The Maldives (Far South region)
Of the four zones of the archipelago this page will concentrate on the diving characteristics found in the Far south region. The other diving regions in the Maldives are Centre, North and South. You will also find a more general description of diving in the Maldives.
The Far south region of the Maldives consists of two atolls which are located to the very south of the archipelago. They are the only two atolls of the Maldives to lie in the southern hemisphere. The atoll of Addu and the Fuvahamulah Atoll, are truly historical gems, with striking geographical nuances and the chance to meet rare underwater species for all who dive here.
In addition to the traditional Maldivian official language of Dhivehi, the people of the Far south speak a local dialect known as ‘Addu Bas’. Even the inhabitants of the other atolls struggle to understand this localised tongue. This same dialect was spoken in the Chagos archipelago which lies almost 500km further south but is not part of the Maldives. The Chagos archipelago is also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory, BIOT, which was originally inhabited by the local Chagossians. The Chagossians were all deported to Mauritius or the Seychelles in the 60s and 70s so that a military base could be built here. Today the British lease part of this territory to the USA and thus the archipelago is now home to an American military base. Despite much mediation and legal action, the Chagossian people have never been allowed to return home.
The most northerly of the Far south atolls, Fuvahamulah Atoll is one of a kind. Unlike all the other atolls in the archipelago, Fuvahamulah consists of a single island called Fuvamulah which has no surrounding coral barrier. The island of Fuvamulah measures a little less than 5km long and 1km across and has two freshwater lakes known locally as ‘Kulhi’. The centre of the island has an altitude lower than its coastal areas; this explains the presence of freshwater that collects here through rainfall and through a local phenomenon of seawater filtration which occurs in its coral soil. Having no coral barrier, the depth of the ocean can reach from 1000m to 3000m just a short distance from the beaches. The Maldives is known for its very fine white coral sand but the beaches of Fuvamulah are known for a type of sand completely unique in the archipelago. Although the sizes can vary, the grains of sand here are on average the size of pearls.
The atoll of Fuvahamulah offers a very limited number of dive sites, however here you will perhaps experience the rarest and most majestic of underwater encounters. Although the reef marine life is very well represented, notably on the north reef, all diving here offers a window directly into the deep ocean. This accounts for the difficult diving conditions but above all for the presence of marine life that you would rarely, if at all, encounter elsewhere in the archipelago. In April for example, for reasons as yet unexplained, Oceanic Manta Rays (Manta birostris) loiter for several days and sometimes weeks to the north and south of the island. Aside from this periodic appearance of these rays, you can often encounter many Thresher sharks, large Hammerheads and even Tiger sharks or Ocean Sunfish, and all that without mentioning the more common species such as Grey reef and Whitetip sharks etc. This inventory of marine life is far from exhaustive but the rarer the species, the more technically difficult the diving. The currents are treacherous and powerful in this region, the sea is often rough and the depth of the dive sites are more suited to the fish than the divers.
Very few operators offer such holidays. Divers have the choice between a guesthouse, an island hotel, or a liveabord. Given the remote nature of the dive sites and the very difficult diving conditions, it is important to find an operator who is extremely experienced and who operates a dive boat that is correctly equipped with all necessary safety equipment to guarantee the safest diving conditions, on the surface, during the dive and for the recovery of divers.
That said, although there are fewer dive sites in the Far south and sometimes these can be both technical and difficult, this region provides the most surprises and will leave many visitors with unique diving memories.
Situated 35km further south, the Addu is not to be missed. True the quality of the diving here is relatively variable but the atoll offers experiences unique even for the Maldives.
Geographically the atoll resembles a heart shaped lagoon outlined by an almost unbroken coral barrier; only some small channels to the north and two larger channels to the south allow the seas to flow back and forth into the lagoon. During the last century the British Army dug several drainage systems across the area which seems to have significantly altered the atoll’s ecosystem. Today there is a reduced presence of fish in the lagoon and the clarity of the water is significantly affected during high sea states by the amount of sediment that now exists on the seabed. Visibility outside the atoll is however generally very good.
The atoll’s population of more than 30 000 is considered to be the second most developed people of the Maldives, just behind those of the capital Malé. This is partly explained by the presence of British military troops for many years. The Maldives was in fact once a British protectorate. Maldivian independence dates back to 1965 although the islands were never a British colony.A reminder of British military presence can be discovered underwater, the British Loyalty. This cargo vessel built in 1928 and subsequently enlisted for military service was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942. The ship was saved and managed to continue its journey as far as Addu Atoll where she was moored in the lagoon and used for storage. In 1943, despite anti-submarine netting positioned at the entrances to the lagoon, a German submarine managed to torpedo the British Loyalty for a second time; although severely damage the ship still didn’t sink. By 1946 the state of the ship rendered the British Loyalty unusable and so the RAF decided to scuttle her. She now rests at a depth of 33m to the south-east of Hithadhoo Island.
The British Loyalty along with the Maldive Victory (a wreck lying close to Malé but which since 2016, is no longer accessible due to the planned construction of a bridge between the capital and the island containing the international airport), are the only two diveable wrecks with truly historical character. The overwhelming majority of wrecks available to divers have been purposefully sunk by diving centers in order to enhance the diving experience on offer.
In summary, Addu Atoll offers a greater array of dive sites than Fuvahamulah Atoll. During the incoming current, the Reef Manta ray can be found here using the principal cleaning station which is almost the only example of its kind in the archipelago. Although the lagoon itself is often sparse in terms of marine life and with poor visibility, the periphery of the atoll offers magnificent hard coral gardens. That said some recent observations have noted some coral bleaching.
In terms of safety, an operational decompression chamber can be found at Addu. As this chamber lies on a very high-end tourist island, divers must ensure that their insurance covers the cost of accommodation charges during any treatment. The medical facility is independent to the hotel and therefore several days spent on the island could prove extremely costly.
The two atolls of Fuvahamulah and Addu are reached via domestic flight from Malé. Although some flights will not be direct, air travel amongst these islands is relatively easy. Journeys to the Far south from the centre of the archipelago by liveaboard are long and often unpredictable. Although the journey is straight forward, it can sometimes be hampered by rough seas or even a mechanical failure which will be difficult to repair whilst well off the beaten track.
Fuvamulah offers only a few small hotels and guesthouses. Addu Atoll however has 2 island hotels and the Equator Village situated on Gan, as well as some small hotels and guesthouses found on the local islands.
Except for some of the guesthouses on the local islands, the hotels here carry a price tag reserved for wealthy clientele. Only the Equator Village offers chic comfort at more reasonable prices.
Fuvahamulah Atoll offers some of the most spectacular diving in the archipelago although the number of sites is somewhat limited and they are only for experienced divers.
Addu Atoll has a much larger choice of dive sites both in terms of diving experience required and type of diving available. However this Atoll is not exactly a hotspot for Maldivian diving despite the fact the wreck of the British Loyalty lies here. You can enjoy an insight to the dive sites of the Far south Maldives.
Fuvahamulah Atoll does have some protected reefs that are suitable for less experienced divers but owing to the sometimes challenging sea conditions and the outstanding yet technical diving, it is recommended that the atoll is an area uniquely reserved for the very experienced diver.
Addu Atoll offers differing degrees of difficulty that will suit both experienced and inexperience divers alike.
Fuvahamulah Atoll is unique in terms of its marine life. It truly is the ‘other’ Maldives. Despite the level of difficulty and the small number of sites, Fuvahamulah is a ‘must do’ for divers who are looking to fully explore the magic of the archipelago. It is however important to ensure you visit at the right time of the year. In April you can encounter the Oceanic Manta ray. You can often also find Thresher sharks, Hammerheads, Tiger sharks and Ocean sunfish.
At Addu Atoll you will also discover a considerable range of underwater encounters. However those more accustom to other regions of the archipelago will be a little disappointed if they were to only visit this atoll during their holiday. You can see some underwater photos of the Far south region of the Maldives.
This area of the Maldives is a true escape from the very real congestion that you will find in the centre of the archipelago.
In both cases and for several reasons it is perhaps preferable to visit these regions of the archipelago on board a liveabord. The main reasons for this are first and foremost to ensure that you are not restricted to diving only in these atolls. The liveaboard ensures you will be able to travel widely across the area and experience all that is on offer. However, the dive centers based on the Maldives Islands generally have the best understanding of the sites close to their location.
The rainy season (southwest monsoon) runs from June to November. The dry season (northeast monsoon) is December through to April.
Conditions in the Fuvahamulah atoll are most favourable during the dry season and especially from the end of March and through April for those possible encounters with the Oceanic Manta ray.
Addu Atoll can be dived all year round. Although certain migratory phenomena can be observed periodically, diving here is of the same quality during both monsoons.
Fuvahamulah Atoll and the island of Fuvamulah offer a pleasant and interesting stopover during your liveaboard trip to the south. Although the guesthouses go to great lengths to find touristic activities, the availability is limited and very different to that of the island hotels.
Addu Atoll is a bit more interesting with the notable possible to stay at an island hotel which offers many activities such as a bike tour of the vestiges of British presence.