ITS 6.45AM. I step onto the white sands of Kuramathi Island. Forget sandals and the morning paper, the golden rule of the Maldives is no shoes, no news. This is paradise living.
I'm off for a cheeky bit of breakfast. To my amazement, other divers are trying the traditional Maldivian fish curry. We all have experiences of post-eating dives. Balti burp at 20m is about as desirable as a piranha in a bidet.
We get our kit together on the wooden jetty. I always travel with my own gear, not wanting to end up with a set of hire regs previously used by a fish-curry-breakfast-eater.
The dive centre is an apex-roofed, palm-thatched building on stilts over the sea. What a place for the dive masters to work, jammy gits.
My DM training was at the Academy of Diving, Stoney Cove. Love it as I do, the Leicestershire reservoir is no Indian Ocean. Mick and Margarets desks are more scratched than thatched, but its home to me.
We set off over turquoise waters. Is it me, or is this one of the greatest diving pleasures Whatever level of diver you are, the excitement touches the child within. I always notice that couples hold hands, and mates stop talking and take a moment to look out over the water.
Local dive guides react to the switch of focus from them to the sea by making attention-grabbing gestures, debagging boat-hands, farting and the like.

SOON I AM TAKING MY GIANT STRIDE. The warm sea wraps itself around me, and the world feels great again. I love that sneaky peek below, getting my mask wet while waiting for the others
to get in. Im not really like the other divers. For me, life under the surface is all about the underwater garden.
As a landscape designer exchanging wellies for fins, Id like you to see what
I see under water. It may help you to enjoy some new seascape secrets on your next dive.
Thumbs down, and assuming a parachute posture, Im descending now. This is a big high. To many divers, the rapidly approaching topography of your average coral collection may look like a mass of stone cauliflowers, bulbous brain-like rock formations and scruffy fans (like an aerial view over the Arsenal terraces on a Saturday afternoon). But to me, the coral bed holds the same enchantment as Japanese maple glades in autumn, oak trees in an English summer or sunflower fields in the south of France.
They are all living landscapes, but this one is special - its under the sea.
Sometimes (and youll think me mad) I wish the fish would get out of the way instead of blocking the view!

THIS UNDERWATER GARDEN is made up of a mixture of marine plants, sponges and Cnidarians (hard and soft corals). There are more than 9000 species of algae alone in the worlds oceans, tropical reefs supporting 1000 of these, and many remaining undocumented. But their interaction with the other, anchored seabed life-forms gives credibility to the term underwater garden.
To enjoy a walk in this particular park, you need good buoyancy to allow close proximity to coral without touching it. On an earlier outing,
a diver who had been telling everyone on the boat why his kit was the best and why everyone elses was dated managed to dive in without his smart new fins.
This cracked me up - until, descending hard, he crashed into the coral, snapping off much more in the ensuing panic.
His posture in the water was that of an upturned tortoise on crack. To make matters worse, his missus came to his aid. Together they moved over the coral with all the elegance of epileptic ballet dancers doing Swan Lake with chainsaws.
So its about good buoyancy and looking at shapes, diversity and structure - its almost absurd that so many different static items should fit together in the chaotic balance of a coral garden. No patios, no lawn, no pruning, no blue fence panels - this garden is truly unaccessorised.
The first real plant I see is turtle weed in its cute little clumps of flowing green. It can resemble a green turtles shell.
Close by is a little cactus algae, looking like a baby fern nestling in a sandy hole in the coral. There are lots of these green, rich plants around, to make garden lovers feel at home.
Diving deeper, I am momentarily gob-smacked by a beautiful featherstar. Its not a plant, its an Echinoderm, but this marine invertebrate looks as floral as anything above water, while getting about below the sea in slow and hypnotic motion.
Its single bloom matches an English rose on a summers day.
The other divers are photographing a moray eel. Give me a break! Can they really prefer what looks like an annoyed inner tube to this timeless feature
On closer inspection, the featherstar turns out to be two life-forms in one. A sea whip provides the stem on which the attached star resembles a flower head.
A fin-kick to the right takes me to a nest of soft didemnum, puffed-up white pods with emerald-green mouths nestling in groups. Its more Ridley Scott than rhododendron, but thats the beauty of it. Underwater gardens have been the inspiration for many sci-fi movie sets aiming to suggest alien life on the big screen (the double mouth of the creature in the Alien movies was, incidentally, inspired by another water-lover - the dragonfly).
Keeping with the unique shapes of this Atlantis Flower Show, I hover in wonder over a crocus giant clam.
Its blue hues have great natural beauty but I wonder about the state of mind of the geezer who named it - after a spring-flowering bulb It couldnt be further off the mark, rather like an electrical retailer naming its stores Currys.
Heres another case in point: I spot and photograph one of my favourite seascape features, Acropora nasuta, protruding from the face of the seabed.
The Latin gives it away, but heres the English version: nosey coral. That must have been thought up at the bar - whose round is it The Turbina species with its nodules is another example - nipple coral. Theyre having a laugh!

EIGHTY BAR LEFT, and I spot a coral-eater, with its intricate colours and beautiful shape, yet deadly as it consumes its prey. I hang and indulge myself, enjoying its detail, then snap my shot and put my camera away.
The problem with spending time looking closely at anything on the seabed is that theres always someone with a cheap camera who thinks youve spotted an interesting fish and wants you out of the way. There seems to be an unwritten rule that if you dont have a camera in view, you move off for those who have.
The newcomer accidentally kicks me in the snorkel. I move off sharply.
But I get the camera out again to capture a sea anemone (Heteractis). We always miss the beauty of this polyp thanks to Walt Bloomin Disney and Nemo. Get those fish out of the way!
Take time to see the fluid movement of the ocean as it caresses the tendrils of the anemone, like swarming birds on a summers breeze. Hypnotic. Oh, where is nitrogen narcosis when you need it
Fifty bar, and its up and out. Back on the boat, I am handed a slice of fresh coconut, paradises own mouthwash.
In Malta its fruit, in Egypt cake. For other dive centres, heres a tip. Whip down to the shops and buy a pack of Tic Tacs for the divers. Theyre practical, cheap and take the salt taste away in an instant. Use the money saved to improve the toilet facilities on the boat.
With memories of the coral garden fresh in my mind, I look overboard, but its now invisible to surface-dwellers.
Scuba-divers make up a fraction of the worlds population, but through our training we have earned the right to see under the sea. Just remember - its not all about fish.

5 TIPS FOR ENJOYING THE CORAL BED
1 Dont swim fast. Take time out to get up close to the coral and enjoy the mini-gardens within gardens.
2 Torches are not only for wrecks and caves, theyre colour magnets to help you enjoy the full spectrum of what lies before you. Take one.
3 Hover. Appreciate the diverse landscape - fans, rocks, shape and form, texture and movement.
4 Less is more. Persuade your buddy to head up on 70 bar rather than 55 and enjoy a relaxing 15 bar in the shallows where the coral, fish and light are sometimes best. Additional dive time is a bonus.
5 Hunt non-fish life. Books on fish may be the best-sellers, but get a good pictorial book on static underwater life. For those who have seen the familiar sights too often, it may open up a whole new perspective.

DAVID DOMONEY is resident gardening guru on GMTVs This Morning and on ITV1 has presented House of Horrors, Better Homes, Solution Street, From Hell and Plant Doctor. He is also garden designer for the Sunday Mirror. Recently, he has filmed the series Gardens From Around The World and Royal Gardens Of The UK for ITV. An avid diver with hundreds of logged dives all over the world, he aims to become an instructor.