By Marc Kouwenberg
Addu Atoll, Maldives
The southernmost atoll of the Maldives, Addu Atoll (previously known as Seenu Atoll) is the only one that was not affected by the 1998 global coral-bleaching event. Addu is world-famous for its large manta rays, the British Loyalty (the biggest wreck in the Maldives), sharks, turtles and a population of big fish year round. It is also known for its brilliant coral patches in the north, and broad barrier reefs with several islands on the east and west. There are a total of four channels (kandus) in this atoll, Gan Kandu, Viligili Kandu, Maa Kandu and Kuda Kandu. There are also a few overhangs and drop-offs scattered around the region. Currents are not as forceful as in other parts of the Maldives, so it’s a great dive location for novices, but it won’t disappoint experienced scuba divers looking for a thrilling dive excursion either.
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A cleaning station in Maa Kandu, Manta Point offers an incoming current in the morning, making it a reliable spot to see reef mantas for a couple of hours a day. The dives at Manta Point are organized by Dive Center Aquaventure, based on local island Maradhoo, one of the islands of Addu that are connected by bridges. From the Maradhoo harbor to the dive site takes about 35 minutes, during which time we listen to the dive briefing.
The dhoni, a local dive boat, stops in the beginning of the Maa Kandu channel and the captain gives the signal to enter the water. Our group of eight divers is split into two groups of four, each with a dive guide. We descend to 52 feet (16 meters), where we follow the reef along our left side, drifting along the current with the reef hook in hand for when we need to stop. We are told how to use the reef hooks during our briefing so as not to damage any coral, but before we even reach the cleaning station the first mantas are already passing through the channel below us at 82 feet (25 meters), impressive and elegant, and a great sneak peek of what’s to come.
We reach the cleaning station after five minutes of drifting and hook in at 69 feet (21 meters). We inflate our BCDs and hang on a line in the current, turned to face the coral outcrop where the mantas arrive for a cleaning. I count a total of 18 mantas around us — left, right, above and below. There are so many I don’t know where to look: a manta show in water this clear, with visibility of about 100 feet, is a dream come true. We watch for more than 30 minutes; some mantas come so close that I can see their eyes from an arm’s length distance… an experience so amazing that during some moments I just forget to breathe.
When we reach 1,000 psi (70 bar), we ascend for our safety stop, this time hanging on an SMB, drifting with the current. A group of Spanish mackerel circle around us — no better way to end this unforgettable manta dive.