Why holiday in the Maldives? For many visitors, the answer to that question will be, "The diving." The archipelago nation, strewn out over 35,000 square miles in the glittering Indian Ocean, is simply one of the premiere snorkeling and scuba diving venues on the planet.
While there are several other destinations that rival the Maldives for spectacular scuba diving adventures, the Maldives stand head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to snorkeling. All Maldives resorts offer snorkeling, but those without a good house reef may charge you ten pounds for a boat ride to a good snorkeling destination.
Although service and good value are important considerations for tourists booking a Maldives holiday, one of the most important considerations in choosing a resort is the quality of its house reef.
What's a house reef?
The islands that make up the Maldives archipelago are coral islands. They have an unusual topography, made up of a coral shelf surrounded by shallow lagoons. At a certain distance from the shore, those shelves drop off precipitously into the deeper ocean waters. The house reef is that area close to the vertical drop off where the coral begins to aggregate in a kind of coral garden teeming with colorful fish. The more natural the reef the more diverse the sea life, and the better the quality of snorkelling and diving directly from the resort's beach - so you may not need to book a boat to get out to see the Maldives' incredible marine life.
When you snorkel in the waters off Maldives islands, you can expect to see surgeon fish, wrasses, angelfish, parrot fish, and maybe even a turtle or a small reef shark.
The Best House Reefs
Maldives locals say Angsana Ihuru has the best house reef in the archipelago. The house reef even has its own shipwreck, called the Rannamaari.
The Rannamaari started its career as a dredger used to scoop rotting vegetation from the bottom of the lagoon. In 1999, the boat was purposely sunk to create an underwater decorating element. The boat got its name from a local legend about a demon named Rannamaari. The Maldivians hatched a plot to get rid of the demon by sending it to the temple to read Koran verses in place of the yearly sacrificial virgin. The demon got so frightened at the mention of the mention of the holy book's name that it immediately vanished.
Today, the wreck is overgrown with colorful coral growths and tubastrea polyps. Multitudes of bright, shimmering fish swim around the Rannamaari, including stingrays, groupers, batfish and fusiliers. If you're lucky, you'll even catch a glimpse of a nurse shark or a moray eel.
The Biyadhoo house reef encircles the island and is just a short swim off the shore. It features seven different entry passages through its coral stalagmites and features a cave teeming with ghost pipefish, nudibranches and other rare denizens of the deep.
Fihalhohi's house reef is just a short distance off the shore and very easy to find. Its 16 foot depths sport sharks, eels, lion fish, rays, squid, parrotfish and other colorful fish though fewer corals than you may find at some other sites. Bring your own snorkeling gear; otherwise you may end up having to buy gear when you get there.
The Filitheyo house reef has one of the most precipitous drop offs in the Maldives, descending more than 50 meters in some spots along the north side of the island. Divers have spotted mantas and whale sharks along with the more familiar fish. The house reef has seven entries from various points in the lagoon.
The resort has enhanced the picturesque charm of its house reef with a pair of sunken ships. The KM Agro Mina II was a shipping vessel throughout most of its career before it was sunk on the north side of the island in 2009. Today, the 30 meter boat is home to stingrays, nurse sharks and other unusual marine life.
In 2010, a second wreck was added. The Koimas I, slightly bigger than the Agro Mina, is 34 meters deep and easily accessible through entry 5 in the lagoon.
In 1998, El Nino ravaged the Maldives, bleaching many of its pink and orange coral gardens a paler shade. Kandholhu's house reef remained virtually untouched by this phenomenon however, for reasons marine biologists still don't fully understand. Kandholhu is expected to receive protected marine status in the near future because its house reef is so well preserved.
Kandholhu's house reef is easily accessible from the main jetty in front of the dive center. It sports table corals and overhangs in a stunning profusion of hues. Groupers, oriental sweet lips and soldier fish hover among the large intact corals.
The vertical drop associated with the Vilamendhoo house reef occurs pretty close to the beach. That means that currents can be particularly strong along the house reef, particularly on the north side of the island. The reef is easily accessible thought a number of marked access points. Vilamendhoo aficionados say you can snorkel this house reef easily without foot flippers. They won't speed you up appreciably, and you risk damaging the coral when you wear them.