The Architecture of the Reef
Why is diving in the Maldives so good?
Two words: location and formation.
A Fish Aggregating Device is nothing more than a construction of chains and metal plates around which, when it is placed in open water, the fish congregate. The Maldives archipelago is a giant Fish Aggregating Device in the wilds of the Indian Ocean. South of Sri Lanka, there is nothing else at all between Indonesia and Africa, some 7,000 kilometres. What fish isn’t going to stop by?
The ocean currents break against the atoll reefs, course between them and are funnelled inside through channels narrow and wide. These are the habitats of the pelagics – the ocean-going fish – the scuba divers’ big game.
Inside the atolls are faros and thilas. They may drop off sharply or gradually, have caves, overhangs or tunnels. Every variation and niche offers life to a bewildering array of fish and invertebrates.
Sculpted for incredible dives
Visibility can be as good as seventy metres along the reef and down to the atoll floor, offering perfect conditions to spot whatever is there that day. Oncoming tides are clearer, while outgoing tides often carry some sediment and seasonal plankton, reducing visibility. But plankton, of course, is what you need if you want to see the great whale sharks and manta rays feeding.
The outer reef slopes of islands follow a fairly similar pattern that directly relates to the various ancient sea levels. Typically, there are terraces at depths of three to six metres, fifteen to thirty metres and a deeper one at fifty metres. It then drops away to the ocean floor, whereas the interior of the atolls bottoms out at around that fifty metre level.
The cycle of coral building follwed by erosion and more building has left a varied and impressive reef architecture. Between the terraces are canyons, caves, overhangs, chimneys and vertical walls, each feature a mini-ecosystem in itself. The slower you go and the longer you linger, the more you discover. There are nearly 200 species of hard coral alone and more than 1,000 fish species, 400 species of molluscs, 350 species of marine crustaceans … and so on.
In terms of biodiversity it is an environment equal to the great rainforests.