The Maldives (South region)
Of the four dive zones that make up the archipelago, this page will describe the diving experience that awaits you in the Maldives’ South region. The other regions of the archipelago are the Central, North and Far south. You will also find a more general description of diving in the Maldives.
The South region is a collection of atolls that lie between the Central region and the equator (Nilandhe, Mulaku, Kolhumadulu, Hadhdhunmathi and Huvadhu). However, the archipelago extends even further south beyond the equator. These furthest south atolls, Fuvahamulah and Addu, are detailed in the section entitled ‘Far south’.
The South region of the Maldives has several peculiarities. In fact the closer to the equator you go the more individual the geography of each atoll becomes. Towards the north of the archipelago the landscape represents a shimmering blue silk scattered with perfectly round pearl-like islands. The south, where the islands are generally larger and more elongated, offers an all-together different vision. To the north you will find the islands spread throughout the atoll’s lagoons, whereas here in the south the islands are more dispersed to the periphery of the atolls.
The greater average depth of the seabed goes some way to explain this geographic dispersion found around the southern atolls. To the north and in the centre of the archipelago the average depth of the lagoons is approximately 30m to 40m whereas in the geographic atoll of Huvadhoo (Gaafu Alifu / Gaafu Dhaalu) this depth is as much as doubled and the sandy seabed can be found down at between 70m and 80m.
Dive sites in this southern region of the Maldives become more and more individual the closer you get to the equator. The centre of the archipelago offers amateur divers many opportunities and an extremely varied underwater playground but the south is best known for its channels. Diving in these natural canals that link the ocean to the atolls’ lagoons, you will often be exposed to strong currents and therefore these dives are reserved for only the experienced diver. The marine life is also different to in other parts, the large gardens of hard coral are plentiful in the south. These corals were spared from the effects of the 1998 El Niño although more recently we have seen warm currents extend across the entire archipelago.
In the atolls of the south the large marine life is king. Whilst the smaller reef marine creatures are less common, the pelagic species can be frequently seen during dives. It is quite common to encounter a large Hammerhead, a Sailfish or Thresher shark.
Although it is relatively difficult to find Whale sharks by day, around the Kolhumadulu and Huvadhu atolls you can experience something quite unique that is very much reserved for the liveaboards. At night a light is fixed on the stern of the boat that attracts small shrimp called Mysid. When the current isn’t too strong, a dense column of shrimps and small fish forms under the light that extends right to the surface. Quite often one or more Whales sharks will gather to feast in what is a truly unforgettable spectacle that will happen within just a few metres of the boat, and sometimes closer!
The region has recently seen a significant increase in tourism. Many island hotels have sprung up and today the number of liveaboards offering dive safaris to the south has risen. That said, dive sites in this area are frequented much less than in the centre of the archipelago.
A liveaboard in the south offers a real feeling of adventure and discovery, with deep water crossings between atolls and the possibility to uncover some hidden Buddhist ruins which still exists to this day despite the fact that the archipelago converted to Islam on 1153.
In terms of safety, transfers to the capital’s hospitals can be long and costly. It is vital that every diver has an appropriate level of diving insurance including cover for evacuation to medical facilities. In many countries this type of evacuation is not normally included with insurance policies so you must ensure your policy will cover the worst-case scenario. An operational decompression chamber is available at Addu Atoll. Given the lack of medevac options, the sometimes difficult navigation conditions on the high seas, and the prolonged travel times to the nearest suitable medical facilities with the correct expertise to treat decompression accidents, we strongly recommend that you pay strict adherence to the current Maldivian diving legislation. Current regulations forbid any form of decompression diving and diving beyond 30m. If you dive in the right place and at the right time there will be absolutely no need to transgress these laws as your eyes will already be full of the wonders of the Maldives. Good local knowledge and the experience offered by the dive centres or the liveaboard dive directors, is all you need to ensure successful, unforgettable and totally safe diving.
Depending on your final destination, some atolls can be reached directly by hydroplane from the international airport, whereas other destinations require an internal flight followed by a transfer by speedboat. Under some sea conditions liveaboards will not navigate between certain atolls, notably between Laamu and Gaafu Alifu. The size and nature of most traditional Maldivian boats means that many are not designed for the high seas when conditions are rough.
Tourism in this region is developing but the number of hotels and other accommodation is still very much below that offered in the Central region.
Apart from the few guesthouses found on some local islands, the large majority of hotels cater principally for the more wealthy clients, those who have an almost limitless budget for hotels and diving.
The South region has some of the most beautiful dive sites in the archipelago. However, diving here generally takes place in the channels where the currents are strong and sometimes very strong. Beginner divers should gain experience in other regions before attempting this type of technically demanding dive.
The South has fewer sites that are suitable to debutants than can be found in the centre of the archipelago. Simple dive conditions do exist here but the operators rarely offer such dives as it is advised that only experienced divers visit this area.
This region is synonymous with magnificent hard coral colonies and the chance to witness many pelagic species. To give you a taste of what awaits, check out the underwater photos from the South region of the Maldives. Manta rays are not easily found around certain atolls in this area, this is due mainly to the extended travel time needed to reach potential cleaning stations. During the dry season, diving normally takes place in the channels to the east but at the same time, the cleaning stations are active to the west. In the Huvadhoo Atoll it is possible to have to travel over 60km to get from one side of the lagoon to the other. Current conditions favourable for diving in the channels and the best conditions for diving on the cleaning stations unfortunately occur during the same period due to the sea cycle. Attempts to dive both types of site would be logistically expensive for the operators and would severely limit the number of opportunities to dive in a day.
In terms of number of divers at each site, this region presents ideal conditions. You will rarely encounter several liveaboards on the same site. This is an enormous comfort that is not necessarily guaranteed in the Central region.
In some southern atolls divers could be disappointed by the diving opportunities that are offered by the island hotels and guesthouses. Although in the Meemu, Faafu and Dhaalu atolls the dive sites are easily accessible from the islands, the atolls in the south are much larger and consequently the dive sites are more dispersed. A liveaboard with good knowledge of the area will offer only exceptional diving experiences.
The rainy season (southwest monsoon) runs from June to November. The dry season (northeast monsoon) is December through to April.
One of the main reasons to visit these atolls during the dry season is simply the favourable navigation conditions. During the northeast monsoon (dry season) the sea is generally calmer and allows for safer crossings between atolls. Such crossings could be impossible or risky during the southwest monsoon (rainy season).
As in all other parts of the archipelago, the hotels in the South region offer many activities such as sailing, fishing etc. The South region also offers the possibility to discover a few remaining traces of the local history and you can sometimes find freshwater lakes on the larger lavish islands. Visits to local islands or a fishing port offer a very pleasant change of scenery.