I’m colour blind – night diving in the Maldives was nothing like I’d imagined

I can see no colours at all, just blackness. My high-powered torch burns away none of the pressing pitch that engulfs us. Floating weightlessly, I feel very much as though I’m in outer space. Sunset was less than an hour ago; I hadn’t expected it to be quite so dark down here.

I turn away from the deep sea to face the reef: my diving companions are all but invisible behind torch beams which scour the alien-looking formations that cling to the drop-off. In the pallid torchlight, the corals appear osseous, wan, or dull and brown.

Like 8 per cent of all men, I have a colour-vision deficiency. I don’t perceive reds and greens quite the same as most people: what you might see as a lustrous, deep burgundy, I might dismiss as a drab, russet brown.

James Draven diving with a torch (Photo: Supplied)
James Draven diving with a torch (Photo: Supplied)

Due to the way that water absorbs long-wavelength light, reds and oranges are particularly hard to distinguish underwater, for anybody. And colour-blind or not, none of us can properly see hues at night because the colour receptive cones in our eyes struggle in low-light situations – which is when our monochromatic rods do the proverbial heavy lifting.

So, given those three factors, why have I decided to go night diving amid the spectacular colours of the Maldives’ coral reefs?

Soba, my dive buddy and manager of Sun Siyam Iru Veli resort’s dive centre, reveals all when he signals that I should switch on the second, bulky, torch he has equipped me with. With the click of a button, the scene transforms into a fluorescent fun house.

Coral branches radiate yellow and green as brightly as tangles of glow sticks, and brain corals pulsate in psychedelic purple and mind-boggling orange. Scores of tropical fish, previously unseen, are suddenly luminescent in electric blue stripes or splashes of red. The effect is the same as nightclub blacklight. So, too, is the science.

Blue-light diving – also known as fluoro diving or UV diving – is a relatively recent scuba trend that uses ultraviolet torches, which interact with the pigments in some sea organisms, causing them to emit an array of fluorescent colours.

Fluorescence diving shows reefs, such as galaxy coral in a new light (Photo: pclark2/Getty Images)
Fluorescence diving shows reefs, such as galaxy coral in a new light (Photo: pclark2/Getty Images)

I’m a qualified Padi open water diver, with 28 dives under my weight belt, but all of those were in ideal, daytime conditions. This is my first night dive, usually the preserve of advanced open water certificate holders or those with a night-dive speciality accreditation.

Although it’s proving spectacular, it does require additional precautions. I’m equipped with a top-of-the-range Garmin Descent Mk3i watch-style diving computer, which offers not just an on-screen compass, but GPS and a vibrant full-colour map to guide me to safety should I get separated from Soba. It has a torch too, and its advanced algorithm even tells me if I’m alert enough to be diving at night.

To protect my eyes from the ultraviolet light we’re all shining around, the resort’s dive centre has outfitted me with one of its clever Seadive masks: its exterior blue lens coating reduces UV rays, while a rose-coloured filter inside restores the vibrance of the reef’s oranges, yellows and reds.

Shrimp, it transpires, sport vivid, fluorescent knee joints, somnolent sea turtles have a hazy halo around their shells, and tiny nudibranch molluscs twinkle and shine like gems in the murk. Despite my colour-blindness, it all makes for a kaleidoscopic dive.

Siyam World's overwater rooms (Photo: Supplied)
Siyam World’s overwater rooms (Photo: Supplied)

The Maldives harbours the world’s seventh-largest reef ecosystem and the fifth most biodiverse according to conservation group the Blue Marine Foundation. But as a holiday destination it is sometimes thought of as a beige experience – the preserve of loved-up honeymooners who require little stimulation beyond a beach and a bed.
But those demographics are changing.

I flew to the Maldives on Virgin Atlantic’s new direct service from Heathrow to Malé, and the passengers included families with toddlers, retirees, a gal-pals’ getaway and workmates on an incentive trip.

Resorts in the Maldivian-owned Sun Siyam portfolio cater particularly to multigenerational celebrations and groups of friends. The newest, Siyam World, runs the whole gamut of holiday fun.

Like Iru Veli, much of this is based on innovation. Arriving by seaplane, I can see the Indian Ocean’s largest floating water park. By the jetty, an adventurous guest zooms into the skies on a water-propelled Flyboard, while a snorkeller zips around under the sea with an underwater jetpack strapped to their back.

Sara Siyam is heir to the Siyam empire and runs Siyam World along with husband Ausy Waseem. They run the resort with the exuberance of children in control of a theme park.

There’s a football pitch, kids’ yoga classes, DJ sets in the evening and horse riding on the beach. A go-kart track is coming soon, and guests can also rent electric Mini Mokes or spend time with the resorts’ marine biologists, collecting damaged coral and replanting new coral. It’s anything but boring.

Getting there
Seven nights at Sun Siyam Iru Veli start at £3,675pp, or Siyam World from £3,365pp, including Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow, seaplane transfers and all-inclusive accommodation, virginholidays.co.uk