Located in a vast UNESCO Biosphere Reserve called Baa Atoll, an administrative division within one of the world's most geographically dispersed countries, Hanifaru Bay is paradise, to say the least. Hanifaru Bay is known to etch an unforgettable memory in the minds of its visitors, providing one of Maldives' best known underwater adventures such as scuba diving and snorkelling.
Untouched white sand beaches, a breathtaking abundance of marine life, pristine blue lagoons, and of course who can ignore the artful blend of the navy blue ocean waters with turquoise fringed bays of the shallow reefs. If there is a place known to provide unparalleled aesthetically pleasing views, Hanifaru Bay is it.
Locally known as 'Vandumaafaru Adi', Hanifaru Bay is designated as a marine protected area thanks to its reputation as playing grounds for manta rays and whale sharks that congregate here during peak seasons of the south-west monsoons, usually between June to November. Although, it is also well known to start as early as May and as late as December.
Spreading over an area of just over a football field, the keyhole-shaped bay holds captive millions of microscopic plankton that get accumulated here due to strong winds and water currents. These tend to float very close to the surface and hence act as perfect meals for two majestic ocean giants, sharks and rays.
It is particularly known to be the largest feeding station for the Manta Rays in the world and the feeding frenzies during peak seasons are quite the spectacle. On the other hand, the area is also one of the few places in the world where whale sharks gather to mate. According to sources, witnessing up to 200 manta rays accompanied by whale sharks is not a rare experience here.
Although diving has been banned and no longer permitted in the bay waters, you can snorkel up close with the manta rays and whale sharks. This obviously does not come without rules and regulations as snorkelers are requested to maintain a minimum distance from these gentle leviathans. A distance of 3-meter radius from the head of the whale shark and 4 meters from its tail should be maintained compulsorily. Also, it is important to remember that touching or stroking the animals is strictly forbidden, as is approaching the animals from ahead or crossing paths with them.
Due to disturbances by human intervention, the population of manta rays and whale sharks visiting the bay areas dropped drastically in the early 2000s. This has since called for the implementation of eco-friendly guidelines to be followed. To visit Hanifaru Bay, it is necessary to purchase visitor tickets from the Hanifaru Visitor Center on Dharavandhoo island. You can also buy tickets from officially designated resorts and liveaboards which are approved by the Baa Atoll Conservation Fund (BACF). A boat taxi then transfers the visitors to Hanifaru. This ticket allows you to enjoy the company of these marine animals for 45 minutes, under the guidance of a certified snorkelling guide. The Environmental Protection Agency takes up the responsibility to safeguard the bay from human interventions or any other setbacks.
The cost for snorkelling at Hanifaru Bay is approx $20 including equipment. There is an additional entry fee of $30
to Hanifaru Marine Protected Area.
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