Divers from all over the world come to the Maldives, in particular Hanifaru Bay, to interact with Manta Rays (Manta birostris) that feed on plankton that is swept up from deep water to the surface by a suction effect occurring during lunar tides.
Manta Rays (Manta birostris) when feeding in large groups often form a vortex. These two mantas perform a ballet while feeding. Two Remora (Remora genus) have attached themselves to the underside of one Manta using a sucker-like fin to hold themselves firm against it.
Many schooling fish can be found in the Maldives like these One-Spot Snapper (Lutjanus monostigma). These fish hunt on the bottom at night feeding on smaller fish and crustaceans, primarily crabs.
Five species of turtle can be found in the Maldives, and the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is one of them. These turtles forage for food and nest throughout the collection of 1,192 tiny islands in 26 atolls that form the nation of the Maldives.
Magnificent Anemones (Heteractis magnifica), like this trio, usually host Anemonefish. But, oddly enough, no Anemonefish could be seen. This brilliantly colored, Checkered Snapper (Lutjanus decussates) was present in their stead.
The Blue-faced Angelfish (Pomacanthus xanthometopon) inhabits areas of rich coral growth in lagoons, channels and outer reef slopes. Joining other brightly colored fish, it swims under a coral ledge covered with pastel-colored soft corals.
A large school of Blue-stripe Snapper (Lutjanus notatus) provides an explosion of color as they swim along the reef. The distinctive coloration of these shoaling fish (they stay together for social reasons) consists of a bright yellow body with four horizontal, electric-blue stripes.
A Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites forsteri) moves quickly after having been disturbed. These fish perch high on corals and like a hawk they watch closely for small prey. They even have the ability to perch on fire coral without incurring harm.
Anchored permanently to the bottom where strong currents pass by, a Gorgonian Fan (Subergorgia mollis), which is a nocturnal filter feeder, will extend its polyps at night to capture the plankton that makes up its diet.
A school of Crimson Soldierfish (Myripristis murdjan) cruises along the reef. As their large eyes might suggest, these fish are nocturnal and hide in caves during the day. It was strange to spot them out during the day.
The Painted Rock Lobster (Panulirus versicolor) is a species of spiny lobster that is nocturnal and solitary. It is a carnivore and feeds at night on mollusks or scavenges dead or dying animals.
The Honeycomb Moray Eel (Gymnothorax favagineus) has black and white blotches that form a honeycomb pattern. This Honeycomb Moray seems to be oblivious of the school of Maldives Cardinalfish (Apogon sp. 2) flitting above its head.
Leach’s Sea Star (Leiaster leachi) is a rare starfish that hides in the reef during the day and emerges at night to feed.
These Yellow Cup Corals (Tubastrea faulkneri), explosive in color, form clumps of large polyps. Their sunflower-like tentacles emerge at dusk to permit filter-feeding of zooplankton.
Brightly-colored Soft Coral ( Ellisella sp.) extends in strange, lightning-like shapes from a piece of coral that has been covered by flaming red, encrusting sponge.
Masked Bannerfish (Heniochus monoceros) use their pectoral fins as oars to brake, spin, turn and even reverse their direction. Inside their pursed lips they have very fine, small, hair-like teeth that enable them to pick small animals on which they feed out of their shells.
Manta Rays (Manta birostris) are the largest of the rays and are closely related to sharks. BUT, despite their enormous size and bat-like shape, Manta Rays are completely harmless, very gentle and quite peaceful. They have a short tail that does not have a stinging spine.
Manta Rays (Manta birostris) have a wingspan that can reach 22’. When feeding, as seen here, these graceful swimmers, open their gills as well as their mouths. It is easy to be mesmerized by these stunning, impressive animals.
The Smooth Flutemouth (Fistularia commersonii) is a very elongate fish that has a long filament extending from its caudal fin. This filament is lined with sensory pores that serve as a long-range sensory system for detecting prey.
The Small Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima) is approximately 1/3 the size of the true Giant Clam (Tridacna gigas). It’s color and texture is evocative of maroon velvet, and the delicately frilled mantle and siphon have intensely beautiful, iridescent blue lines.
A colony of stony Hard Coral (Scleractina sp.) is permanently anchored to the reef. Their name is deceiving as these corals are fragile and can be broken during bad storms. They are presented here with a background of open, blue water.
A Sabre Squirrelfish (Sargocentrum spiniferum) occupies a private spot just above a fluted hard coral. The Sabre Squirrelfish is the largest of the squirrelfish. At night, it hunts for its favorite food – crustaceans.
This pair of Headband Butterflyfish (Chaetodon collare) swims under a table coral. These fish usually swim in schools, but they pair off when mating. They are common in the Maldives, but are rarely seen elsewhere.
Maldives Lyretail Anthias (Pseudanthias squamipinnis) flit about. Like other anthias species, the male Maldives Lyretail retains a harem of 10 to 15 females. When the male dies a female from the harem undergoes a sex reversal and takes his place.
A truly unusual sight – a white lace fan in the foreground is framed by a bi-colored, Smooth Sea Fan (Annella mollis), bright orange in color with a white border. This bi-colored fan only grows in caves.
A smooth Gorgonian Fan frames a Neon Fusilier (Pterocaesio tile). Fusiliers are found in current areas along deep drop-offs where they feed on plankton. At night they rest under coral heads
A Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) cruises effortlessly over a landscape of soft corals. The Hawksbill Turtle is easily distinguished from other species of turtle by its sharp, curving beak. It spends part of its life in the open sea, and part in shallow lagoons and on coral reefs.
The Glassy Sweeper (Pempheris schomburgki) lives in large aggregations in dark caves or in crevices where they sway in the current. This is a small fish with a long body, big head, large eyes and wide mouth.
Displaying teeth that would hold a dentist in thrall, the Map Pufferfish (Arothron mappa) has black lines radiating from it protuberant eyes and a gray and black pattern over its body that is map-like in appearance. Like most other pufferfish, it is highly poisonous when eaten.
The mouth of a Honeycomb Moray Eel is being cleaned by a Blue Lined Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus). The wrasse has visible stripes so the eel will recognize him. The wrasse dances up and down in a distinctive way for further I.D. and then cleans the mouth of the moray with impunity.
Schooling Bannerfish (Heniochus diphreutes) are found in large aggregations in the water column. They spend the whole day in open water protected by their schooling behavior. These schools are abundant in the Maldives.
The Pin Cushion (Choriaster granulatus) is a large starfish with broad rays. The pattern on its body is as finely etched as scrimshaw. This starfish is a scavenger who feeds at night on dead animal material.
The stunning Magnificent Sea Anemone (Heteractis magnifica) is probably the most commonly photographed of all the anemones. A Blackfoot Anemonefish (Amhiprion nigripes), which is only found in the Maldives, rests in its tentacles.
The majestic Manta Ray (Manta birostris) is a dynamic filter feeder. It moves easily through the water using its unfurled cephalic fins to shovel microscopic nutritious black specks of plankton that comprise its diet into its massive open mouth.
The Manta Ray (Manta birostris) is a fast swimmer, streamlined and hydrodynamic in shape, and presents the appearance of a stealth bomber. It flies through the water inhaling plankton into its mouth after which the plankton is raked over its gills.