Baa Atoll Maldives
Maldives is a nation of atolls so what sets Baa Atoll apart from the rest? C T files this visual story from the fabled blue realm of the Indian Ocean.
The Ocean is one of the capital reasons why people visit the Maldives. What the tiny nation lacks in size, it compensates with an enviable length of oceanic expanse, stretching some 871 km north to south which comprises of 26 atolls and 1192 coral islands. Baa Atoll is north of the capital Male and would take around 40 mins via an airplane to reach. My first trip to Baa Atoll took place in 2014 after an escapade to Krabi was disappointingly confined to the room owing to horrid weather. It was my first trip to Maldives and my only non-working trip to the nation. The arrival was wet, resulting in half a day lost waiting at Male Airport. The rain and wind did not let up for long over the next 4 days but when a bright and calm moment presented itself, I lost no time getting into the water, and was not sorry I had made such an impromptu, expensive and ill-researched trip just to be held prisoner by the weather. No stranger to coral reefs and marine life having dived and snorkeled for over 2 decades, I was utterly bewitched by what I saw in the ocean that trip. Barely 10 meters out into the house reef, which the diving manager told me 'isn't the best patch I'd see around here', but a sufficient sales pitch nonetheless, I was stunned by the encounters it afforded me. The secretive moray eel lurking within coral cracks, the quarrelsome and boldfaced Picasso fish chasing everything that move off its turf, the nonchalant and placid sea turtles and that immense ball of sweetlips surging up and down from the edge of the reef close to dusk all but convinced me I had to be back, and soon.
Between 2014 and 2018 I've made 3 more trips to Maldives, and had always re-visited Baa Atoll each time. 2020 was supposed to be a month long work-affair but unfortunately that was called off due to the advent of COVID-19. Happily, pictures I have aplenty and these are my visual memories of one of the most serene natural enclaves left on Earth.
Lush vegetation and sandy white beaches are abundantly present on many islands within Baa Atoll. Elsewhere in Maldives, resorts are facing problematic issues of beach erosion and have to reinforce their shores with sand harvested elsewhere. This magical looking portal to the ocean can be found at Four Seasons Landa Giraavaru, one of the larger islands of Baa Atoll with pristine stretches of white sandy beach.
Sharks at Baa Atoll hardly gather in such numbers near to the coast except when they know food is on the handout. Most resorts within Maldives will routinely feed sharks and rays for the benefit of their guests. Whilst opinions amongst marine biologists remain divided on the impact of such activities within the atoll, the revenues these attractions bring to the country has a very palpable effect on the protection and conservation of its marine wildlife. Night feeding at the Four Seasons Landa Giraavaru has a tranquil charm even amidst a feeding frenzy.
Swells of fishes surrounding the islands of Baa Atoll often surface into shimmering spectacles under the scorching sun. Large schools of batfish, sweet lips and bannerfish amongst countless other species are also commonly encountered beneath the surface here.
The wonderful rich diversity of Baa Atoll is one of the reasons why this area was designated as an UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2011. Despite many divers' penchant for the giants of the deep, I reserve my adoration for the unique tiny dwellers like this Phyllidia Varicosa, a species of nudibranch growing up to 115mm in length.
An audience with the magnificent manta ray is one of the most cherished memory one can take away from a trip to Baa Atoll. After many false starts over no less than three trips I finally saw not one but 9 adult mantas feeding on krill barely three meters from the surface. Being able to enter their domain and be so close to these gentle giants is definitely a highlight of this blue reserve. Mantas can be sighted all over Maldives but the Baa Atoll is a feeding station where large schools of Manta congregate at certain times of the year, principally from June to November when planktons are abundant. If your are lucky enough, you don't even have to scuba dive to reach them. I was on a snorkeling trip when we found then, and spent mesmerising minutes mere meters from them in their realm.
Owing to the effects of El Nino from 2018, extensive stretches of corals have been bleached and destroyed on Baa and many other atolls of Maldives. The most affected are the house corals of inhabited resort islands and those lucky enough to have dedicated marine scientists are finding ways to recover from this natural cycle of coral destruction.
Since 15 July 2020, Maldives resumed the issuing of on-arrival tourist visas. All travellers to Maldives (excluding children below the age of one) are required to take a COVID-19 PCR test no more than 96 hours before departure from the first port of embarkation en-route to Maldives. Travellers have to present a valid negative COVID-19 PCR test result on arrival for entry to Maldives.
Story and Photographs - C T