Swimming with sharks/turtles/dolphins (delete as appropriate) is a definite bucket list item for many, so when the option to go on a turtle safari presented itself in the Maldives, I jumped at the chance! While I wasn’t able to get too up close and personal with these gorgeous creatures, I can happily say that I ticked it off my list, and it was something I’ll never forget.
Before my honeymoon, I had never snorkelled in my life. I’d never even properly swum in the sea before, with my limited swimming experience solely confined to the pool. A confident swimmer I was not, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me. After a short introduction to snorkelling session – complete with my trusty life-jacket (better safe than sorry, right?), I was ready to get out there.
Maafushivaru, the island we stayed on, has the most amazing house reef, and snorkelling is arguably the best way to see it. We were also lucky enough to have a water villa, which meant we could swim and snorkel right from our own deck. And, after our initial snorkelling session, we were free to practice on the lagoon – but while I’m pretty sure I saw a turtle in the distance at one stage, we needed to go further out to stand the best possible chance of swimming with these beauties.
The turtle safari was led by the incredibly knowledgeable marine biologist at the resort. She quickly got us familiarised with the boat and the plan for the afternoon, and we were soon off on open waters in search of our first snorkelling site.
I have to admit, given that this was my first time snorkelling, I was more than a little nervous when I had to jump off the side of the boat. I mean, it’s the middle of the Indian Ocean!! What if I got swept away by the current, or got left behind, or started choking on sea water? Luckily, my fears soon subsided, and jumping in became an adrenaline-pumping highlight (I’m easily pleased – not exactly an adrenaline junkie).
I soon got into the swing of things and started exploring the ocean depths beneath me. I was generally at the back of the group, granted, but it was so much fun – seeing a world that’s normally hidden from view is magical, and it was incredible to be able to see the tropical fish, corals, crustaceans and plant life of the reef.
Unfortunately, the reefs had been damaged and discoloured by the previous El Nino weather system that had hit the area, giving a stark reminder of the impact that global warming has on our oceans. Luckily, there were a few signs of the coral healing itself, but you could tell how worried the locals were about the future of the reef system.
Damage aside, the whole experience was nonetheless breath-taking; I had to keep reminding myself that this was actually happening. There was only one thing missing – turtles.
It’s harder to find turtles than we perhaps thought. Though it’s called a turtle safari, there’s no guarantee of actually seeing any, so all we can do is head to places they’re regularly spotted and hope for the best. The first two sites we hit were unfortunately turtle-free, but we still got to see some amazing marine life – the child in me was particularly thrilled to spot a Nemo and several Dorys, and a giant sea cucumber! (Not too sure why I was so excited at that last one, but I really was.)
So, we headed for our third and final site of the day, which happened to be near a rather lovely sandbank that we’d spotted from the seaplane – a tiny spit of sand in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by a lagoon, with only a couple of parasols stuck in. Unfortunately, it was privately owned – lucky whoever’s-rich-enough-to-own-
And it was here that we spotted our turtle. Finally!
One of our group made the discovery, and we quickly swam over to see for ourselves. And it was incredible. The turtle didn’t seem to want to get too up close and personal, but it was still exhilarating to be in the vicinity of one of these majestic creatures, and it happily hung around for a while too. It was pretty far down for much of the time, but we could all still swim above it, and the instructor dove down every now and then to get some close-up shots (which are the photos you can see below – thank you so much to her for sending them to us!).
It was all over far too quickly, when the turtle went too far into the depths. But we’d seen it – the turtle safari had been a success, and we headed back to the island slightly giddy with excitement (all except my poor husband, who realised too late that we were swimming with the turtle and only clocked it towards the end. Apparently all my excited pointing and yelping weren’t enough to alert him! He got some good shots of other marine life, though…)
Have you ever snorkelled with turtles, swum with dolphins or hung around with whale sharks? Let me know! I’d love to hear your stories.
Something I learnt on the day – plankton can sting!! I had no idea it was possible, but I occasionally felt little hits of pain as I was in the ocean (cue fears that I was being bitten by some kind of carnivorous fish) and was told it was actually the plankton. Small and (generally) harmless they may be, but they can still sting! I’ve heard that wearing a rash vest could be a good way to avoid the barbs.
Oh, and another tip – if you’re going snorkelling, invest in a good underwater camera. We unfortunately didn’t and opted for a cheap option we found on Groupon instead (based on recommendations, I might add), which was entirely the wrong choice. The thing barely worked and we had to resort to buying an old-school waterproof film camera from the resort’s shop, which although gave us some pretty fun shots when we got it developed, probably doesn’t stack up to having a proper digital camera. Always go for the GoPro! Lesson learnt.