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We were excited when the chance arose for Kamey to participate in a unique expedition, representing the Secret Paradise Maldives team. This expedition, hosted by the Maldives Underwater Initiative by Six Senses Laamu and conducted in association with Mission Blue, focused on the Laamu Hope Spot, an area recognized for its remarkable marine biodiversity and resilience.

By participating in this expedition, Kamey gained invaluable experience and insights. Knowledge that will not only enhance the expertise within our team but also allow us to offer richer, more informed experiences to our guests. Kamey’s journey reflects our dedication to supporting the preservation of the natural beauty of the Maldives and contributing meaningfully to its environmental stewardship.

Now, let’s hand over to Kamey, who will share his firsthand account of this incredible expedition:

As the month of April greeted us with the strong winds of the South West monsoon season, known to Maldivians as ‘Hulhangu’, I welcomed the opportunity to be involved in a one of a kind expedition representing Secret Paradise Maldives. The research team at Maldives Underwater Initiative invited me to join their Hope Spot expedition conducted in association with Mission Blue which was founded by the Oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle. Mission Blue is a charity, founded in 2008, with an aim to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas called Hope Spots. In the year 2021 Laamu Atoll, was selected as a Hope Spot owing to the reef’s profound resistance and abundance.

Upon receiving more details of the expedition I was excited to see that it would include largely exploratory dives and outreach with the community from the lesser explored northern side of the atoll. The project aims were multi-faceted with a mission to conduct surveys dedicated to each research NGOs respective study subjects. The team of Blue Marine Foundation and Maldives Resilient Reefs for instance focused on surveying the coral reefs, while under Olive Ridley Project (ORP) we scoped out potential turtle nesting spots and learnt more about their vulnerability to illegal take. Maldives Manta Conservation Programme (MMCP) also joined the expedition with an aim to encounter and document manta individuals.

My role during the expedition was uniquely flexible as I was given the chance to get stuck into all aspects including island surveys, dive surveys and outreach. Upon arriving at the expedition vessel, first up was a dive survey focusing on coral data collection via the method of square and line transects. As we plunged into the water it was clear to see the areas of the reef most impacted. On the top reef in the shallows we saw the drastic effects of the current global bleaching event on the corals. Some were already alarmingly pale or skeletal white, with their algal symbionts expelled from the polyps as a reaction to the high temperatures aggravated by the worldwide phenomena of El Nino. Deeper down you could see that some coral colonies were still doing well by comparison which gives hope in a time like this, although the sadness at seeing the reef suffering was very much felt among the team.

I have always loved and marveled at coral, the unassuming builder and creator of underwater worlds, but it was truly a joy to delve deeper into the topic during this expedition. The more I dived everyday, the more I became fascinated with finding new things to learn about the same coral species which I had seen many times while snorkeling with Secret Paradise guests. Jessica Hodge was our on board expert with a vast knowledge of corals within the Maldives and from working with her and her team, I would say the most valuable thing I came away from the expedition with, is a new found appreciation for classification and differentiating between coral genera. What intrigued me was how the formation and sizes of the corals in Laamu Atoll differed from other areas of the Maldives I had been to. For example in Vaavu Atoll, I had observed that the corals are bigger and almost sprawling across the reef, whereas what I saw in Laamu was that individuals were smaller but with much more of them.

As the week progressed the weather got a bit rougher topside; conditions like this are something we have to contend with in the South West monsoon season but it doesn’t necessarily make for bad diving. During a particularly ‘wavey’ day on the dhoni we encountered a super strong current which, which as luck would have it, brought us a very curious female oceanic manta! It was my first oceanic manta encounter in a long time, it was incredible to see the animal’s UFO-like body looming out of the blue with her two black, pelagic remora passengers in attendance near her dorsal fin. She circled around us three or four times, her eyeball swiveling in its socket as she glided by to get a good look and take us in. Happily for the team, this curious fly-by provided us with an excellent vantage point for getting a photo ID of her belly. This is the area of their body where you can find the manta ray’s unique patterning which essentially helps scientists to identify individuals thus mapping population distribution.

Over the last 12 years as a marine tour guide, I spend most of my time, snorkeling and freediving in the ocean, this trip I was able to fall back in love with scuba diving again after a break from it for many years. Scuba grants you more time to really absorb the details and smaller beings on a reef, such as nudibranchs, tiny crabs and shrimp hiding in corals, all going about their day foraging and maintaining their aquatic homes. During the expedition we even got the chance to observe filefish, a species which had not been previously thought to exist in Maldives. The collective excitement from the team seeing these rigid, almost soldier-like, silver fish positioned under a black coral was really wonderful. Scuba diving has also become my preferred method for observing turtles since the Hope Spot expedition. In South Ari for instance, many of the young turtles are very skittish upon approach when freediving or snorkeling, however in Laamu the large turtles that we saw were mostly unbothered and seemingly oblivious to our bubbles.

With the Northern side of Laamu Atoll being relatively unexplored by scientists and tourism operators, the people in the know about this area and the wildlife are of course the locals! Throughout the duration of the Hope Spot expedition we visited local islands, including Maabaidhoo, Mundhoo, Maavah and Isdhoo, with the objective to talk to both adults and the younger generation in schools. On every islands we visited many people from all walks of life – including the atoll council, teachers, and the police – were interested to learn about the work we were doing. For me personally, I was most impressed by the younger generation, to see how strongly they feel about the ocean and how deeply concerned they are about the impact of climate change. In the coming months the data collected from the expeditions will be analyzed and hopefully we can come back and share it directly with the people of Laamu that we had the pleasure of meeting.

The Hope Spot expedition was an incredible experience to be a part of. It was a joy to work with both local and international team members who are really motivated to not only collect  and share data, but are excited and passionate about it. I have gained so much more additional knowledge, which if you travel with me on tour I will be sharing with you!

If you want to learn more about the Maldives Underwater Initiative by Six Senses Laamu (MUI) head over to their website.

Join Kamey on tour by booking to join us on one of our popular Conservation Cruises, where we are also joined by an expert from Manta Trust, Olive Ridley Project or Maldives Whale Shark Research Program.