IN VAAVU ATOLL, we dived at a place known as Fotteyo Kandu. The coral walls of this pass are liberally draped in soft corals. Brilliant yellow, orange, purple and red corals adorn the rocks and coral overhangs while schools of snapper, soldierfish and butterflyfish flitted by.
Here, we also encountered giant triggerfish, lionfish and various species of the ubiquitous anemonefish. The dive was so special that we decided to repeat it the next day.
As we made our way further north, we did a night-dive under Alimatha Pier. Fishermen have come here to unload their fish for ages, and the scraps tossed into the water have attracted dozens of nurse sharks and untold numbers of opportunistic giant trevally.
A night-dive here is a surreal experience, with trevally and rays zooming by, and large nurses emerging from the gloom of night and patrolling overhead. However, divers must be mindful and not place a hand or knee on a looming lionfish.
An otherwise intense dive was interrupted by muffled laughter through regulators as one of our dive-guides literally jumped off the sandy bottom in a near-panicky surprise as a large sting ray swam just beneath his legs!
Other dives brought encounters with more sharks, schools of barracuda, groups of sweetlips, grouper and fleeting glimpses of tuna and eagle and manta rays. Unfortunately, some of the larger animals remained just outside our camera range or, maddeningly, too deep and beyond our limits to be photographed properly.
We even heard the distinctive clicks and whistles of passing pods of dolphins on several of the dives.
The mantle of a ridachna clam.
The reefs in the southern atolls remain very healthy. Our expedition took place in late March, and we found the surface temperatures in the atolls distressingly high, but only a few feet of depth brought cooler water, and we saw few signs of coral-bleaching. We encountered a wide variety of marine life, and reefs dripping with vibrant colours.
Wide-angle photographers can create images of dramatic walls and reefs, along with large pelagic animals such as eagle rays, schools of trevally, dolphins and, at certain times of year, manta rays and whale sharks.