Known for their pristine beaches, blue lagoons and colorful reefs boasting some 1,200 species of fish, two luxury resorts in the Maldives have put together special programs designed to help guests better learn about and interact with the islands’ sea life and ecosystems.
Four Seasons Resorts Maldives, home to the Maldivian Manta Ray Project, one of the world’s longest-running manta ray research and conservation initiatives, in September is offering two new manta-focused cruises aboard the Four Seasons Explorer, a three-deck luxury ship that holds just 22 passengers.
And this month, the Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa is hosting programs with Uli Kunz, a certified marine biologist and underwater photographer, as part of its “Masters in Residence” program.
The all-inclusive Four Seasons cruises were developed in conjunction with the Manta Trusts and its founder, Guy Stevens, and are designed to “immerse participants in every aspect of the Trust’s research and conservation efforts.
“The cruises aboard the Four Seasons Explorer will sail through the Baa and Ari Atolls with the exact route based on the chances of successful encounters with the manta rays.
The seven-day cruises, with options for shorter three- and four-day excursions, are scheduled Sept. 1 to 8 and Sept. 15 to 22. The dates, the resort said, reflect the Manta Trust’s “peak sighting” predictions, which are based on the southwest current movements of plankton, the mantas’ and whale sharks’ favorite food, through the Baa and Ari Atolls. The exact routes will be based on daily climatic and environmental considerations to maximize the chances of successful encounters.
Last year’s inaugural expeditions “were a resounding success,” Stevens said, with a 100% sighting success rate.
“The pure excitement and joy on everyone’s faces after our first sighting set the scene for the remaining days,” Stevens said. “Two standout moments included an 8-year-old guest snorkeling with a whale shark and a floodlit midnight dive watching a manta feeding. While education is the most important step in achieving environmental protection, we hope these expeditions also showcase the fun and excitement that can be experienced along the way. Perhaps we’ll even inspire the next generation to pick up the baton from us.”
He says the expeditions are suitable for both divers and nondivers, offering snorkeling in remote hot spots as well as visits to isolated villages, water sports and “castaway beach massages.”
As honorary researchers, all expedition participants can also take identification photos, contribute to data collection, even name new mantas in the Trust’s database.
At the Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort & Spa on the southernmost atoll in the Maldives, guests will have a chance to learn about the area’s marine ecosystem and get underwater photography tips from Kunz, a professional underwater photographer whose photographs have been published in magazines, including National Geographic, GEO and various dive journals. He is also a frequent lecturer about oceanography on cruise ships.
Kunz will be on hand for guest lecturers and underwater photography sessions and accompanied dives, including a visit to one of the most famous shipwrecks in the Maldives, the British Loyalty Wreck, which was torpedoed but rebuilt twice during World War II, eventually being left at its current location.
Packages for the Masters in Residence programs at the Shangri-La’s luxury island resort on the Addu Atoll start at $700 a night.
The Four Seasons Explorer packages range from $2,550 to $6,120 per person.