A day in the Maldives
once in a lifetime for some
“Ok everyone, we’re about to go swimming with the sharks,”
says a smiling Muhammad Shahid, a local Maldivian marine biologist who has kindly accompanied us on our day trip to the atolls and reefs of the central Maldives.
“You should see about 30 or 40 sharks, ranging from about three to eight feet. When you see them, grab your snorkels and jump in – and enjoy the experience.”
Kidding, right? Not kidding. Swimming with toothless nurse sharks is one of the multitude of exotic experiences unique to the Maldivian adventure, an adventure Shahid says is as good as you will see on National Geographic or Blue Planet.
“You really get everything here – the dolphins, the manta rays, the whale sharks. Where else in the world can you swim with whale sharks?”
Shahid’s passion for the Maldives is as joyful as his smile and enthusiasm for his job, where he feels blessed as a senior employee of Kandooma Holiday Inn Resort to take guests out to the more obscure outliers of Kandooma Island.
But, back to the sharks.
The shrieks of fear from our entourage were certainly unsettling as we submerged ourselves beneath the crystal blue turquoise ocean into the depths of a wondrous water world. Here, groups of sharks were as curious of us as we were of them. Some swam in schools on the ocean floor 15-20m below, while others would see groups of snorkelers and swim effortlessly to us to engage in ways many would never suspect of a misunderstood, mysterious prehistoric beast more renowned for attacking than interacting.
Here, in this bliss, two heads of the food chain interact in an evolutionary dance rarely seen in nature. No fear, no judgment, just inquisition and perhaps a better understanding of each other from the experience. It was a remarkable 20-30 minute experience that left those bold enough to face their fears in awe of a truly unforgettable moment – one of the many adrenaline-filled moments that will forever be enriched in a day that will never blend into the next.
Before swimming unperturbed with the rulers of the sea, we were treated to a snorkel at
a sunken shipwreck, another shrouded in mystery.
“This ship was found floating in the middle of the Maldives with no crew and no sign of life,” says Shahid. “For a long time, the government sought help from our neighbours to find the owners of the ship but we had no success. Eventually, the decision was made to sink the boat – with a bicycle attached to the main deck – and use it as a dive and snorkelling site for visitors.
“We suspect it was probably abandoned by pirates, but we felt we could put it to good use. Now the boat attracts a bountiful collection of local varieties of fish and birdlife which congregate on the wreck, offering them some protection both above and below the waterline.”
From here it was off to the region’s equivalent of Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays – a stunning, unnamed sand island with pure white, soft sand surrounded by more shades of blue and turquoise than you thought existed. The only thing we were unable to see was the whale sharks because of unseasonal conditions.
Shahid’s passion for sharing the experience is palpable.
“This is the best job in the world,” he says. “And the Maldivian Government is very proactive in ensuring what we have here is preserved and protected. It is truly amazing as you have seen and it is vitally important that we protect such a spectacular, beautiful marine environment. That is our goal as we face the challenges of climate change in the Maldives.”
Shahid says the importance of increasing the tourism economy while managing the pristine environment is a balancing act.
“As a marine biologist who is thinking about marine life and ecology, sometimes I think the growth is too fast,” he says. “But economically speaking, it’s a good thing. It brings a lot of income to local Maldivians, and a lot of job opportunities. I love my job, showcasing the Maldives to visitors. Just take a look around. How could you not?”
How could you not, indeed.