About the author: Anne-Marie Kitchen-Wheeler is the Project Manager for the Manta Ecology Project, supporting Manta Research. Also her husband Matt Kitchen is the project videographer and filmmaker. (www.mantaresearch.com)
The giant manta swam over the divers’ heads and made a graceful turn to look closely at each of the divers watching it. The divers looked back and were entranced by the beauty and agility of the huge creature in front of them, it was difficult to draw their eyes away from the magical beast, and it was love at first sight! This is probably how most people will describe their first experience of seeing a manta.
Manta rays are giant diamond shaped fish, the name manta coming from the Spanish for cloak, as the animal does appear as a dramatic dark cloak sweeping through the sea. Despite their family name of ‘devil ray’, they are completely harmless to humans and do not have biting teeth or stings. Manta rays are evolutionary cousins of sharks. They may grow to nearly 7 m (23 ft) across the wing tips but in the Maldives they are more commonly seen at a size of 3-4 m across wingtips, equivalent to the size of a medium sized family car! In common with dolphins and whales, their large size and curiosity of humans has intrigued divers and snorkellers for decades, who seek out interactions with these enigmatic, graceful creatures.
Mantas are deeply embedded in Maldivian culture and manta symbols are often used in the international advertising of resorts and dive centres. They are not actively fished as their size makes landing them very difficult and their meat is poor quality in comparison with the excellent tunas easily fished in Maldivian waters, but fishermen have been long aware of areas where mantas congregated to feed, and led pioneering scuba divers to these areas. The divers discovered manta ‘cleaning stations’: areas of reef occupied by smaller fish which remove dead skin and parasites from larger fish and these cleaning stations are now where most manta watching by scuba divers is made.
Two world famous sites are Lankan Reef in North Male atoll and Madivaru in South Ari atoll. At the cleaning stations the mantas compete for access to the best cleaners, a little like humans wanting to get the attentions of the best hairdresser or masseur. On a typical day 10-20 diving boats from nearby resorts or safari boats will visit these sites. Despite the diving pressure, the same mantas still visit the sites year after year. There are at least 50 known manta cleaning stations located throughout the Maldives, in every atoll. As resort expansion continues into the far north and south, new sites are discovered, and will be discovered for many years to come.
There are other sites where mantas can be observed whilst snorkelling, including Hanifaru in Baa atoll, Sandune, near Guraidhoo island in South Male atoll and Rasfari in North Male atoll. Mantas are particularly attracted to feed on zooplankton consisting of small shrimps. They can be seen swimming up and down, or somersaulting with their mouths wide open using their head (or cephalic) fins to siphon huge amounts of water containing the tiny shrimps into their mouths. Snorkellers need only stay on the surface near the food source and the giant rays will swim past and underneath them as they continue with their feeding.
The movements, behaviour and ecology are being researched as part of a long term project by the Manta Ecology Project² (MEP) to understand more about their lives. Long term observations of mantas at the various cleaning stations have provided several insights into their behaviour. Mantas may be individually identified by the ovals and spots markings on their undersides (ventral surface) which are unique and do not change over a period of at least 10 years. Mantas with particularly distinctive markings can easily be recognised by divemasters and pointed out to tourist divers.
‘Butterfly’ manta is easily distinguished by the butterfly shaped markings pattern and is regularly seen at Lankan Reef and Boduhithi thila. We know she is a large, ‘alpha’ female who displaces smaller mantas when she arrives at a cleaning station and is at least 20 years old. She was seen pregnant in 2005 and 2007 and likely gave birth in October or November of those years but has not been seen pregnant since despite regular reports of her attendance at the cleaning stations.
This accumulated knowledge on the life of ‘Butterfly’ came from reports from divemasters and tourist divers who dived with her and photographed her. Another divers’ favourite is ‘Bubbles’ manta, named after her fascination of bathing in the exhaled bubbles of divers. Apparently, she has integrated this Jacuzzi effect of bubble massage into her cleaning routine as it probably dislodges dead skin. Many other mantas appear to enjoy bubble baths, so this appears to be a new behaviour, learned from interactions with divers at the cleaning stations. Divers or snorkellers should never attempt to touch or ride mantas as bacteria in our skin (or gloves) may easily give the manta a skin infection.
Manta tourism is of importance to the Maldives economy. During 2006-08, 143,000 dives and over 14,000 snorkels were performed annually and this was estimated to be worth about USD8.1 million per year in direct revenue1. Estimates up to USD200 million revenue should be considered when hotel accommodation, F&B and transportation is taken into account.
The Maldives is, without doubt, the best place in the world to observe manta rays. They may be seen year-round, at different locations typically on the leeside of monsoon winds so that from May to November they will be seen at eastern sites and from December to April at western sites. East and west located resort dive centres know the locations of the various seasonal manta points and make, at minimum, weekly dive excursion to visit the sites. Most liveaboards include scuba diving at least one manta location as most scuba-diving visitors expect to see mantas. Many resort lagoons have jetty lights which attract feeding juvenile mantas at night so that resort guests do not even need to get wet to enjoy the beauty of the balletic feeding dance of the manta. The Maldives are indeed, the islands of the mantas.
- Anderson RC, Adam MS, Kitchen-Wheeler A-M, Stevens G. Extent and economic value of manta ray watching in the Maldives. Tourism in Marine Environments. 2010;7(1).
- Support the “Manta Ecology Project” on Facebook.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in the MATATO magazine ‘Maldives Finder’ 2011 issue. (www.maldivesfinder.com)
Abdulla Wisam: A journey of excellence and growth in the Maldivian hospitality industry
In the heart of the stunning Maldives, where luxury resorts and crystal-clear waters come together to create a paradise on Earth, there are individuals who work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that every guest’s experience is nothing short of exceptional. One such individual is Abdulla Wisam, whose remarkable journey in the hospitality industry is a testament to his dedication, passion, and unwavering commitment to providing the best possible service to guests.
Abdulla Wisam’s journey in the hospitality industry began right after completing his schooling. In 2003, he embarked on his professional career by joining Dhoveli Beach Resort & Spa, where he gained his first taste of the world of hospitality. It was here that he discovered his passion for creating memorable guest experiences and building relationships with visitors from around the world.
After his initial foray into the industry, Wisam’s career path continued to evolve. His dedication and hard work caught the attention of industry leaders, leading him to take on roles of increasing responsibility. His time at Meeru Island Resort saw him as an Outlet Cashier and Night Auditor, roles that allowed him to develop a deep understanding of the operational aspects of a resort.
Wisam’s determination and eagerness to learn led him to the iconic Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru, where he started as a Recreation Attendant. Over time, he showcased his exceptional skills in guest relations and management, and he was promoted to the position of Front Office Supervisor. His journey with Four Seasons served as a stepping stone for what was to come next.
In 2014, Wisam joined the W Maldives, a resort known for its luxurious offerings and unparalleled guest experiences. Starting as a Welcome Team Leader, he quickly rose through the ranks due to his impeccable guest service skills and innate leadership abilities. His promotion to Guest Experience Manager was a testament to his ability to not only meet but exceed guest expectations. He was then transferred to The St. Regis Maldives as the Assistant Front Office Manager with the pre-opening team.
As his career trajectory continued its upward trajectory, Wisam took on the role of Front Office Manager at prestigious resorts such as Milaidhoo Island, Raffles Maldives, and The Standard Maldives. These roles allowed him to refine his management style, hone his problem-solving skills, and contribute to the overall success of each resort.
Wisam’s journey eventually led him to COMO Cocoa Island, a resort renowned for its unparalleled luxury and exquisite attention to detail. Joining as the Front Office Manager, he embraced the challenges and responsibilities that came with the position. His dedication, combined with his innate ability to create genuine connections with guests, led to his promotion as the Director of Rooms.
Wisam’s journey in the Maldivian hospitality industry is a remarkable tale of perseverance, growth, and a genuine passion for creating exceptional guest experiences. His diverse roles, spanning from recreation to guest experience management, have equipped him with a holistic understanding of the industry. His commitment to continuous improvement and dedication to delivering top-tier service have not only benefited the resorts he’s been a part of but have also contributed to elevating the reputation of Maldives as a premier luxury travel destination.
As Wisam continues to shape the guest experience landscape at COMO Cocoa Island, one can only imagine the heights he will reach and the impact he will make on the ever-evolving hospitality industry of the Maldives. His journey stands as an inspiration to aspiring hoteliers and a testament to the boundless opportunities that await those who are truly passionate about their craft.
Hamzath Ameen: Elevating human resources
In the fast-paced and thriving hospitality industry of the Maldives, where exceptional service and guest satisfaction are paramount, there are individuals who stand out for their dedication, expertise, and leadership qualities. Hamzath Ameen is making his mark as a proficient human resources professional in island resorts of the Maldives. With an impressive career trajectory and a passion for excellence, Hamzath has become a respected figure in the industry.
Hamzath Ameen was born and raised in Addu Atoll, a region known for its stunning natural beauty and vibrant culture. Following his schooling, he pursued his higher education at Cyryx College in Male’, where he successfully completed an Advanced Diploma in Business Management. This academic foundation laid the groundwork for his future career in the dynamic world of hospitality.
Hamzath embarked on his professional journey at Dhonveli Beach Resort, where he assumed the role of Accounts Officer. This initial foray into the hospitality industry allowed him to gain valuable insights into the financial aspects of resort operations and the importance of maintaining accurate records and efficient systems.
Eager to expand his horizons and broaden his skill set, Hamzath sought opportunities at various reputable companies and resorts throughout the Maldives. His determination and exceptional work ethic caught the attention of industry professionals, leading to his appointment as the Human Resources Officer at Furaveri Island Resort. Recognizing his potential, Ameen quickly rose through the ranks and was promoted to the position of Assistant Manager, and subsequently, Human Resources Manager.
During his tenure at Furaveri Island Resort, Hamzath made significant contributions to the establishment’s human resources department. He spearheaded various initiatives to enhance employee engagement, streamline recruitment processes, and foster a positive work culture. Under his leadership, the resort witnessed an increase in employee satisfaction and a notable reduction in turnover rates, solidifying Hamzath’s reputation as a skilled people manager.
In 2022, Hamzath accepted an exciting new opportunity and joined Rihiveli Maldives Resort as the Human Resources Manager. With his wealth of experience and proven track record, he assumed a pivotal role in overseeing the resort’s human resources functions, including recruitment, training and development, performance management, and employee relations. Hamzath’s strategic approach and ability to build strong relationships with staff and management alike have made him an invaluable asset to the resort.
Hamzath Ameen’s journey from an Accounts Officer to a respected Human Resources Manager exemplifies his commitment to personal growth and professional excellence. Through his hard work, dedication, and leadership abilities, he has successfully carved a niche for himself in the competitive Maldivian hospitality industry. Hamzath’s passion for nurturing talent, fostering positive work environments, and delivering exceptional guest experiences continues to make a lasting impact on the resorts he has served.
Chef Mohamed Niyaz on celebrating authentic Maldivian flavours
Introducing the culinary genius who brings alive Kaagé specialty restaurant at VARU By Atmosphere
Chef Mohamed Niyaz is the Maldivian Chef who has breathed life into VARU By Atmosphere’s signature restaurant – Kaagé. In this interview, he speaks about his love for local cuisine and his inspiration. He also shares words of wisdom for budding chefs in the Maldives.
Where are you from? I was born and raised in the beautiful island of Ha. Dhihdhoo, in the Haa Alif Atoll, Maldives.
When did you first fall in love with cooking? Even when I was a kid, I used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom. I was so intrigued by her amazing cooking skills and how she would prepare all sorts of delicious dishes. I would eagerly watch and learn from her every time she cooked. That’s what inspired me to become a chef myself.
What motivates you? Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a deep passion for both art and cooking. My mother, who is incredibly creative, would whip up imaginative meals. I would often tell her that one day, when I grew up, I would become a chef and cook a special meal just for her. I’m proud to say that I’ve fulfilled that dream.
Tell us a little bit about your journey in the hospitality industry. In 2002, I had the chance to embark on my journey in the tourism industry when I began working as a Commis at Hulhule Island Hotel. Over 16 years, I climbed the ranks and eventually held the position of Chef De Partie at the same hotel. Then, in 2019, an exciting opportunity came my way as I joined VARU by Atmosphere as a Sous Chef. Currently, I am honoured to be working as a Maldivian Chef at the renowned Kaagé restaurant, which is the first of its kind in Atmosphere Core.
What are some of your achievements and awards? Throughout my 20-year career, I have had the privilege of receiving nominations and winning various awards in different competitions and ceremonies. The most recent and special achievement was when I was honoured with the CGM Chefs Award for Outstanding Achievement in 2022. The year 2016 proved to be another successful year, I achieved remarkable accomplishments in international competitions. Securing second place in the Team Challenge and first place in the Foreign Team Challenge at the Chinese Foreign Hotel’s cooking competition, CCTV ‘The Greatest Chefs.’ In addition, I have been participating in the Hotel Asia Culinary Challenge from 2012 to 2022 and have received 12 gold, silver, and bronze awards over the years.
Can you describe Kaagé restaurant for us? Kaagé is the signature Maldivian restaurant at VARU By Atmosphere. The restaurant is designed as a traditional Maldivian house adorned by heritage photographs and video storytelling. Guests can relish local flavours presented with a progressive twist. We use traditional home cooking methods to ensure the food is fresh, aromatic, and flavourful.
As a chef, what are your preferred local ingredients? Coconut, pandan leaves, Maldivian chilli, and curry leaves hold a special place in my culinary repertoire.
Which dish would you highly recommend to all guests at Kaage? There are a variety of local dishes on our menu. I would recommend guests try Gulha, a deep-fried pastry ball filled with smoked tuna or vegetables and flavoured with finely chopped onion, grated coconut, and chilli. And Kandu Kukhulu, our renowned Maldivian tuna curry, stands out as the most exceptional and beloved dish. It is one of our signature specialties and the rich flavours are sure to leave a lasting impression on our valued guests.
What are your plans for the future? At present, Maldivian cuisine is exclusively available in restaurants within our nation. My aspiration is to present Maldivian specialty cuisine on a global scale.
What guidance would you offer aspiring Maldivian chefs? To the younger generation, I would like to emphasize that Maldivian Cuisine is truly distinctive, and with unwavering dedication and perseverance, you can achieve remarkable heights. In line with a Maldivian saying, “Fass enburi nubala abadhuves hih varaa eku kuriyah dhaan masahkaeh kuraashey, ehves masahkathaky hadi masahkatheh nooney” (loosely translated as, always strive to move forward with courage, without dwelling on the past, as no task is ever considered insignificant).
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