Diving with manta rays is every scuba divers’ dream, and with good reason. These gentle giants move with the elegance of a ballet dancer while feeding on plankton or getting cleaned on one of the many cleaning stations in Asia. Who wouldn’t want to witness a majestic show by manta rays?
Worldwide there are multiple dive destinations where you can encounter manta rays. Here are our favorite places in Asia.
In Komodo, you can dive year-round with Manta Rays. The cold and nutrient-rich upwellings create an excellent feeding condition where plankton’s blooms hit the shallow waters. The most famous dive site is Manta Alley, where manta rays gather in large numbers to feast on the plankton. Along the reef, you will find various cleaning stations where you can also observe these gentle giants.
Koh Bon and Tachai pinnacle are the two best dive sites in the Similan islands, where you can see manta rays. Koh Bon has a ridge where you can hang around for them to appear and otherwise try at the reef. The dive site is not particularly large, so it is relatively easy to Pendle from one area to another.
Tachai Pinnacle is another hotspot for Similan liveaboards to dive with manta rays. The strong currents and beautiful corals attract lots of different marine life, including whale sharks.
Nusa Penida has numerous cleaning stations for manta rays to scuba dive or snorkel with these giant rays. Even from shore, you can locate them moving around.
If one manta point is not suitable to go cause of currents, swell, or other weather-related issues, you can relocate to the next location and try your luck over there.
Presumably, the most famous place to snorkel with manta rays in the Maldives is Hanifaru bay. You can witness up to 100 mantas feasting on krill and plankton what is a beautiful sight to observe. On some occasions, whale sharks will join the feeding feast. Near Hanifaru, there are numerous cleaning stations where you can dive with them.
For a night dive with manta rays, most people think about Hawaii; however, you can do this also in the Ari Atoll. Maldives liveaboards will drop an anchor in the bay where the lights of the liveaboard draw in plankton. When you start your dive, you take a torch down, which you place on the seafloor; shining up, you will attract the plankton, and Mantas will emerge from the dark. This is a magnificent diving experience.
On a Raja Ampat liveaboard, you can get to several manta dive sites on a particular voyage. With the Southern region Magic mountain and Blue Magic where you can see the reef and oceanic manta. In the North, you have Manta sandy and Manta ridge. If you’re lucky enough, you can spot both species on a single dive.
In the South Andaman, there are two cleaning stations South of the Phi Phi islands (Hin Daeng (red rock) and Hin Muang (purple rock). They thank their names to the colors of the soft corals. These two dive sites are renowned for seeing manta rays and whale sharks.
There are two species of Manta rays that you can encounter during your snorkeling or diving holiday. The tinier of the 2 is the Manta Alfredi with the general name of Reef Manta. These can get an average width of 3 meters.
The Giant Oceanic Manta has the scientific name Manta Birostris and has an average wingspan of 5m/16ft. These rays are known to travel great distances along coastlines.
Both breeds have three color variations. Black and white are most common where the rump is black, and the stomach is white. All black and all-white variations are less frequently seen.
When manta rays are feeding, they open up their mouth wide open where rows of tiny rakes line up in their mouth and start filtering zooplankton and krill. During these periods, they perform a majestic show with somersaults to stay at the same place where the most krill is. Another way mantas feed is by swimming in a chain that will generate a cyclone and confining the food.
A usual place where you can find manta rays are cleaning stations. These are coral reefs where smaller fish such as wrasses and cleaner fish pick parasites and dead skin of larger sea animals. Manta rays are known to return to the same cleaning stations over and over again.
Researches have shown that manta rays have a giant brain to size ratio of any cold-blooded fish. They can recognize themselves in a mirror and create a mental map of their environment. Manta rays have highly developed long-term memory cause of their scent and optical cues.
When a manta needs help, they are known to approach scuba divers for assistance.
After 8 to 10 years, Female Manta rays hit the sexual majority when giving birth to one or occasionally two pups. The live puppies will be born after 12-13 months and immediately survive without parental care. They can get pregnant every couple of years. They can live up to 50 years of age.
Identifying a Manta ray is relatively easy when you can see the belly. On the ventral surface, each manta has a unique pattern of spots that will remain mostly unchanged during their lives. You can compare it with a human fingerprint, where the unique patterns help scientists identify each manta. If you have any pictures of the manta’s belly, you can send them to manta trust, where they will have a database with numerous manta rays in Asia.