This is what tourists come here for, even for the 3rd or 4th time. Not for the beaches and palm trees. The underwater world of the Maldives is so diverse that it is truly breathtaking. There are not many places in the world where you can swim with manta rays, turtles, and even sharks right next to the beach and your villa. And there are so many fish species here, it’s impossible to count. Read on and you will learn everything a tourist needs to know about the underwater world of the Maldives.

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General information

Below is a summary of useful information and interesting facts that will help you understand why the Maldives have such a rich underwater world:

  • The Maldives are located in warm waters in the Indian Ocean. The water temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius all year round, making it the perfect condition for coral growth and plankton habitat. It is precisely because of the rich plankton waters that such a diverse underwater world exists here.
    • There is a rare phenomenon in the Maldives – bioluminescent plankton. Read the article linked to find out where and how to see it.
underwater world of the Maldives plankton
Where else in the world have you seen something like this? The underwater world of the Maldives is not just about sharks and manta rays, but also bioluminescent plankton. By the way, it stings, so it’s best not to do it like in the photo 🙂
  • These are entirely coral islands. Over millions of years, huge coral colonies have risen above the water and become islands. That’s how the Maldives appeared. Interesting fact: the highest point in the country is 2 meters and 40 cm. Read the full history of the Maldives by following the link.
  • The Maldives are also on the equator, so it’s summer all year round.

What tourists need to have with them:

The islands you will be staying on are very tiny. There is a coral reef around each island. Snorkeling and diving are the main activities and entertainment in the Maldives. While diving requires training and special equipment, snorkeling is entirely free for everyone. You can snorkel over the house reef all day long.

Here’s a list of things you should ideally bring from home:

  • Full-face mask and snorkel.
  • Flippers.
  • There are quite strong currents on the outer reef, so we always bring a life buoy with us (see photo below).
  • All possible creams. The sun is deadly here, and most people swim and snorkel for 2 hours or more.
  • Snorkeling clothing will also be useful, as everything burns here, even the top of your head.
underwater world of the maldives for tourist
This is what a fully prepared tourist looks like. You can snorkel all day long.

Below are three mega-useful articles that will help you with all your questions related to snorkeling and diving in the Maldives:

Underwater world of the Maldives

Next, you will learn who you can meet underwater in the Maldives, including their peculiarities, nuances, and tips on how to get the most out of it all.

Sharks in the Maldives

The most frequently asked question tourists ask me daily, and all the questions are almost the same:

  • Are there sharks in the Maldives?
  • Are sharks dangerous to humans in the Maldives?
  • What sharks live here?

I will answer all these questions right away: yes, there are sharks here, and there are many of them, sometimes they swim right up to the shore, but they are not dangerous to humans, well, almost.

Underwater world of the Maldives sharks
While snorkeling near Dhigurah Island, we encountered a whale shark.

Now, more details about sharks. There are approximately 550 species of sharks in the world, some of which pose potential threats to humans. These are the ones whose prey includes marine animals and fish roughly the size of a human. Examples include the great white shark, mako shark, bull shark, hammerhead shark, and others. In the waters around the Maldives, there are some species of such sharks, including bull sharks, tiger sharks, and hammerhead sharks. HOWEVER, these sharks are not found near the reefs and beaches.

In the Maldives, you can encounter some species of sharks, and 99% of the time, they will be:

  • Whale Shark
  • Nurse Shark
  • Blacktip Reef Shark
  • Lemon Reef Shark
  • Tiger Shark

Among these sharks, the whale shark is a filter feeder, feeding on plankton. The nurse shark resembles a catfish, with a small mouth incapable of eating or biting a human. Reef sharks and lemon sharks feed on reef fish. If you don’t pose a threat to their prey, they won’t see you as prey either.

The only potentially dangerous shark is the tiger shark, and encounters with it are limited to divers who engage in dives far from the islands.

Sharks in the Maldives
And here we were snorkeling near Rasdhoo Island – in the photo is a blacktip reef shark.

Important to understand:

Sharks are predators guided by instincts. All isolated cases of tourists being harmed by sharks in the Maldives occurred during feeding excursions. Some tourists do not heed the guides and instructors who prohibit swimming close to sharks during feeding sessions (where guides toss fish into the water). If a tourist approaches too closely in an attempt to capture impressive photos, a shark might nip in the chaos. There have been no fatal incidents, but bites to hands, fingers, and legs have occurred.

I understand, and I myself would like to have such a photo. However, wise individuals observe this from the safety of a boat or keep a distance from the sharks. Those who act less wisely may approach too closely, and some even attempt to feed the sharks directly from their hands.

Assess the risks carefully! No excursion agency in the Maldives is responsible for such incidents, as tourists sign a waiver and receive instructions before the tour, and in case of any incidents, the tourists themselves are at fault.

sharks in the Maldives dangerous or not?
Sharks in the Maldives are not dangerous to humans. Such nurse sharks swim almost every day in almost every port.

Sharks in the Maldives often swim into the port of any island closer to sunset when fishermen return from fishing and discard fish remains into the water. However, encountering sharks is easy and almost any reef of any island during the day.

Stingrays and Manta Rays

They inhabit all Maldives atolls in large numbers. Stingrays, like sharks, often swim into the port. Stingrays are not dangerous to humans, but it is unnecessary to swim too close to them because they have a spine that they can instinctively sting with. It is not fatal in most cases, but it is the spine that needs to be feared.

Manta rays, on the other hand, are completely safe, and they do not have a spine. But they are harder to spot. Here are a few tips:

  • Manta rays are especially active at dawn, around 5-6 am.
  • At this time, they swim closer to the islands and can be seen about 200-300 meters from the shore. During the day, they swim deep and far into the ocean.
  • Manta rays are gregarious and rarely swim alone. And every day, they swim to different places.
  • Therefore, it is harder to spot them on your own than stingrays or sharks. The easiest way is to take an excursion for $15-30, where you will be on a boat with specially trained people searching for manta rays at dawn. When you find them, everyone is allowed to jump into the water and swim with them.
  • All about excursions in the Maldives: what they are, how much they cost, and where to find them.
manta maldives
The underwater world of the Maldives includes not only sharks and stingrays but also manta rays. Everyone wants to see them, even more than sharks.

Important (heartfelt plea):

Please remember, this is wild nature, not a petting zoo. You should not feed anyone bread, try to pet them or touch them; animals can get seriously ill afterward. This applies to all: sharks, mantas, turtles, and so on. Look and admire. We saw how two mentally handicapped men caught a turtle and pulled it onto the beach to show their children. Don’t do that; be smarter!

Fish and Turtles

Sea turtles live on many house reefs of most islands, some more, some less. But, in general, it is not such a big problem to spot them. Only on the islands closest to Male, such as Gulhi, Maafushi, Guraidhoo, there are no turtles or almost none. But these are some of the worst Maldivian islands for tourists. On the same island of Thoddoo, there is a large colony of turtles living 50 meters from the beach on the house reef, and they can be seen there throughout the day.

turtles maldives
Those tourists who are not in the Maldives for the first time are no longer surprised by these turtles.

There is no need to talk much about the fish here. There are hundreds of colorful species that you have only seen before on TV in “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” or in cartoons. Here you will meet Nemo, Dory, flute fish, and everything else you can imagine. Here are some of our daily photos from snorkeling near the beach.

fish maldives
All photos are personal, some taken with an iPhone, some with a GoPro.
underwater maldives
The underwater world of the Maldives will exceed all your expectations if you choose the right island.

And on every island, you can find plenty of posters showing all the fish that live in these waters. It’s very cool to search for the fish you saw while snorkeling and learn their names.

fish list maldives
fish species maldives
The variety of fish species here is simply enormous, and the local reefs amaze both children and adults.

Jellyfish, sea stars, and sea urchins.

This section is short because there’s not much to say here. There are jellyfish, sea stars, and sea urchins in the Maldives, but in very small numbers.

Sea stars are not dangerous to humans, and you can regularly encounter them while snorkeling. Remember not to lift them out of the water, even for a moment, as they quickly perish in the air. Take all photos only underwater.

Sea urchins are present, but usually in remote areas. It’s extremely rare to see them on beaches or near them. It’s much easier to step on sharp coral or even a stonefish than on a sea urchin on any island’s beach.

Jellyfish are also present in the ocean, but they don’t disturb the vacationers. There is no jellyfish season in the Maldives, as in some countries in Southeast Asia, when it’s impossible to swim in the sea because of their large numbers.

Who to fear underwater in the Maldives or are sharks dangerous?

It has been discovered that there is no need to fear sharks. Here is a list of dangers in the underwater world of the Maldives:

  • Stingray with a spike on its tail, as the name suggests.
  • Don’t stick your fingers in a turtle’s mouth, they have a powerful beak and can bite it off.
  • In reality, there are only two dangers for tourists underwater in the Maldives:
    • Stonefish – lies on the sandy seabed with a sharp spike on its body, and doesn’t swim away when approached, making it difficult to spot. The most common injury is accidentally stepping on it. It is not fatal, but you may be bedridden for a few days.
    • Triggerfish – a small fish-terrorist that attacks anyone who swims over its nest. Maybe it won’t bite you, but it will nip your fingers. Just try to swim around its assumed nest.
stonefish maldives
The two most dangerous inhabitants of the underwater world of the Maldives are: 1. Triggerfish 2. Stonefish

For information on the animals you can encounter on land and the dangerous insects and predators on the islands, read the article: The wildlife of the Maldives.

In conclusion, the underwater world of the Maldives is what tourists come here for. How many resorts in the world do you know of where you can swim with sharks, turtles, and manta rays in their natural habitat just 50 meters from any beach? You can also encounter dolphins here, but it is more difficult. And the bioluminescent plankton at night is simply indescribable. Can you name another place on the planet where you can experience all of this in one location, and most of it is completely free? Personally, I don’t know of any other places like it.

If you enjoyed the article and the content in this guide, you can buy me a coffee ^_^

Resources to help you plan your dream trip to the Maldives

  • Flight tickets and the best deals
  • Tour packages (from budget to luxury): Expedia
  • Hotels and guesthouses on any island:
    • Hotellook compares prices among a dozen other services and platforms and offers to choose the best one.
    • Booking – the most popular service for booking accommodation.
    • Agoda – the main competitor of Booking.
  • 12go is the largest Asian transfer service. It gathers all Maldivian carriers, even the small ones that operate between local islands.
  • Tours and excursions: Viator – a limited selection of excursions, but convenient and reliable.
  • Comprehensive insurance: EKTA
  • eSIM at the same price as in telecom office in Male.