To swim in the calm, clear waters around the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is to enter a mystical realm on the cusp of the South Ari Atoll Marine Protected Area, the largest marine sanctuary in the country and habitat for the whale shark. The house reef, accessible from the shore on the eastern side of the main island, has fields of coral that are fertile feeding grounds for endemic fish. This is where to see two-toned yellowback anthias, trevally that look like silvery blades, slender butterflyfish that slip in and out of sight, the lurid, clubby hued fluorescent wrasse and parrotfish, schools of chromis that glint and change tones in the light, and turtles and octopus that hover and plod around the reefs.
Swimming isn’t the only option for viewing animals within the water — they are visible from Ithaa undersea restaurant and the soon-to-open underwater accommodation Muraka. This new villa features the house reef on one side where schools of fish roam, and open deep water on the other where graceful sharks and rays glide and swoop. Marine biologists worked diligently to ensure that the coral remained healthy during the villa’s construction, moving sections 50 metres away to be replanted when the building work is complete in late 2018.
Sensitivity to and respect for the marine ecosystem, which wasn’t spared from the global reef-bleaching event of El Niño in 2016, underpins the resort’s coral-regeneration programme: A nursery resides in the resort’s lagoon and guests can adopt coral frames so these marine invertebrates are given the chance to flourish once again.