Thursday, February 28, 2013

Maldives Day 4: Ari Atoll continued (large animals galore)

I woke when the crew started the engines at 6. Soon after I enjoyed an impressive sunrise.

We started the day with a trip toward our next destination. This was supposed to be another Manta Point where we can sit and watch Manta Rays coming for cleaning service.

Dive 7: Madivalu Rangali Start 210 end 120.

The dive briefing was simple - that we will be on a sloping outer reef with two "cleaning stations".

We were getting ready on the boat, when suddenly the dive masters said we are going to dive and jump quickly into the water. After jumping they told us "go down". This is usually a sign of a strong current which requires getting to the bottom as quickly as possible.

We went down in a disorganized group, and immediately realized the strength of the current.  On the bottom it was a fight to progress toward the first dive master. Mif showed up and tried to get our group together. Then suddenly he disengaged from the reef and signaled to go up. It wasn't clear what was his plan. When we got up he unrolled a signal marker, raised it and called us to go up to his location. I thought this meant that the dive was over, maybe because they put us down at the wrong place.

We slowly ascended, did a three minute safety stop, and got on the boat. Investigating what happened, we were told that he saw a whale shark passing above us and wanted us to be at its level. We were all a bit grumpy as this was a useless fight against currents without any need.

Two of the groups were in our situation, and the third one stayed down (and did some sort of a dive). 

The divemasters told us to get ready to snorkel as there is a good chance to encounter whale-shark on the surface. We jumped quickly from the boat into a group of russian tourists who were snorkeling from a small motorboat (probably from a nearby resort). I was still partially set up for diving (suit etc), and my equipment got tangled whole I was bumped into someone. In the end when I managed to get to the action I saw the head of a whale shark pass below me, and then it was gone. Soon after the people in the front said it dived down into the deep, and we got back on the Dhoni.

We collected the third group who saw two Manta Rays, and headed to the main boat. We were told to bring our snorkeling gear with us in case we run into a whale-shark.

By now breakfast was ready, and we sat down to enjoy it. Someone shouted "whale shark" and we all rushed outside to the deck. The dive masters told us to get ready to jump from the front of the boat. One of them, Deco, jumped and swam toward the shark to mark the exact location for the captain. He brought us close, and then we all jumped in.

This time I was better prepared. I disassembled the camera from the tray and flashes and so it was smaller and easier to carry. I also wore only lycra shirt instead of a wetsuit.

The shark was swimming just below the surface. We started following, with me trying to be just a bit ahead of it. 

At some point I crossed its path to take frontal picture, and it almost collided with me.

The whaleshark was moving in slow graceful movements. I had to work quite intensively to keep up with it. Below it was a small school of accompanying remoras. They kept in formation most of the time, but once in a while distributed, as if to catch some food, and then reformed.

It was getting harder and harder to get view of the shark, and it took me some minutes to realize that new snorkelers joined us. At least two boats. Apparently, once someone sights a whale-shark, all the boats in the vicinity rush over to catch the event. We were lucky to be the first ones to spot it, and so had it for ourselves for few minutes.

When the shark dove down and disappeared, the small dingy collected us and returned us to the main boat, which by now was quite far. We dried ourselves and sat down to finish breakfast.

The guides let us know that if we want to try the Manta point again, we need to do it soon otherwise the currents will change and the Manta Rays will not come. We quickly organized ourselves and return to the Dhoni.

Dive 8: Madivalu Rangali. Start 200, end 40

Before the dive, Mif let us know that our group will be guided by Dhous, another divemaster. It seems that we were reasonably easy to guide while other groups were more problematic, and so the guides rotate among the groups.

Dhous is a thin wiry fellow with a funny goaty. Among the three guides he is more on the wild side. He dives with a short stainless steel stick that he uses for pointing things and also for banging on his tank to get our attention.

Dhous underwater

Unlike the previous attempt, this dive went according to plan. We gathered down on the slope and visited some overhangs. 

We then reached a location where Dhous told us to wait. It didn't take long and a Manta Ray appeared above us. 

It did a slow majestic half circle and then disappeared. We all waited and after few minutes it reappeared above us.

In the water, we were joined by another group of divers. And so the water was rather crowded. Douth started us moving toward the next Manta cleaning station, when the Manta appeared for a third round. It was impressive how the large crowd did not deter it from staying in the same area.

We continued the dive, and slowly got toward the shallows. I returned to my favorite subjects.

Dhous pointed to a whitetip shark below us.

Returning to shallows, we encountered schools of fish.

Fifty shades of fish
I was getting low on air, and together with Saar, started toward a safety stop above the reef.  The top of reef was about 6-7m depth.

Up on the Dhoni, one of the groups reported a sighting of a whaleshark at the end of the dive. We prepared for snorkeling if we encounter it on the surface. About a hundred meters from us were few snorkelers boats, and so it seemed that this going to be a crowded event, again. Luckily for us, the crew spotted the whaleshark very near, and we jumped into the water without the other crowd. 

The whaleshark was cruising below us just above the reef. We snorkeled above it as it was moving gracefully in the water.

I continued working hard to stay above it. I realized that I am the only one still in the water. I guess the others decided it will not go up. I took it as a challenge to keep up with it, which was a good morning exercise requiring full power strokes. I continued swimming for some time (I am not sure how long). At some point the shark dipped down, and then back up.

I was hopeful it will surface, but then it descended into the deep. I stopped snorkeling and signaled the Dhoni, who was quite far behind (keeping respectable distance). They came over and picked me up.

On the boat there was general merriment. In one morning we had several amazing encounters.

After a lunch and some relaxation time, we moved toward our afternoon dive. 

Dive 9: MV Kudimaa Start 200, end 30

This site was wreck dive. The medium sized cargo ship was sunk on purpose on the sand next to the "house reef" of one of the resorts. 

Although the wreck was relatively fresh (sunk in 1999), it was covered by an impressive coral growth. I guess this is a testament for the richness of the sea here.

Dhous led us around the wreck. He searched for animals to show us. He pointed out a huge stonefish, that was extremely well  disguised. He then pointed out a nudibranch. He was a bit disappointed that we did not take many photos of it. I did not have a macro lens, and it was below a net that made access tricky.

Toward the stern of the boat I peeked over the rail, and saw three batfish. They were sufficiently patient with me to photograph them. This reminded me similar scenes during safari's in the Red Sea. The batfish here have slightly different shape though. 

Suddenly there were ringing sounds in the water -- Dhous banging on his tank. I thought something happened, but it took a while to locate where he was. He was up next to the "mast" of the boat. I came up toward him, and he pointed to a large black frogfish. These are notoriously hard to photograph (they usually come out as a dark blob with dots that look like backscatter), but I gave it a shot.

Largish frogfish, note the bait on a thin wire up on its head.

Few times I had clouds of bubbles from below entering my field of view. When I finished the photo session, I looked around and realized that there was a cloud of divers that came up to see the attraction. I returned down and from below this is how this mess looked like.

Frog fish was close to the tip of the mast.

We continued along the boat. 

Ayelet posing for the camera

When I was low on air (I was clearly the weak link of our group), we swam over to the nearby reef, and slowly ascended.

We reached a contraption of hanging bar in the water. Dhous swam to it, removed his fins, and started doing a rope walk.

We had a good laugh, and then the men used the bar for its intended purpose - a safety stop. 

Saar and David hanging out
We saw from above that the girls found a turtle munching on soft corals. Since we were low on air, I skipped the opportunity for close up mug shots :-(

We moored for the night next to a long island. As all the islands near here, it had white beaches and dense growth inside.


alon appleboim said...

As far as i know, these batfish are juvenile, and they become more discoidal as they get older.

pawan kumar said...
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