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MALDIVESWhaleshark DiveIn June 2009, the South Ari Atoll Marine Protected Area became the largest protected area in the Maldives, encompassing some 42 km sq of coral reef habitat – and it was selected for this protection because of its importance as a globally significant aggregation site for the whaleshark.The MPA extends to 1km from the shoreline and runs from Rangali Island at its north western edge, round to the end of the local inhabited island of Dhigurah at its north eastern extremity. Bordering the length of the MPA are four local islands as well as four resort islands, and scattered among these larger islands are a few small vegetated islands and bare sandbanks.
The nearest landfall to the west of South Ari Atoll is Somalia, some 2,800km distant. As a result, the west- and south-facing reefs are exposed to powerful ocean swells and strong winds, with the reef top reflecting the strength of the pounding surf with relatively stunted growths of table and porite corals.
On the eastern, more-sheltered side, the reefs are in a much better condition, with table corals up to three metres wide seen in places. Sightings of whalesharks are possible all year round in South Ari Atoll, and research shows that there is no seasonality through the year for the number of individual whalesharks in the region, however, based on past experience, it seems like the best time on the east side for whaleshark diving is from August to November.
From November to April, whaleshark sightings are reported more often in the Maamigili area at the very southern end of South Ari Atoll, while from May to October, more often in the area just behind LUX* South Ari Atoll. Both areas feature a massive underwater reef with a shallow plateau between 5-10m deep and a sloping reef/ drop-off to 30m and plus on the sandy bottom. A good variety of outstanding marine life can be seen by divers in these areas, for example white-tip and black-tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, turtles, eagle rays and mobula rays, Napoleon wrasse, octopus and so on, as well as whalesharks.
From January to March, there have been more sightings of whalesharks on the west side of South Ari Atoll. Did you know?Being a filter feeder, whalesharks cannot bite nor chew – they are truly the gentle giants of the ocean. Instead of biting and chewing, they mostly sieve plankton through their gills for nourishment.Essential informationLocation: Ari Atoll, Maldives Depth: 5m-30m Diver level: Beginner to advanced “ From November to April, whaleshark sightings are reported more often in the Maamigili area at the very southern end of South Ari Atoll ”Who to dive with Euro-divers www.euro-divers.com
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USNS General Hoyt S Vandenberg
Scuba Diver Magazine
Scuba Diver is an independent publisher of scuba diving magazines in all major English-speaking countries.