The Maldives is comprised of about 1,200 islands, only about 200 of which are inhabited, grouped in 26 atolls stretching 539 miles across the Indian Ocean. It is the lowest-lying country in the world, with the highest point above sea level at only 7.6 feet. 80% of the islands are no more than about 3 feet above sea level, making this country particularly susceptible to rising sea levels. Because of its geography, diving via liveaboard is ideal here. We spent the first week of the trip aboard the Ark Royal, a luxury dive liveaboard. This was our first experience on a liveaboard, and we got to dive an average of 3 times a day – less than we had hoped for, but still got in 18 spectacular dives for the week. Bow of the Kuda Giri wreck<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Clusters of Faulkner's coral (<em>Tubastraea faulkneri</em>) on the Kuda Giri wreck<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Longfin bannerfish (<em>Heniochus acuminatus</em>)<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Longfin bannerfish (<em>Heniochus acuminatus</em>)<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Common lionfish (<em>Pterois volitans</em>) hiding in the wreck<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Moorish idols (<em>Zanclus cornutus</em>) picking away at the encrusted sides of the wreck<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Juvenile emperor angelfish (<em>Pomacanthus imperator</em>). This coloration and pattern will change completely as the fish becomes an <a href='index.html?id=171'>adult</a>.<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Mushroom leather coral (<em>Sarcophyton</em> sp.)<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Clusters of Graceful corals (<em>Dendrophyllia gracilis</em>) attached to the wreck<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Multi-pore sea star (<em>Linckia multifora</em>)<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Magnificent sea anemone (<em>Heteractis magnifica</em>) with part of its purple underskirt exposed<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Red and black anemonefish (<em>Amphiprion melanopus</em>)<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Regal angelfish (<em>Pygoplites diacanthus</em>)<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Three-stripe (or white-tailed) damsels (<em>Dascyllus aruanus</em>)<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Boring giant clam (<em>Tridacna crocea</em>) burrowed into the surrounding corals. This is the smallest of the giant clam species, and each individual has a unique mantle color and pattern.<h4>Site: Kuda Giri</h4> Indian lionfish (<em>Pterois muricata</em>)<h4>Site: Kandoomaa Thila</h4> Bennett's feather star (<em>Oxycomanthus bennetti</em>), a species of crinoid. Crinoids have up to 100 feather-like arms that usually are curled up during the day. At night, they extend the arms out to feed on passing particles.<h4>Site: Kandoomaa Thila</h4> Giant moray eel (<em>Gymnothorax javanicus</em>)<h4>Site: Kandoomaa Thila</h4> Blackspotted moray eel (<em>Gymnothorax favagineus</em>)<h4>Site: Kandoomaa Thila</h4> Blackspotted moray eel (<em>Gymnothorax favagineus</em>)<h4>Site: Kandoomaa Thila</h4> Noduled sea star (<em>Fromia nodosa</em>)<h4>Site: Kandoomaa Thila</h4> Two giant moray eels (<em>Gymnothorax javanicus</em>), one with some serious scarring on its face, together in the same crevice. We've never seen two eels Site: Kandoomaa Thila"> Granular sea star (<em>Choriaster granulatus</em>)<h4>Site: Kandoomaa Thila</h4> Small school of moorish idols (<em>Zanclus cornutus</em>)<h4>Site: Kandoomaa Thila</h4> Hawksbill turtle<h4>Site: Kandoomaa Thila</h4> Clusters of warrior coral (<em>Goniopora</em> sp.)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Amberfish sea cucumber (<em>Thelenota anax</em>)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> A number of lionfish were lined up on the sand bottom under the hull of the wreck, one after the other. Probably 4 or 5 in total.<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> <h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> <h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> A very large star puffer (<em>Arothron stellatus</em>) swimming off the edge of the wreck<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> A school of small silversides were swarming around the crane cab on the upper part of the ship's deck<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Pattern detail on a coral-eating sponge (<em>Haliclona nematifera</em>)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Bennett's feather star (<em>Oxycomanthus bennetti</em>)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Close up view of the crinoid arms. Each individual filament, or pinnule, on the arm can move independently.<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> A large longin spadefish, also referred to as a batfish (<em>Platax teira</em>), was being cleaned by a cleaner wrasse. The batfish was holding still in a perfectly vertical position (an indication to the wrasse that it wanted to be cleaned), and let us come right up without swimming off.<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Cluster of Faulkner's coral (<em>Tubastraea faulkneri</em>) attached to the wreck<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> A reef octopus (<em>Octopus cyanea</em>) on the deck of the wreck... the white coloring was a sign of irritation and warning<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Settled back down again and more at ease<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> A moorish idol (<em>Zanclus cornutus</em>) swimming around the top deck of the wreck<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Elkhorn coral<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Blackspotted puffer (<em>Arothron nigropunctatus</em>)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Crocus giant clam (<em>Tridacna crocea</em>), this one with brown mantle coloration<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> The clam retracts into its shell when it detects changes in light (e.g., when you get too close)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Blue damsel fish swarming about a branched hard coral<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> As you approach, the fish retreat down into the coral branches for protection<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Powderblue surgeonfish (<em>Acanthurus leucosternon</em>)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Long polyp leather coral (<em>Sarcophyton</em> sp.)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> A cluster of soft didemnum ascidians (<em>Didemnum molle</em>) attached to elkhorn coral<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Close-up of hard coral polyps<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Indian sea star (<em>Fromia indica</em>)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Clown triggerfish (<em>Balistoides conspicillum</em>)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Variable thorny oyster (<em>Spondylus varians</em>)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Yellow-mask angelfish (<em>Pomacanthus xanthometopon</em>)<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Faulkner's coral (<em>Tubastraea faulkneri</em>) attached to the wreck<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> While attempting to photograph the lobster we found (the only one we saw the whole trip), this small turtle was disturbed and swam out from a neighboring crevice. Behind him, our awesome divemaster Angie (from Barcelona), who found everything hidden on the reefs for us.<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Spotfin lionfish (<em>Pterois antennata</em>), which seemed to be everywhere. On one dive, we must have seen 10 or 12 of them.<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Macro view of Nosey coral (<em>Acropora nasuta</em>) formations and polyps<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Many sites, including the incredible reef next to the wreck, contained beautiful plate-type lattice corals (<em>Acropora clathrata</em>).<h4>Site: Kudhimaa Wreck</h4> Schmedelian pin-cushion sea star (<em>Culcita schmedeliana</em>)<h4>Site: Maamigili Beyru</h4> Another pin-cushion sea star (<em>Culcita schmedeliana</em>) with different coloration<h4>Site: Maamigili Beyru</h4> Vericose Phyllidia nudibranch (<em>Phyllidia varicosa</em>)<h4>Site: Maamigili Beyru</h4> Peacock grouper (<em>Cephalopholis argus</em>)<h4>Site: Maamigili Beyru</h4> Cornetfish (<em>Fistularia commersonii</em>)<h4>Site: Maamigili Beyru</h4> Midnight snapper (<em>Macolor macularis</em>) – there were two of these snappers swimming straight down, closing and opening their mouths as big as they possible could as they swam. Very peculiar behavior to watch.<h4>Site: Maamigili Beyru</h4> Balled up anemones with red and black anemonefish (<em>Amphiprion melanopus</em>)<h4>Site: Maamigili Beyru</h4> Red and black anemonefish (<em>Amphiprion melanopus</em>)<h4>Site: Maamigili Beyru</h4> Redtooth triggerfish (<em>Odonus niger</em>) – during the day, these fish swam just off the reef in great numbers, and retreated to hiding places in the reef at night.<h4>Site: Rangali Madivaru</h4> Small school of bluestripe snappers (<em>Lutjanus kasmira</em>)<h4>Site: Rangali Madivaru</h4> This particular site is a popular manta ray cleaning station... while watching a manta in the distance, I almost didn't notice this hawksbill turtle (<em>Eretmochelys imbricata</em>) swimming right at me. It passed by within a foot.<h4>Site: Rangali Madivaru</h4> One of the things you come to the Maldives for... manta rays, and lots of them! Mantas visit this site to get cleaned by cleaner wrasses, who eat parasites and other debris off their bodies. This one danced in front of the camera for minutes before continuing on. Breathtaking!!<h4>Site: Rangali Madivaru</h4> Red and black anemonefish (<em>Amphiprion melanopus</em>)<h4>Site: Rangali Madivaru</h4> School of large remoras off the back of the Ark Royal deck. Schools of large batfish (<em>Platax teira</em>) were swimming around us as we made our descent to the reef<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> <h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> Clark's anemonefish (<em>Amphiprion clarkii</em>)<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> Clark's anemonefish (<em>Amphiprion clarkii</em>) in a bulb-tentacle anemone (<em>Entacmea quadricolor</em>)<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> Pair of spotfin lionfish (<em>Pterois antennata</em>)<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> A large lavender soft coral. Only some of the sites we dove had soft corals, and this was one of the larger specimens we saw.<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> Crinoid and cup corals on the roof of an overhang<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> This site is known for its caves/overhangs covered in soft corals<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> Two crinoids attached to a sea fan... a small ornate ghost pipefish (<em>Solenostomus paradoxus</em>) is camouflaged amidst its arms.<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> Ornate ghost pipefish (<em>Solenostomus paradoxus</em>)<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> Another anemonefish living in a beaded anemone (<em>Heteractis aurora</em>)<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> Beautiful soft corals hanging from the roof of an overhang<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> Details of an orange-mouthed soft coral (<em>Scleronephthya</em> sp.)<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> A reef octopus (<em>Octopus cyanea</em>) hiding in the reef... its white coloration showed its irritation with me and the camera!<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> Smooth sea fan coral (<em>Annella mollis</em>)<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> Two nudibranchs with alternating black and light green stripes<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> The top of this reef had an amazing plate coral garden...<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> ... some of which were 10 or more feet in diameter. Ben gives some context to their enormous size.<h4>Site: Ohigaa Thila</h4> We saw some evidence of coral bleeching, a condition that occurs when water temperatures are too warm resulting in the loss of symbiotic algae that live within the coral polyps and give corals their color. If they don't return in reasonable time, the coral dies.<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> Bubble coral<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> A Glenie's chromodoris nudibranch (<em>Chromodoris gleniei</em>) that was pretty active on the reef<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> <h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> Clark's anemonefish (<em>Amphiprion clarkii</em>) in a bulb-tentacle anemone (<em>Entacmea quadricolor</em>)<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> Schmedelian pin-cushion sea star (<em>Culcita schmedeliana</em>)<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> Giant clam (<em>Tridacna gigas</em>), the largest bivalve in the world. These clams can grow up to 4 1/2 feet long.<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> Giant moray eel (<em>Gymnothorax javanicus</em>), up close and personal<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> One of our divemasters, Angie, had a nice sense of humor!<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> Another beautiful, lacy plate coral<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> Crinoid attached to elkhorn coral<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> Trumpetfish (<em>Aulostomus chinensis</em>)<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> Lettuce coral<h4>Site: Raidhigaa House Reef</h4> This site had caves/overhangs with ceilings covered in lavendar soft corals. As Ben put it, it looked like wisteria flowers draping down, and was extremely impressive. Here, a crinoid is nestled up between some of the soft coral branches.<h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> Regal angelfish (<em>Pygoplites diacanthus</em>)<h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> A beautiful orange and purple colored soft coral<h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> Longnose butterflyfish (<em>Forcipiger flavissimus</em>)<h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> Coral grouper (<em>Cephalopholis miniata</em>)<h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> Yellow-mask angelfish (<em>Pomacanthus xanthometopon</em>)<h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> Another crinoid, with arms fully extended<h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> Smooth sea fan corals (<em>Annella mollis</em>)<h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> Closeup of one of the lavendar raspy soft corals (<em>Scleronephthya</em> sp.) hanging from the overhang ceiling<h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> Clark's anemonefish (<em>Amphiprion clarkii</em>) in a bulb-tentacle anemone (<em>Entacmea quadricolor</em>)<h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> <h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> Giant clam (<em>Tridacna gigas</em>)<h4>Site: Maalhos Thila</h4> This site is known for large numbers of mantas. The price you pay... extremely strong current (required reef hooks) and lower visibility in the water, not to mention the crowds of divers which can cause great problems if they get in your way (which they did).<h4>Site: Dhonkalho Thila</h4> I only snapped a few pictures, then put the camera down to concentrate on keeping position in the current and keeping other careless divers away from me. But the mantas were beautiful!<h4>Site: Dhonkalho Thila</h4> Tear-lobed coral (<em>Cynarina lacrymalis</em>)<h4>Site: Fenfushi House Reef</h4> Varicose phyllidia nudibranch (<em>Phyllidia varicosa</em>) – my primary strobe malfunctioned on this trip, and it was difficult to get proper, diffused lighting in many cases. The camera's flash overexposed on this macro shot, but it was still beautiful!<h4>Site: Fenfushi House Reef</h4> Slig-like mushroom coral (<em>Herpolitha limax</em>), unusual because of the branching at one end<h4>Site: Fenfushi House Reef</h4> Clark's anemonefish (<em>Amphiprion clarkii</em>) in a leathery anemone (<em>Heteractis crispa</em>)<h4>Site: Fenfushi House Reef</h4> Spotfin lionfish (<em>Pterois antennata</em>)<h4>Site: Fenfushi House Reef</h4> Spreading the pectoral fins shows why this lionfish species is called spotfin<h4>Site: Fenfushi House Reef</h4> Blackspotted sea cucumber (<em>Bohadschia graeffei</em>) – unlike other sea cucumbers that inhabit the sandy patches, this one crawls over the reef using its black feeding tenticles to pick up debris from the reef.<h4>Site: Fenfushi House Reef</h4> A giant clam burrowed underneath an elkhorn coral<h4>Site: Fenfushi House Reef</h4> Polyps of a beautiful magnta menella sea whip coral (<em>Menella</em> sp.)<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Yellow boxfish (<em>Ostracion cubicus</em>)<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Napolean, or humphead, wrasse (<em>Cheilinus undulatus</em>) – these fish are huge, and can grow to be up to 7 1/2 feet long<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Clark's anemonefish (<em>Amphiprion clarkii</em>)<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Giant moray eel (<em>Gymnothorax javanicus</em>)<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Peacock mantis shrimp (<em>Odontodactylus scyllarus</em>), something we had never seen before<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Glorious flatworm (<em>Pseudobiceros gloriosus</em>)<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Glorious flatworm (<em>Pseudobiceros gloriosus</em>)<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Glorious flatworm (<em>Pseudobiceros gloriosus</em>)<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> After getting some photos of it moving around on the reef, it took off and swam for a bit. A nice sight... extremely graceful!<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> More anemonefish<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Schmedelian pin-cushion sea star (<em>Culcita schmedeliana</em>)<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Oriental sweetlips (<em>Plectorhinchus vittatus</em>)<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> Coral grouper (<em>Cephalopholis miniata</em>)<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> A colony of purple eudistoma (<em>Eudistoma</em> sp.) ascidians<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> Another giant moray eel (<em>Gymnothorax javanicus</em>) #&150; seems like we saw them everywhere<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> Batfish that had changed color – one white and one black as they paired up. As soon as they swam apart, they both reverted to their normal silvery striped coloration.<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> Orange bulb-tentacle anemone<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> Fimbriated moray eel (<em>Gymnothorax fimbriatus</em>)<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> Two different anemonefish species and an anemone with its bright purple underskirt<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> A beautiful balled-up anemone on the top of the reef<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> School of bigeye scad (<em>Selar crumenophthalmus</em>) at the top of the reef<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> Scorpionfish camouflaged on the coral<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> The top of this reef had an unbelieveable number of anemones<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> The current was also a bit strong here, so the tenticles waved about rather dramatically<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> <h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> Longnose butterflyfish (<em>Forcipiger flavissimus</em>)<h4>Site: Hafzaa Thila</h4> Spotfin lionfish (<em>Pterois antennata</em>)<h4>Site: Ellaidhoo House Reef</h4> Guineafowl puffer (<em>Arothron melaegris</em>), the yellow variation<h4>Site: Ellaidhoo House Reef</h4> This was a twilight dive, so many of the coral polyps usually hidden during the day were starting to emerge. This midnight coral (<em>Tubastraea micrantha</em>), which is rather unremarkable by day, was gorgeous with its flower-like polyps extended.<h4>Site: Ellaidhoo House Reef</h4> A close-up view<h4>Site: Ellaidhoo House Reef</h4> A banded boxer shrimp (<em>Stenopus hispidus</em>)<h4>Site: Ellaidhoo House Reef</h4> Redtooth triggerfish (<em>Odonus niger</em>)<h4>Site: Ellaidhoo House Reef</h4> Redtooth triggerfish (<em>Odonus niger</em>) in its hiding place for the night. These fish are normally swarming the reef during the day, but at night retreat to the reef for protection. On our night dive, you could see blue tails sticking out of cracks and crevices all over the place.<h4>Site: Ellaidhoo House Reef</h4> A group of large surgeonfish played with our bubbles as we descended at this site.<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Longfin bannerfish (<em>Heniochus acuminatus</em>)<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Common wing oyster (<em>Pteria penguin</em>) attached to a gorgonian fan coral<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Giant moray eel (<em>Gymnothorax javanicus</em>)<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Orange tentacled anemone<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> We came across this large hawksbill turtle (<em>Eretmochelys imbricata</em>) grazing at the top of the reef<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> It was completely oblivious to our presence, and kept munching while we got right up close<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Cute ass!<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> They are extremely maneuverable and graceful under water<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> <h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> <h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> <h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Our sweetest turtle encounter to date!<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Ben in the background with the turtle moving to a new lunch location<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Emperor angelfish (<em>Pomacanthus imperator</em>) — this is the adult version of the <a href='index.html?id=8'>juvenile fish</a> we saw on the Kuda Giri wreck at the beginning of the trip<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> School of large batfish (<em>Platax teira</em>)<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> Black jack (<em>Caranx lugubris</em>) — we usually see these fish much lighter or silvery in color, so a truly black Site: Fish Head"> Another peacock mantis shrimp (<em>Odontodactylus scyllarus</em>) — saw this one scurrying across the top of the reef from one hiding spot to another<h4>Site: Fish Head</h4> We didn't see too many sharks in the Maldives, but spotted a few white tip reef sharks (<em>Triaenodon obesus</em>) on our last dive<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> <h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> A clown triggerfish (<em>Balistoides conspicillum</em>)<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> This is about the closest I was able to get to a shark on this trip (another gorgeous white tip reef shark, <em>Triaenodon obesus</em>)<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> Black coral shrub (<em>Antipathes</em> sp.)<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> An unusual four-legged multi-pore sea star (<em>Linckia muiltifora</em>). Most we found had 5 legs, a few had 6, but this is the only 4-legged one we saw.<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> School of fusiliers<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> Guineafowl puffer (<em>Arothron meleagris</em>)<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> Yellowmargin moray eel (<em>Gymnothorax flavimarginatus</em>)<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> This eel was being attended to by a cleaner wrasse. It held its mouth wide open (rather than opening and closing like they usually do), while the wrasse darted in and out of its mouth cleaning away parasites and debris.<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> At one point the wrasse was so far down the eel's throat it was barely still visible. Quite a trusting relationship that these wrasses have with their "patients".<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> Mike Parnell, the organizer of this trip who we met last year while diving in Yap.<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> One more giant moray (<em>Gymnothorax javanicus</em>)<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> We caught these two black-saddled tobies (<em>Canthigaster valentini</em>) in the middle of mating. They were turned upside down, with one nuzzling the other with its mouth. After squirting a cloud (which we assumed was fertilizing eggs that had already been laid), they both swam off.<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> Yellow-mask angelfish (<em>Pomacanthus xanthometopon</em>)<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> At the top of the reef at the end of our last dive, Ben encountered this highly camouflaged reef octopus (<em>Octopus cyanea</em>) with legs fully extended.<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> It seemed to be sleeping, and let us get right up close to it without flinching, retreating, or changing colors.<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> <h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> I was literally inches from its head, and no reaction at all.<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> <h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> Ben finally got it to wake up and move a bit for us. A wonderful way to finish up a great week of diving!<h4>Site: Maaya Thila</h4> A little out of order, but this is part of our group getting ready to depart New York at the start of the trip.<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> Ben and Cindi on the party plane (a.k.a. Emirates Airlines). If you have to fly a 12-14 hour flight segment, this is definitely the airline you want to be on!<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> The Ark Royal, our home for the next week <h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> The top sun deck — didn't spend too much time up here, actually<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> Lounge decks at the bow of the boat — now this is where we spent some quality time!<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> The bar, a very important area on the boat! Alcohol is actually illegal in the Maldives (which is a very strict muslim country), but it is allowed to be served at resorts and on liveaboards.<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> Enjoying a pre-dinner drink on the bow deck with our Chicago friend, Mark<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> A pre-dive briefing in the lounge area<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> We did all the diving off a separate dhoni (Maldivian boat). This was great, as we could leave our equipment on the dhoni after each dive, and the tank refilling compressor noise was kept at a distance when we were between dives. A more traditional Maldivian dhoni (we saw this one at the airport when we first arrived) Cindi getting on the dhoni for another dive<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> And Ben's turn<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> All suited up, and waiting to get into the pool, so to speak. The dhoni was rather wide, and gave us all plenty of room to get around with our gear (a nice change from some of the cramped dive boats we've been on).<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> Cindi returning from a dive<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> And Ben's turn<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> Our lead dive guide, Thipe (from the Maldives)<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> And another of our guides, Angie (from Barcelona)<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> The crew hosted a beach barbeque one evening on one of the small islands<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> The first thing we saw when the boat brought us to shore were manta sand sculptures<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> Darker sand from the interior of the island was used as contrast The neighboring party had a whale shark sculpture... unfortunately, these were the only whale sharks we saw that week! The group enjoying dinner on the beach Mark and Ben, after dinner Ben on the beach One of the many uninhabited islands we passed by during the week The non-divers were brought to shore for a beach and snorkeling day while the rest of us went diving one day A reef submerged right below the surface We spent time between dives either eating meals or lounging in the sun on the front deck The bow and anchor Near the end of the week, our crew treated us to some traditional Maldivian drumming and music<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> On our final day, the Ark Royal returned to the town of Male' A large mosque near the waterfront The Male' waterfront We, along with Mark, decided to skip the excursion in to town and spend our final evening relaxing on the front deck. With no more diving, bring on the alcohol (I think we consumed 5 bottles of wine by the time the night was done)! Wine, a boat nearly to yourselves, and a beautiful sunset... not a bad way to spend an evening! Our crew on the Ark Royal's bow, with Bandos Island Resort (our destination for the final 3 days) in the background Our group...<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> ... and everyone all together<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> The trip organizer and group leader, Mike Parnell, with his wife Doris Our awesome dive guide Angie Departing from the Ark Royal<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> We stayed at Bandos Island Resort for the final two days of the trip. Upon arrival, we discovered we had been upgraded from a standard to a garden villa room. The room was spectacular... much more than we were expecting. The resort encompasses the entire island, but our room was right across from the main pool (and more importantly, swim-up bar!). There was no pool or hot tub on the boat, so we spent some quality time here swimming and relaxing at the bar.<h4>Photo compliments of Mike Parnell</h4> In the evening, very large fruit bats flew over the pool from tree to tree, and were really quite cool to watch. One of the resort's bars/cafes, a great place at sunset. Two of the resort's beaches flanked the walkway. View of the beach from the water Like most other resorts in the Maldives, Bandos had a few over-the-water bungalows... maybe next time!