Just Another Day in Paradise
Story & Photos: John Kerr
It was a joint special birthday treat, my bus pass had safely arrived and the good lady’s was to follow shortly. Where too was the cry !. After some quick research on the monsoon seasons the chosen destination was the Meeru Island Resort located in the northern atoll region of the Maldives. A direct flight from Glasgow via Dubai had us standing at the ferry terminal in what seemed to be jig time for the 1 hour boat ride to the Island. Little did we appreciate that just across the newly constructed bridge lay the 2nd to Tokyo as the densest populated city in the world. Male (pronounced Maalay) being an island of 2.7km by 1.2km in size with a population of 126,000 people, the capitol of the Maldives which consists of 20 atolls, with 1,190 islands, 200 of which are inhabited and 112 island resorts hosting a total population of 408,000in total. The rightful concerns regarding climate change and potential impact on this beautiful part of the world are well documented so on a lighter note I will say that with a height above Sea Water Level of 2.4 metres my decision to join the Maldivian mountain rescue team with “T” shirt provided was and easy one.
The Euro-Divers Meeru dive centre having being contacted in advance were standing by, the paperwork was quickly completed and with a 10 dive package being signed off by the good lady I was good to go. The centre which was exceptionally well equipped provided access to 50 dive sites (classed easy, medium to very difficult) by boat rides ranging from 45 minutes to two hours, options for a 1, 2 or 3 (all day) dives, a single night dive if there was enough interest, and the use of Nitrox for those suitably qualified all being available. Thanks to the team at Scotsac for putting me through the BSAC Nitrox course – I finally got to put this to good use. The dive selection process could not have been simpler, you putting your name against the choice of the dive options being made available for the following day (full details of
these sites being given in the available book), turning up at the allocated time for the boat departure and double checking that all of your dive equipment was in your storage box which had already been brought on board, this numbered box having been allocated on your registration for storage of weights, wetsuits, BCD, etc..
Both the safety briefing’s on boarding the dive boat prior to departure and dive briefing being carried out approx. 20 minutes prior to arrival were comprehensive and detailed. Options for the actual planned dive were kept open until arrival at the chosen location and only agreed after a quick entry and final check by the dive leader on the current strength and direction all of which was subject to the vagaries of both the tidal and ocean currents was the actual entry point and planned dive agreed. Oh - don’t you just love mother nature ! .
So we were off - 28 degree water temperature, +25 mtrs visibility and a couple of white tipped reef sharks to greet this virgin to the delights of the Indian Ocean. Yes the currents ranged from ok, to medium/strong and the reef hook was used on more than one occasion but as a reward for the 10 dive sites visited with the sloping walls reaching up from the sea bed, small crevices to explore, latticed sea fans, soft corals and sponges, giant clams, very large shoals of reef fish, sting rays, sharks (White tipped, Nurse and Leopard), White Lined Lion Fish, vividly coloured Oriental Sweet Lips, Bat fish, Parrot fish who you can actually hear gnawing the algae off the rocks, various types of Grouper, Turtles (Green and Hawksbill), Napoleon Wrasse, Moray Eels and the delightful Maldives Anemone fish with their special coating protecting them from the poison coating of the anemone, then acting as bait for the other fish to be enticed into this venomous trap – the reward being a share of the spoils. These named were just but a few that made the diving absolutely stunning.
As an additional bonus the Euro Divers office also hosts a representative from the Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) which was established in 2005. Founded by Dr. Guy Stevens the MMRP is the charity’s flagship research project and after more than a decade of research across this island nation has evolved into one of the largest and longest standing manta conservation groups in the world. It consists of a country wide network of dive instructors, biologists, communities and tourism operators with approximately a dozen MMRP staff spread across several atolls. Since its inception the project has identified over 4,300 different individual reef manta rays, this allowing researchers to record and identify key patterns within this population over time, giving invaluable information on our understanding of these animals. Jessica (Jess) based in Meeru who has the unenviable job of attending both the weekly snorkelling and diving trips with the mantas share her knowledge with infectious enthusiasm at Manta trust and Meeru Divers weekly presentations on the Tuesday and Thursday evenings respectively.
On a more worrying note and has been well reported through the media following the “Blue Planet” series plastic is now a major issue. I had sailed the oceans for 15 years in the merchant navy and never really saw any evidence of this problem but did see it first hand during this holiday. It was straight out of the David Attenborough nightmarish scenario – I can only assume that there had been a storm at sea with a change in currents, as on wakening one morning the lagoon off the island was littered with floating plastic debris consisting of bottles, bottle tops, straws, spoons, etc. – all of which was coated in some form of marine growth – this therefore not being a new addition to the oceans. The beach was duly cleaned up and the following day (and for the remainder of the holiday) you would never have known. The hotel complex is doing their own bit by issuing glass fresh water bottles for the complex rooms and bars, the water being produced from the desalination plant on the island, by doing this they are reducing the plastic bottle consumption by 230,000 per year, it is becoming ever more clear on a daily basis that we are all going to have to do our bit if this monster is to be put back in the bottle (glass).
Special mention has to go to the Euro Divers team at Meeru who were all extremely knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helpful and at the risk of repeating myself the diving was indeed truly stunning, mother nature did have her say with the currents playing their part in ensuring that I did not get to dive with the Manta’s on this occasion but with the “piece de resistance” for me being both the pod of dolphins that passed us by during a snorkelling excursion to turtle reef with the good lady and the 6 meter safety stop of my last dive of the holiday. Could it be the dolphins were saying – hurry back the Manta’s will be waiting ?