Our first Dive and Yoga retreat to the Maldives, this time all for a good cause, in support of NGOs Manta Trust and LAMAVE. Our group of 11 adults and 2 children (plus 1 baby!) ventured to the tropical paradise of the Maldives. A beautiful country made up of atolls, famous for its almost 1,200 islands and the amazing underwater mecca waiting for us to discover.
We visited Baa Atoll which has been made a UNESCO Biosphere reserve due to its biodiversity. Our objective of this retreat was to see the unique congregation and behaviour of manta rays in Hanifaru Bay, with the hope of swimming with these gentle creatures and observe their feeding pattern.
The local island experience
Flying into the international airport in Male, we took a domestic flight from Male to Dharavandhoo island, a tiny local island with about 1,000 residents. It was only 3 years ago that the Maldivian government started giving permits to the locals to open guesthouses and resorts on local islands. We experienced a local island stay, understanding how the local people live and spend their time, walking around the cosy quiet streets, and enjoying local Maldivian food and culture. Our favourite moments are on the beach swimming off the shore and watching the spectacular sunrise and sunsets.
Manta Ray Marine Conservation
We were so blessed to have the team from Manta Trust give us a in-depth presentation about Manta Rays, learning about the different species, their life span, biology, where they are found, and most interestingly their feeding patterns and why they come into this area of Hanifaru Bay to feed. We found out that most of the manta rays in the Maldives are reef manta, (Manta Alfredi) and they feed on plankton which due to the south west monsoons,bring up a lot of plankton in Hanifaru Bay. Here the manta rays feed in different ways such as surface feeding, piggyback feeding, chain feeding and even mass feeding. We were excited to experience this for ourselves! A big thank you to Lirar and Ella from Manta Trust. We enjoyed also documentary night, watching 'Racing Extinction', a documentary highlighting mass extinction of species and human efforts in conservation.
Hanifaru Bay and Swimming with Manta Rays
We made a total of 3 trips to Hanifaru Bay, the first 2 times, we practised swimming in the bay against very strong currents to get to the manta rays feeding area with our certified Hanifaru Bay snorkelling guide. We had to adhere to good snorkelling rules and conduct, such as keeping a distance from the manta rays and not touching them, staying with the guide and only being allowed 45mins in the water. The first 2 trips, we encountered just a handful of manta rays and we witnessed the beautiful dance of somersault feeding. Then it became our very lucky final day of the magical encounter with an estimated almost 40 manta rays! This time it was a feeding frenzy of all different patterns and behaviour!
Here's our magical experience swimming with almost 40 manta rays, enjoy our video!
Freediving and Yoga
We also learnt about freediving or breath-hold diving, what it is about, the various disciplines and current updates in competitive freediving, learning how to relax and hold our breath. We practised yoga and sun salutations to the sound of the ocean at sunrise and sunset on the rooftop deck, before lying down on the mats to practise breathing and trying out breath-holding. Most were surprised how breathing affects our mind and body. Remember: Never freedive alone!
We had a range of divers from experienced underwater enthusiasts, regular leisure scuba divers and first time divers making their way underwater to explore the marine life. Some had great luck on their first dive encountering a couple of manta rays! All in all, a perfect way to spend the day on the dive dhoni with Dharavandhoo Divers, very professional team and excellent service.
Fundraising for LAMAVE
A big thank you for all participants for lending their support not just to Manta Trust, but also to LAMAVE.org. We learnt about the amazing efforts of LAMAVE and their marine conservation work in the Philippines, through research, education and outreach. Qi Retreats pledged 10% of proceeds from this trip to LAMAVE, and together with the donations from all participants, we raised a total of US$450 for LAMAVE.
We would like to give special thanks to all participants for their support, learning about marine conservation, being engaged with good snorkeling and diving practises, volunteer beach clean-ups with the kids, and supporting our NGO partners. We look forward to our next retreat next year to swim again with these gentle giants. A truly magical and educational experience, thank you all.
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