Art of Kandu Diving
The Morning of the 4th Day Aboard the Maldives Siren:
With a New Plan to the Dive Site
6:30 a.m. on the 4th day of our life aboard the Maldive Siren. Enrico, one of the dive guides knocks on our door to wake us up. The first of four dives of the day is on the plan. After a short breakfast and the dive briefing, the dinghy takes us to the dive spot: to Nilandoo Kandu. We take on our gear and are curious whether our new dive plan will work in a better way than the old one did.Â The trip aboard the Maldives Siren is the first one we doÂ as a team of three. The part of each one is quite clear: Hammer the underwater photographer, Flo the underwater videographer, an me, the diver, who is taking care of everything else underwater, like bottom times, orientation and so on. But first of all I have to make sure that nobody gets lost. The trip on the east side of the Gaafu Atoll in the South Maldives is accompanied by Dr. Erich Ritter and his Shark School. Hence sharks are clearly in the focus of this journey. Therefore we have come here with certain expectations: the purpose of our trip is to get as close as possible to the predators, to interact with them, and finally to get some great shots of them.
The Different Kinds of Dives
On the last three days it has become clear pretty fast that there are two different kinds of dives you can do in the Gaafu Atoll: Dives on so-called ‘giris’ and dives in the ‘kandus’, like the Nilandoo Kandu. Giris are reefs inside the atoll. They reach almost up to the surface and slope down slowly to about 30 meters. You can do normal reef dives there with mostly no or just a little bit of current. Because of the low difficulty of the dives on these sites, the giris are perfect spots for the night dives of the live aboard, on which you can see big stingrays or leopard sharks, if you are lucky.
The kandus are channels between the islands of the atoll (in the national language of the Maldives Dhivehi channel means: â€˜kanduâ€™). These channels are natural bottlenecks through which the water of the Indian Ocean is pushing into the atoll. That causes a lot of current which brings lots of nutrients with it. Therefore the tropical waters of the relatively shallow kandus (max. depth is around 30 to 35 meters) are the ideal environment for coral reefs. In these reefs romp all kinds of fishes, turtles and other sea creatures. Those species again attract bigger fishes. That means, at the entrances of the channels big schools of grey reef sharks patrol along the drop-off. No wonder, then, that nearly all of the dives of the â€˜shark tripâ€™ take place in kandus.
The Art of Kandu Diving
Diving in kandus always follows the same principle: First you dive to the drop-off at the entrance of the channel in a depth of around 30 meters. There you have the best chances for encounters with sharks or other bigger fishes. To get there you descend outside the atoll in front of the channel, without reference in the blue water. Usually the drop points are at the north or south corner or in the middle of the entrance of the kandu. As long as you keep enough distance to the channel, you just have to push very gently against the slight oceanic current, which runs 90 degrees to the channel, while you dive down to the depth of the drop-off.Â Only when you have reached that depth should you get closer to the drop-off and to the entrance of the channel. The reason for that: the nearer you get to the entrance of the kandu and the drop-off, the stronger the current which is pushing into the channel (channel current) gets. If you approach in a depth too shallow, you get pushed into the channel before you are able to reach the drop-off.Â But if you manage to get to the drop-off you hook up with the reef hook and look into the blue water right in front of the reef edge. You stay there until the non decompression limit runs out.
Meanwhile you enjoy the show: the passing reef sharks, schools of barracudas, small groups of eagle rays, here and there a single silky shark, big groups of jacks â€¦ just to name some of the standard highlights. If you have chosen a good position and you bring a little patience with you, the sharks come closer after a while. They get more curious and start to interact with the divers.Â After the non decompression limit runs out, you unhook from the drop-off. That is when the second part of the dive starts: the diving at the shallower parts at the side of the channel. At this point you just drift with the current along the tremendous coral reefs at the walls of the kandus. Numerous encounters with all different kinds of reef fishes and with turtles are absolutely normal here.
The Experience at the First Three Days of the Trip:
â€˜Kandu Divingâ€˜ Isnâ€™t That Easy
So far the quite easy theory of â€™Kandu Divingâ€˜. But in practice things come in a different way than one might think. At the beginning of the trip the current put a spoke in our wheel over and over again. The principle of the diving in kandus did not work for us. We did not spend much time at the dropoffs and at the gorgeous coral reefs at the walls of the channels. Besides we could not get close enough to the sharks to get proper shots. Overall the results were not good.Â How did that happen? â€“ On the last three days we always descended in the center of the entrance of the channels. We hoped we would have better chances there for encounters with big schools of reef sharks as at the corners of the drop-off of the kandus.
But with sometimes ripping current it was just not possible to get to the drop-off from the blue water in front of the center of the entrance of the channel. Before we reached the depth of the drop-off, the current was already pushing us into the channel. Therefore we could only hook up somewhere in the middle of the channel, after we missed the drop-off, far away from the sharks. Because of the big photo and video equipment of Hammer and Flo, it was impossible to climb along the seabed to fight us back to the drop-off.Â When the beginning of the dive was going wrong that way, there was only one possibility left to make it still a good dive: to get to the shallower walls of the channel to the gorgeous coral reefs there. But this also did not work out for us each time. In very strong currents we were not even able to reach the side of the channel. The power of the water was washing us just through the middle of the kandu into the atoll. In this case there was just one way back to theÂ surface: through the blue water. Like this, we missed all the good parts of the channel.Â Our conclusion: â€˜Kandu Divingâ€™ isnâ€™t that easy.
The New Plan:
Descending at the Corners of the Channel
Now, on the morning of the 4th day, the trip canâ€™t continue for us this way. Hence we have decided to change our dive plan for the upcoming kandu dives.Â Instead of descending at the center of the channel we choose the channelâ€™s south corner as the drop point. We hope that it is going to be easier to reach the drop-off from there. Also we are closer to the south wall of the channel. So we think that it should be no problem to reach the wall for the second part of the dive. On board the dinghy, on our way to the Nilandoo Kandu, we wonder if our new plan will comeÂ together. At the south corner of the channel we jump into the water and descend. Thanks to the lighter current at the corner of the kandu we have more time for orientation, more time to hit the drop-off. Once there we can find a good position. When we sight the first sharks in the blue water, we hook up and wait.
After a few minutes more sharks appear and they start to come closer. After a few more minutes the animals lose a bit of their shyness. We are sitting in the middle of a big school of grey reef sharks.
On our left side a wall of barracudas joins the moment. We donâ€™t know exactly where to look and where to point our cameras at first because of the overwhelming spectacle. As our non decompression limit runs out we unhook and head to the side of the channel. Gracefully five eagle rays pass our way and give us the next breathtaking moment.
In shallower depths between 15 and 5 meters we dive with the current along the wall of the kandu. The rampand coral reef flies by under us. In the morning sun it shows us its full spectrum of all different kinds of bright colors. Tons of fish swarm around us at every corner of the reef. After a while we find protection from the current in a small lagoon. One of numerous turtles is resting on the sandy bottom. While Flo is trying to get closer to the reptile, I get involved in a little box fight with a grumpy yellowmargin triggerfish. After Flo caught some shots of the turtle and my dispute with the trigger is settled, our flight over the shining reef top continues.
After more than 60 minutes we are finally low on air and have to surface.Â Back aboard the dinghy we are happy that the Nilandoo Kandu just showed itself at its best. Our new plan seems to work. We just shared marvelous moments in the world of the channels of the Gaafu Atoll and caught them on camera.
What We Do Not Know Yet:
The Trip Continues That Way
As we head back to the Maldives Siren, hungry, looking forward to the second, the big breakfast, we donâ€™t know yet: The following days onboard the Maldives Siren continue that way. We experience a lot more of these marvelous moments. So we keep on diving and shooting.Â In the end we bring back home the one or the other good shot of sharks, turtles and some eagle rays. And it turns out that Flo, Hammer and me as a team work quite well, so we decide to make more out of it. We decide to tell more stories like this from ‘Behind the Mask’.
This is the Video Report From This Trip About
“The Channels on the East Side of Gaafu Atoll”
Good to Know …
|… About the Trip:|
Gaafu Atoll, South Maldives
28/02/2014 – 10/03/2014
|Kind of Trip
Live aboard &Â Shark School special trip with Dr. Erich Ritter
Maldive Siren, a luxury Sailing Vessel of the Siren Fleet
|Number of Dive Guests on the Ship
|… About the Diving:|
|Number of Dives
|Kind of Dives
Mostly channel dives (in the channels between the islands of the atoll),Â sometimesÂ normal reef dives (specially the night dives)
35 to 40 meters (115 to 130 feet)
Experienced (AOWD and Nitrox certification required)
Around 28 degrees C (83 Fahrenheit)