As my regular readers know, this past spring I was supposed to return to Palau for 4-6 weeks to dive and teach courses in coral reef ecology for Palau Dive Adventures. That country's extremely serious drought led to a decision to postpone my trip. I was so looking forward to having a shower every day, but would have felt guilty doing so there, just as I would here given our near-desert conditions.
I still had the itch to travel and searched for another destination on my dive bucket list. The Maldives, a chain of coral atolls in the Indian Ocean, was my choice. I thought I had researched that decision fairly well, but apparently not. I believed monsoon season began in June, but instead it had already begun back in April.
The upside is that I would be assured of a shower every day just by standing outside and the price for my three weeks there including two weeks on a liveaboard dive boat and airfare was extremely low. The downside is that I might have drowned in the downpours and tropical lightning might have struck me dead. When I moved to Catalina back in 1969, I had three phobias: commercial airplanes, great white sharks and lightning. Fortunately I've outgrown the first two! It would be sad if I couldn't fly to these amazing dive destinations.
The Maldives is an interesting nation composed of 26 coral atolls with 1,192 islands straddling the equator. It is located atop an extensive underwater mountain range known as the Chagos-Maldives-Laccadive Ridge. The highest elevation in the country is less than eight feet and the average is just over half that. Compare that to Mt. Orizaba's 2,097' or my condo at about 200 ft. Due to the country's extremely low profile and rising sea levels caused by global climate change, concerns have been expressed that the country may end up submerged in the future. While that may make it an even better dive destination, I did want to spend time topside to explore this unusual destination.
The Maldives are believed to have been settled initially by Dravidian fishermen from the southern tip of modern-day India and Sri Lanka sometime between 300 BC and 300 AD. Initially the religion was an ancient form of Hindu but Buddhism was later adopted until the country converted to Islam in the 12th century. Beginning in the 16th century, colonial powers Portugal and the Netherlands had a significant presence, but in 1887 the ruling Sultan signed an agreement with Great Britain creating a protected state. In 1965 the Maldives gained their independence.
I've only dived the Indian Ocean once before when I was in western Thailand exploring that ocean's eastern extension, the Andaman Sea. On one dive I missed the opportunity to see both a whale shark and a manta ray because we were diving deep at that site. I've seen mantas in Palau but have heard they are even more numerous in the Maldives. With any luck I hoped to finally see my first whaleshark in the wild while I'm there.
Back during the 1998 El Niño, ocean temperatures in the Maldives increased as much as 9° F. This caused the coral to eject its one-celled algae (zooxanthellae) and become bleached. Following that episode, Maldivian scientists tried a unique method to get the coral regenerating. They placed electrified cones in the water to attract coral larvae. The recovery rate in these regions was five times faster than in areas not so treated.
Well, fate interceded and instead of flying off to the Maldives via Hong Kong last month, I ended up on a Coast Guard helicopter at 3:00 AM and then on an operating table at Torrance Memorial for an emergency appendectomy. No way I could head off on the plane the following night. Then they discovered that my appendix was cancerous so I face yet another surgery next month. The prognosis appears to be good, but the two surgeries will greatly limit my diving this summer. The situation could have been far worse. Had this happened while I was out in the Indian Ocean, you might never have had another "Dive Dry" column to read.
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Location of the Maldives south of India and an aerial view of the atolls; the Emperor Voyager liveaboard
I was scheduled to spend two weeks aboard and the Villingili Inn where I would have stayed topside.
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Dr. Bill Bushing.
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