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  4. Hanifaru - a UNESCO reserve in the Maldives

Hanifaru Bay is part of a unique marine reserve located in the Baa Atoll in the Maldives. Among connoisseurs of snorkeling, one can only hear positive reviews about the underwater beauty of the bay.

At some point, the popularity of the bay reached its climax. The sheer number of tourists was not good for it. Therefore, in 2009, the Maldives government decided to declare the islands of Baa Atoll and Hanifaru a protected marine reserve. Since 2011, Hanifaru Bay has been a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Milaidhoo Island Maldives Resort
Milaidhoo Island Maldives Resort

Largest stingray feeding station

The lagoon reef resembles an oblong bowl as seen on the map of Hanifaru Bay. The length of the lagoon reaches 1300 meters, and the narrowest part of the water is about 600 meters. It is here that plankton is most concentrated, which manta rays swim to feast on. This “feast” is an amazing sight.

Manta rays absolutely not paying attention to people, move near the surface, opening their mouths wide and collecting water with food. The gills of these rays return the already purified water. Such “natural filters” can be assembled in a company of several dozen individuals. They move in a circle one after the other, creating a water funnel that draws in plankton. During such a lunch in Hanifaru Bay, you can observe up to 200 stingrays and several reef sharks. There are also whale sharks in the bay who choose this place for mating.

Cluster of manta rays
Cluster of manta rays | Milaidhoo Island Maldives Resort

Interesting facts about manta rays

Not much is known about these amazing animals. The size of their population has not yet been established. After all, most mantas constantly migrate through tropical waters. However, we can share with you some interesting facts about these amazing creatures:

  • From the Spanish language manto is translated as mantle or cloak. This name perfectly describes the appearance of animals.
  • For the first time, mantas were mentioned in the observations of biologists more than two centuries ago.
  • At its core, the manta ray is a flat shark that has evolved in search of food at the bottom.
  • The wingspan of the reef manta ray can reach 4.5 meters and weigh over a ton. Large individuals can weigh up to 3 tons.
  • An adult animal can eat 25 kilograms of plankton per day.
  • The Maldives is the largest manta ray region in the world
  • In addition to food, mantas are looking for cleaner fish on the reefs, which help them get rid of parasites and dead skin.
  • Each individual has its own difference - an individual color. Like the unique fingerprints of a person. Thanks to this feature, in the Hanifaru lagoon, scientists give names to manta rays and enter them into a special database.

Manta rays
Manta rays | Resort Milaidhoo Island Maldives

Where is Hanifaru Bay

Hanifaru Bay is located in Baa Atoll, just 10 minutes by boat from the main island of Dharavandhoo, where you can get a lagoon permit and find a guide.

Distance from the capital Male: about 118 kilometers northwest.

How to get there: by seaplane to the resorts of the atoll or using local airlines to Dharavandhoo. The flight takes about 35 minutes. The budget option is by a passenger-cargo ferry from Male (about 8 hours).

Milaidhoo Island Maldives Resort

The history of the Hanifaru reserve

For centuries, even before the massive development of tourism in the Maldives, Hanifaru Bay attracted fishermen as an ideal bay for hunting sharks. With the popularization of diving on the islands at the end of the 20th century, this beautiful place was opened to tourists. Very quickly, the lagoon became the main highlight of Baa Atoll and the Maldives in general. After the publication of National Geographic, more boats could be counted here than stingrays. The influx of divers, uncontrolled interference with the habitat of marine animals has led to a decrease in the population in this area.

A sad fate almost befell the unique bay in 2008, when the Ministry of Fisheries decided to lease the Hanifaru islet for industrial use. Timely protests saved the reserve. Its ecology has remained intact.

Baa Atoll Resorts

Baa is known for a variety of marine life and an underwater world of unimaginable beauty. Not surprisingly, many resorts provide tourists with every opportunity to explore local natural attractions.

  • Vakkaru. The 5-star resort of Vakkaru Island is a luxury getaway in the Biosphere Reserve.
  • Dusit Thani Maldives 6 kilometers from the bay. The 5-star resort offers PADI 5 Star dive instructors, a state-of-the-art spa, and more.
  • Royal Island Resort & Spa at a distance of 9 kilometers from Hanifaru. The resort is located on the green island of Harubadu and provides all the amenities for a comfortable stay.
  • Anantara Kihavah Villas 5* gives tremendous opportunities for a perfect vacation.
  • No less exciting vacation awaits you on the island of Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu 5*
  • Choose from Tripadvisor Travelers' Choice 2020 award winner Nautilus Maldives.
  • The local island of Dharavandhoo, the capital of Baa Atoll, is located just 10 minutes by boat from Hanifaru Bay. Here you can stay on a more budgetary basis - in one of the local guesthouses.
  • All resorts of Baa Atoll.

Vakkaru Maldives
Vakkaru Maldives

When is the best time to visit Hanifaru?

Between May and November. It is during these months that zooplankton accumulate in Hanifaru Bay and there are all opportunities for spectacular observations of the feeding of manta rays. On a full moon, during high tide, the amount of plankton increases and, accordingly, more animals swim.

Snorkeling in Hanifaru Bay: rules and features

In order to avoid the influx of tourists and ensure their safety, strict rules and restrictions have been established for excursions and snorkeling in Hanifaru Bay.

At first. All tourists must register at a special center on Dharavandhoo Island. Resorts may offer transfers to the main island. However, an excursion to the bay is only possible from Dharavandhoo on a BACF vessel accompanied by a guide. The cost is $ 45-50 per person.

Secondly. Please note that only guided snorkeling is allowed at Hanifaru Bay, who must supervise the process. Scuba diving in Hanifaru Bay is prohibited. But if you are a fan of diving, you can dive at the dive sites closest to the bay, which are accessible by resorts.

Snorkeling at Harifaru Bay
Snorkeling at Harifaru Bay | Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas

Rules of conduct while snorkeling:

  • It is important to maintain the required distance from animals - at least 3 meters from the head and 4 meters from the tail.
  • You cannot approach the rays from the front, block its path or swim accompanying it.
  • The photo is strictly without flash, which can scare the animal.
  • It is forbidden to touch animals, stroking or trying to stay close to them.

Special sea guides monitor the observance of safety rules while sailing next to the mantas.


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