Think of it as sushi,” says a fellow snorkeller when I speculate on the amount of plankton I’m gulping down while I clumsily tread water in flippers. Those itty-bitty organisms are the reason we’re here, on an excursion from Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu in the Maldives, because plankton attracts manta rays.
Renowned wildlife photographer Patrick Dykstra shot manta footage for Blue Planet II in the region and shared his experience during a residency at Coco Palm last year. Sure enough, our own manta ray arrives and I twist to see its incredible alien mouth stretched to filter in its microscopic meal, its ribs spookily visible within.
Back on the boat, I spot speeding fins below and convince myself they belong to sharks before a ripple of flesh reveals two more rays streaking past the remaining snorkellers. Later, heading back to the resort, there’s another surprise as about 15 spinner dolphins appear at our boat’s prow. We shriek with delight as a couple of them jump clear of the water and pirouette three times.
It may not always appear in such spectacular form, but nature is the foreground at Coco Palm. The resort, part of Coco Collection and a sister to Coco Bodu Hithi, sits at the southern tip of Baa Atoll, a Unesco biosphere reserve. We arrive in style on a 30-minute seaplane transfer from Male that gives an exciting aerial perspective on this island nation.
Used to the sandbar look of the Maldives, I’m startled by the amount of vegetation at Coco Palm. The main beach is as wide as the Mexican Riviera’s, but behind it foliage arches above sand pathways, shading both guests and water hens.
Like everyone else, I’m soon barefoot. Ecotourism is more than just the vibe here, however. I’m given a backstage tour to see furniture being made from reclaimed timber, waste being sent for recycling and the desalination and bottling plant that keeps the resort plastic-free.
Most pleasing is the Marine Turtle Rescue Centre for animals injured by fishing nets. I wince at pre-surgery photographs of one patient, a bloodied bone protruding from the remains of its flipper. Over the course of my stay, I’m pleased to see the turtle progress to tentative dives.
This is a four-star resort, so it’s not without its rustic luxury touches. My thatched Beach Villa has a four-poster bed, an outdoor bathroom and a plunge pool. In the large spa, I enjoy a Balinese massage in a wonderful open-sided treatment room surrounded by the sounds of nature.
The main buffet restaurant includes a couple of live cooking stations. At breakfast, omelettes, waffles and pancakes are made to order and you can juice your own oranges. Two alfresco restaurants are available at extra cost. The highlight is the sunset beach barbecue. Here, I tuck into the best lobster I’ve tasted, fresh from the grill.
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