shallow and all islands that have them have designated channels to be used by divers and snorkellers when crossing the reef top. This reduces damage to the reef. Some resorts even have submerged buoys to mark the way so that they can be followed easily under water.
South Male Atoll: The atoll south of Male has good current flows, so good diving. Most of its islands have vast fringing reefs, which can make direct access to deep water difficult.
Squirrelfish: Often confused with soldierfish, the similarly coloured squirrelfish has equally nocturnal habits but is seen in smaller numbers under overhangs during daylight hours.
Sting Rays: Marbled and ribbontail rays are commonly encountered on the reefs of the Maldives.
Sunburn: A major health hazard for those who go uncovered in tropical regions. Cooling sea-breezes in the Maldives can mislead visitors into overdoing exposure to the sun.

Triggerfish T
Taxes: The government levies a tourist-bed tax.
Telephones: The Maldives has excellent cell-phone coverage.
Thila: A small coral reef growing close to the surface.
Time Difference: The Maldives is five hours ahead of British GMT.
Triggerfish: The pugnacious titan triggerfish guards a territory that is a vertical cone of water when nesting. Swim horizontally away from any aggressive titan.
Tuna: Until tourism became developed, the skipjack and bluefin tuna industry was the most important foreign-currency earner in the Maldives. Sri Lankans use Maldivian dried fish as a garnish for many meals.

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hspace=3 Turtles
We had braved the current at Mushimashmagili to see the grey reef sharks and had a close encounter with the resident Napoleon wrasse. We drifted back onto the top of the reef, where a ledge of rock directed the flow of water over us and gave us respite.
Here one of the two resident hawksbill turtles was browsing. Rob broke off a bit of sponge and offered it. It was gladly received by the turtle. He took another piece, and the turtle took that too. We were soon feeding the turtle like a toddler.
When we stopped, it moved over to the rest of the sponge, for which it had evidently developed a taste, and continued to feed.
Though endangered worldwide, turtles are not rare in the Maldives. Hawksbill turtles are the most commonly encountered, with their pie-crust shell and parrot-like beak.

V
Vaccinations: Cholera and typhoid shots are recommended.
Velidhoo: A sandy island.
Visas: British passport-holders normally get a 30-day visa for no charge on arrival.

W
Walls: Steep walls are a noted feature of dives on the ocean side of the atolls.
Water: There is little naturally occurring fresh water in the Maldives but locals can tolerate the meagre brackish supplies. Modern resorts have desalination plants, but water for washing should be used sparingly.
Whales: Sperm whales are occasionally sighted in deeper water. They hold a special place in local folklore and Maldivians call them boat-eating big fish. Pilot whales are often a welcome sight as they accompany slower-moving boats making passage between the atolls.
Whitetip Reef Shark: These small, flexible sharks are seen in daylight resting on sandy patches of the seabed. At night they become voracious predators, hunting small fish among the coral.
Wrecks: As the water is so deep, the Maldives is not noted for wreck-diving.

hspace=3 Whale sharks
Returning from the dive, Erica scanned the water for the tell-tale shadow. Dive guides on Sea Spirit, she and Jason had seen whale sharks for the previous 16 consecutive weeks and were determined not to break their run of luck.
Suddenly she raced back from the bow of the dhoni, stopping only to don mask, snorkel and fins before launching herself into the water.
We all followed suit. There was not one whale shark to be seen but seven - juveniles, each about 4-5m long.
The largest fish in the sea, Rhincodon typus feeds on plankton and small fish, which it catches by positioning itself vertically in the water under a target school and opening its cavernous mouth so that the prey is drawn in with the rush of water.
Although that mouth could engulf a man, the 300 rows of tiny hooked teeth appear to have little function - whale sharks are harmless.
Scientists have long thought that there is a single community living in the Indian Ocean, following the plankton usually on an anti-clockwise route.
Officially protected in most of the countries they pass, whale sharks can grow to an astonishing 18m long. South Ari Atoll, on the seaward side of the islands, is a good place to spot juveniles early in the year.

hspace=3 X
X-Rays: Prepare to have all your luggage X-rayed at Customs on arrival.

Y
Yellow fish: Vast clouds of yellow fish tend to be schools of blue-lined snapper, goatfish or sweetlips.

Z
Zzzzz! A remote Maldivian palm-fringed island is the perfect place to take things easy.