Hole in one is to golfers is what manta rays are to me. It is a dream of every scuba diver to see a manta ray in the wild. The sheer size of these gentle giants makes divers travel places to have a glimpse of them. An adult Manta ray can grow up to 27 feet. And can weigh up to 1500 kilograms.
In wildlife photography it is essential to research, for the location and for the appropriate season, to increase the chances of encountering the desired species.
Unfortunately to see a manta one has to travel either to very remote places or to some treacherous waters. Komodo Island in Indonesia is a very good destination for diving and also to see these filter feeders. However I dropped the idea of going there after some experienced divers told me that underwater currents there could be very strong. What’s the point of diving if you’re not going to allow yourself to take in all of the underwater splendor around you? Instead just battling currents and holding on to dear life.
Hawaii island is another place where the chances of encountering these magnificent creatures are very high. But to travel to Hawaii from India is quiet a task.
Maldives however seemed a very lucrative option. Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll is world famous for the highest known congregation of these filter feeders. It is said that one could see 200 of these individuals at a time. I can only imagine, the sight, which would be. Unfortunately one cannot dive there anymore due to the ongoing conservation efforts. However, one can snorkel there with view restrictions.
In a tour itinerary in my mailbox, I stumbled upon a dive site called ‘Manta Point’ in Bali. This rang some bells. Bali has been an international tourist hotspot for decades. It has something to interest all age groups and suit all pockets. It is easily accessible from all parts of the world. But I still had my doubts. Will the waters be as clear? Aren’t the waters around Bali polluted with trash?
USS Liberty, a dive site in Bali, is amongst the top 10 dive sites in the world on Google. This helped and I was on my way to Bali.
Padangbai in Bali is where the speedboats take off for the Manta Point. A 45 minutes spectacular ride with incredible views of isolated hills in the ocean and you are there.
Manta point is a cleaning station: i.e. Mantas come here to get themselves cleaned of the parasites. We dove in. Water was cold. I could see the ocean floor as soon as we were in the water. It was going to be a shallow dive. This meant we could spend more time underwater and also the snorkelers will have a good chance of seeing the mantas, should we encounter them.
Ocean floor was filled with hard corals and there was an underwater hill in front of us. My dive instructor kept pulling my fin, signaling me to join her at the ocean floor. But my photography instincts told me that the only way the mantas are going to come was from over that hill. We waited doing absolutely nothing. We in India are used to wait for tigers to show up while sitting in our safari vehicles checking on our camera settings. I had never previously waited underwater doing nothing. Underwater every minute is spent exploring and absorbing the incredible life around.
It was worth the wait, Mother Nature obliged as twelve of these individuals came over the hill and made a fly by just over my head. It was incredible!
Rest of the dive was spent photographing these magnificent creatures flying in formation as if it were a fighter jet squadron.
We got pretty cold but who cared. When the tanks went empty, we came to our boat. Return journey was celebrated with smiles, hearts filled with joy, cake and hot tea.