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The sea was calm and quiet as I adjusted my dive mask and slipped under the gentle waves of Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives.

In the tropical water beneath me, huge shapes began to form. A dozen enormous manta rays were filter-feeding on plankton, their giant fins moving in slow motion, propelling them through the water with their mouths wide open.They wheeled at the end of a long run, then came back towards me, passing so close I lifted my legs to avoid a collision. I felt their wake as they passed, and shuddered in delight and awe at their scale and grace.

Too many people think of the magnificent Maldives as just a honeymoon destination. Sure, you can have a romantic break there on the finest beaches Mother Nature has created. But the Maldives are also one of the best places on the planet to see incredible marine life. The scattered islands are like an oasis in the sea.

 

Life gravitates towards them from across a vast area of the Indian Ocean. Their real beauty is best appreciated beneath the waves. It might require a Herculean effort to leave a comfy lounger on a glorious beach and strap on heavy oxygen tanks, but you must, because diving in the Maldives rates high on any list of extraordinary experiences.

It’s not just the Maldives. Diving almost anywhere gifts you sights and memories that will linger forever. If your children are old enough to give it a try, then you need to inspire, lead or beg them into the water, whether in the Indian Ocean or the Solent. I was a late convert to diving. A strong swimmer in my teens, when I managed to represent London at breast-stroke, I always thought diving was too nerdy and involved far too much expensive kit. But then I made a series where I travelled around the edge of the Indian Ocean, and I knew I had to earn my underwater wings. Off I went to a swimming pool in north London and then a flooded quarry in Leicestershire, aka the coldest place on earth, to get my PADI.

Dropping into water off South Africa for my first ocean dive was a complete revelation. I tumbled into a sharky cave, with grey beasties who were curious about my presence but not remotely threatening. I remember every moment of it clearly. Don’t let anything or anyone put you off: diving is a transformational experience.

It changes how you see the planet. It turns a simple underwater swim into an epic adventure. Get yourself and your kids trained and ready to scuba as soon as possible. Yet the challenge for many parents is persuading children to face their fears and go below the waves.

If anyone has a foolproof method of persuasion I’d love to hear, because in truth I’ve completely failed to cajole my six-year-old son Jake to even put his head under the water while swimming. Every face mask sold online has been suggested and rejected. I know I need to take a deep breath and just be patient, but it’s frustrating. I want him to have experiences. And diving offers huge rewards for even the youngest swimmers. Of all the incredible travel experiences I’ve had, diving is the closest I’ve ever come to visiting another planet.

Don’t let anything or anyone put you off: diving changes how you see the planet.

Read more of Simon Reeve's columns

See more of Simon Reeve’s columns

Simon Reeve has travelled extensively in more than 120 countries and presented multiple award-winning BBC TV series, including Australia, Sacred Rivers, Tropic of Cancer,
Indian Ocean and Caribbean. His latest series is Turkey.