Bold and Beautiful – How To Dive Alongside Reef Manta Rays
The who: What is a manta ray?
Contrary to popular belief, the manta ray is not dangerous like its relative, the stingray. The manta ray does not have a stinger or barb and only eats plankton, rendering it harmless to humans.
They have large forward-opening jaws to filter food through and their eyes are on the sides of their body.
In Komodo, the manta rays that you find are the reef manta ray (Mobula alfredi). They have an average disc span between 3 and 3.5 meters but some females can reach 5.5 meters wide! They can weigh in at a total of 1.4 tons. They can live anywhere between 20 and 50 years of age. They are ranked as vulnerable by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The where: Komodo dive sites
Manta rays can be spotted all around Komodo National Park throughout the year. They are found often at the dive sites Manta Alley (south-west) and Makassar Reef (central). These sites are more colloquially known as “Manta Point” and with good reason! Mantas are often at these dive sites because of the main cleaning stations that are there, as well as the quantity of good feeding and food.
There is more chance of manta sighting at the northern dive sites of Komodo. They are less frequent during the low season because of the poorer weather and lower numbers of plankton to feed on.
Love megafauna? We do too! Head over to our previous blog with details about where to best spy megafauna in Komodo.
The when: when can I see mantas?
In December, we see a drop in water temperatures in Komodo. This leads to an increase in plankton numbers, which the manta rays feed off. This is why we see an increase in numbers of manta rays migrating into the area up until about February.
It is possible to see manta rays throughout the other months of the year but numbers are much lower. Sightings can go from 0-5 mantas per dive in July up to 70 mantas per dive in high manta season (December-February).
With so many mantas flooding into our Komodo waters for high season, you have a great chance of catching a glimpse of one of these spectacular animals.
The how-to: Best practices while diving
In Komodo National Park, diving with mantas rays is one of the most highly sought-after experiences. Alongside other popular experiences such as swimming with the turtles and carving up those wild diving currents.
We know how thrilling it can be when you’re surrounded by these frickin’ amazing creatures. But it is important to go over the ground rules for when you meet one in the water.
1. Give those manta rays space
Don’t approach closer than 3 meters towards the manta.
A top tip is to stay as close as possible to the seabed, but being careful not to damage any corals or reef. If there is a suitable rock, latch onto that! That will help you hang around and watch them for as long as you want.
It is okay to break the 3-meter zone if the manta comes towards you to make closer contact.
2. Keep the swimming path clear
Manta eyes are on the side of their body. This makes it difficult to see things in their path. Stay to the side or behind them and let them venture on.
3. Move slowly and consciously around mantas
These gentle giants will be spooked if divers rush towards them. Move and kick slowly so not to scare them off in the opposite direction.
Also, be aware of where your fins and body are positioned when moving around the dive site.
This comes to the next point…
4. No chasing – Please!
If you do spook a manta by accident, don’t challenge them to a swimming race. They will win and are even more unlikely to come back. If they do swim off, let them be and fingers crossed there will be another further down the dive site.
5. Manta ray cleaning stations are a no-go-zone
The reason that mantas come to these dives sites is to feed and mate, but they also come to be cleaned. Patches of lush coral can found with rich fish life. Manta rays swim around these for up to 12 minutes at a time during their cleaning ritual. Smaller fish zip around eating off bacteria and parasites that live on the mantas.
If you see a manta in one of the coral patch cleaning stations, stay that golden 3-meter from the perimeter of the station. Mantas move around them and you don’t want to disturb them halfway through their shower! Show them some privacy, and they will reward you with a spectacular chance to see them gliding through the reef.
6. Avoid flash photography
Let’s face it, having someone flashing bright lights in your eyes is just not cool. Mantas don’t enjoy the flashing either. Let’s keep those amazing manta pics to non-flash photography for those wicked memories.
Now for the golden rule!
7. Hands off those rays!
This goes for all marine life, no touching. As well as for the enticing but protected coral life. If nothing else do it to protect our precious reef and animals, plus you just don’t know what might sting, bite or eat you!
So just chill out, kick back in the current and use your eyes to soak up the thriving sea creatures that you meet.
If nothing else ask!
Unsure on what to do when diving with manta rays or any other weird and wonderful creatures in the big blue? Always get advice from the local dive store, club or experienced locals in the area.
At Scuba Republic we are always happy to sit down and talk through best diving practices. This is to ensure we are caring for our rich underwater world.
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Written by Ebony Prescott
Pictures by Wander Deeper and Ebony Prescott
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