We were staying in Bandos. It was about half way through our idyllic holiday in 2010. I was really up for it. To see these unique creatures up close and personal was something I really wanted to do. I was however slightly intimidated as I am never very good a being taking out into the middle of the ocean and hopping off the boat with flippers and a snorkel knowing I can’t see the bottom. I am always more than happy to snorkel from the shore to explore a house reef, never venturing out further than I feel comfortable.
A holiday in The Maldives is not complete without at least one boat trip. Many of the islands are accessed by speed boat, but now seaplanes are used to deliver you to some of the resorts further from the airport. On a boat trip there is a very high chance that you will see dolphins and in 2011 there was a blue whale off the coast of Kurumathi, which was spotted by fellow holidaymakers on a Sunset Cruise.
Manta Rays have the largest brain of any fish. They feed on plankton and fish larvae and are often found at cleaning stations where smaller fish such as angelfish swim in the manta’s gills and over its skin to feed, in the process cleaning it of parasites and dead tissue. Mantas have a tail similar to stringrays, but they have lost their stinger and are harmless to divers.
When we arrived at the dive site, although we were in the middle of the beautiful Indian Ocean, we were only about 20 meters deep. I was swimming in a group of about 12, led by one of the guys off the boat. It only took about 10 minutes before we saw our first manta. A giant shadow appeared circling gracefully around us. Wiki tells me that the largest ray every recorded was 25 feet across, well this one had to be 15ft. Within another couple of minutes, at least 9 other rays appeared from nowhere and joined the first and circled around us as if to say “Here we are, you’ve come to see us, so take a good look. We maybe huge, but we are gentle, beautiful creatures”. It was a unique and humbling experience. They performed this majestic sweep around us long enough to identify the one without a tail, the baby and others with varying degrees of scarring on their bodies. Then we were back on the boat feeling like we had just woken up from a dream.