Snorkeling in the Maldives

On the way back, I was asked by a member of the British Airways crew about some pointers re snorkeling in the Maldives and some safety tips. 

From my perspective as a photographer/videographer with disabilities, I tend to protect myself crefully because an injury could stop me doing what I traveled out to do and being independent, it would result in a waste of resources and other costs associated with the trip.

I always research before heading out on a trip somewhere.  The whole of the Maldives is potentially a shark well as for many other species of ocean life.  The main shark species you'll find are white tipped and black tipped reef sharks and nurse sharks.   Baby sharks are everywhere and irrespective of their ages, they tend to keep away from humans.  The only way I could film them in certain places was to hide from them off beaches.  

When you're out on trips, you'll see bigger sharks but they keep their distance from you, so please don't worry - just enjoy being able to see them.  Some may come closer to you.  If this happens, stay calm, face them and do not spalsh.  If you have any open cuts that are bleeding, you should leave the water.  There is no evidence to suggest that menstrual blood could put you at risk of a shark attack but you should be aware that sharks can smell blood urine etc from a long way off.

I use standard equipment when I go snorkeling in the Maldives, irrespective of the weather.  My primary concern is to not harm any creatures in the ocean but also to protect myself from contact.  I use a 3mm full body wet suit, gloves, short fins, wet socks, snorkel and mask.  for reef snorkeling, my preference is shallow locations.  Hence the short fins; I don't want to risk destroying any coral with long fins.  Use a brightly coloured rash vest too, it increases your visibility if you accidentally drift out of a safe area, as there are strong currents in places, as well as people using jet skis and small boats just off some beaches. The other reason for a long rash vest is that it hides your dangly bits.  Remember that it's a Muslim state and you need to cover up when leaving a designated bikini beach.  Western swim wear isn't permitted on public beaches.  Please respect their rules.

I tend to be at the mercy of the waves when exploring shallow coral, the wet suit will protect my arms, torso and legs should something unexpected happen, so do the gloves.  Coral related injuries are very common in the Maldives because people get pushed onto coral because of a strong wave or they walk on coral when getting in and out.  These injuries can lead to serious infections,  so please be careful.  Know your capabilities as a swimmer and check that you have space to safely turn and exit any enclosed areas before you go into them.

For filming, I use a Gopro8 and a manfrotto selfie stick with clamps - not twist action.  I have limitations to work with so the selfie stick with addition attachments and my arm length allows me to put the camera nearer the subjects without harming them and it means that I can push my camera down vertically to the areas I can't dive to.  I always attach a couple of flotation devices to slow the rate of descent, should I accidentally let go of the camera for some reason.

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Getting in and out
The moment you enter the water, you will probably see something, so please explore the area first before getting in.  You'll see lots of broken coral and small/young fish but you need to be more concerned about what you don't see, so get everything ready, prepare your mask against fogging (I do this with Johnson's baby shampoo) and get your face in the water and look.  If it's all clear, do a gentle push off and explore.  Do not touch the bottom now until you come back and use the same route back.  Do not stop short - just slowly drift in until your elbows rest on the coral sand and then sit up and remove your equipment.

Stonefish and Scorpion fish can be in the shallow areas that people walk on, as can other species.  These fish can camouflage themselves and blend in to their surroundings.  The only way I've spotted them if by spotting the fins or seeing their eyes move.  If you're just wading and exploring the beach, use wet suit boots but gently shuffle rather than step.  Some fish will raise their spines and release venom into your foot...and their spines can easily penetrate thin layers of neopreme.  Lookout for Lionfish too, the local species are orangy red, other species are whiteish.  You can google these species.

Spot the Stone Fish in this video

There is such a lot of beauty to enjoy, including sea snakes and moray eels.  If something is near you, just enjoy the site, don't panic, don't splash or make any noise...just be calm and let the creature go on its way and enjoy being able to see it.

I've witnessed tourists chasing species in the ocean.  Don't do it.  They can all move much faster than we can.  If you chase them, they'll leave the area.  Just float along and look and let the species come to you. They're inquisitive too.  Sometimes the visibility is low and you can end up surprising each other,  as you'll get closer than expected.  Remember that top down visibility can be a lot clearer than having your head in the water and looking outwards.

Generally speaking, a creature will only react with violence if you do something to scare it.  Remember that we're the strangers in their homes and be respectful towards them.  Enjoy your time in the ocean.

Villayat 'Wolf' Sunkmanitu

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