One of the things that’s been on my Bucket List for quite some time now, is Mantas. As a diver of 200 odd dives, other than a fleeting glimpse of one in the distance, I’ve never yet got to dive with them. So in the great tradition of “life’s too short”, I recently booked a last minute live aboard in the Maldives to experience the “Best of”, according to the website. And I certainly got the best of my bucket list wish!
The sunsets out in the Maldives are stunning, and we certainly made the most of them. In addition the boat I was on is gorgeous. MV Orion – “luxury” according to the literature, and it didn’t disappoint. It was huge and much better spec than other liveaboards I’ve been on. My room was big. Two single beds and space to move around in, and a shower room that wouldn’t be amiss in a hotel. Given the shower cupboards I usually share on a boat, this was definite luxury. Oh, and on that point, as the boat wasn’t full, I’m didn’t share. Yes, on a liveaboard and I had a room to myself. That is the definition of dive holiday luxury!
Around the middle of the week, we spent looking for Whalesharks at South Ari Atoll. At this time of year the plankton is thick and it attracts big things. Sadly, we missed the whalesharks, but it looks like all the other boats out there did too.
On the following day, we were told we’d be looking for manta this time. Apparently there are regular cleaning stations that the guides know well and regularly see the big rays on. We dropped down onto the first one – it’s a reef, but a bare one. There are a few fish hanging around, and we swim one way along the reef, then back again, desperately keeping eyes out into the blue for any sign. Nothing. It’s disappointing, but a reminder to take nothing for granted as a diver.
We surfaced after an hour looking, and sighed on the surface; hey, maybe next dive. Then someone suddenly called out – “Below us!”. Put my face into the water and there it is : a HUGE manta, about 15m down. I check my air – I’ve got 60 bar left still. Have I got time? I make a decision and drop.
I hit 14m and I’m right next to it. It’s huge, about 3.5m across, and stunning. So graceful, and peaceful, like a huge bird in flight. And it just hangs there, right in front of me, hovering up food and chilling. It’s not bothered by me in the slightest. My buddy is behind me and there’s just three of us in the water. This is our own personal manta viewing!
My first manta – and it’s breathtaking!
I come up after 15 minutes – I pretty much drained the tank dry, but I don’t care. I’m happy. Very happy. Even if I don’t get any more manta this week, i’ve seen one; I’ve sat next to it on the reef while it looked at me. I’m humbled.
In the afternoon, we try another site – a bigger cleaning station. This time there are tons more divers, so it’s not my personal viewing pleasure this time, but there are mantas and mantas. they fly up off the deep and onto the station, hovering while the cleaner wrasse eat the parasites out of their gills. When they’re finished they fly off in formation, and another one replaces them. It’s like a car wash.
At one point, there are two queueing up, and when the first is finished, he gracefully flies right over my head. I could have reached out and touched his belly as he flew (but I didn’t of course!)
Evening Manta time
After our Manta adventures, we headed back to the boat for dinner. The crew shone a light off the back of the boat – spotlights on the water. This attracts plankton to the light, which in turn attracts….manta! We all sat out the back of the boat waiting, wondering if we’d be better off just heading to the bar. But before long, one appeared. Flying in on the surface, it headed straight for the light, and the plankton, and did 5 gorgeous barrel rolls to with it;s huge mouth open and it’s belly to the sky. We get a great view.
I’m not missing this opportunity, and I quickly strip off, grab my fins and snorkel and jump in. And it comes back.. Time and time again, not worried about us in the slightest. And it rolls right in front of me, again I could touch it. It disappears when it’s eaten all the plankton under the lights, but appears again after a while, to sup again. I’m in the water for 45 minutes and I’m freezing by the time I get out. But it was worth it!
So after I thought I might not get to see these gorgeous creatures after my first dive, I’ve ended up being totally manta’d-up in one day!
And my bucket list is now, happily, one item shorter.