Underwater ballet in the Maldives

Maldives.net.mv – We were in a pristine white speedboat that had halted a short distance from the protected Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll, Maldives. Baa Atoll is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, an area teeming with marine life including manta ray aggregations and migratory whale sharks.

We were getting ready to jump into the vast, unknown ocean. Even with a life vest, the fear was paralyzing.

For all practical purposes, I think of myself as a non-swimmer. But I couldn’t imagine coming all the way to the Maldives and not swimming with the magnificent mantas. With the assurance of the resort swim guide, I took a deep breath and jumped in. I adjusted my snorkelling gear and looked into the ocean below me. My eyes took a few seconds to get used to the depth. I began to see the dark shape of a cleaning station on the seabed. (A cleaning station is usually a coral patch where mantas aggregate to be cleaned by smaller fish.)

THEN, from the corner of my eye, I spotted a graceful, winged motion. For a brief second, it took me back to the many nights I had spent watching manta rays in a Nat Geo documentary.

Soon, they were all around us!

Manta ray - Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll, Maldives

Carpet-sized mantas glided effortlessly, in what can only be described as a magical, underwater ballet. Deafening silence underwater yet they seemed like they were in sync with a beautiful, classical music piece. Very other-worldly!

A friendly manta that passed from below me

Making eye contact with a passing manta

My fear had completely vanished as I watched the elegant mantas do their feeding dance.

Chain feeding pattern of the mantas

Mantas are filter feeders. They consume huge amounts of water to get to the planktons they need for their nourishment. Simply put, they are harmless to humans. In fact, they are known for their friendly and curious personalities. Individual mantas are identified by their underbelly markings and spots.

Underbelly markings are used to identify mantas

The marine biologists have assigned cute names to the mantas they see on a regular basis like Bubbles or Squirt or Dipstick 🙂

Manta rays have one of the highest brain to body mass ratios of all underwater creatures. And their intelligence was quite apparent. They would swim right at me and then deflect just in time to swim by or under me.

A feeding manta headed straight in my direction

Goodbye my manta friend!

When I got back to the boat, I was in a trance. The interaction with these gentle giants was mesmerizing and my appreciation for them had grown exponentially.

On this blog, I rarely mention all the beautiful hotels and resorts we stay at, unless there is something really, REALLY special about the place. But our trip to the Maldives happened only because of the Four Seasons at Landaa Giraavaru, supporter of one of the largest manta ray programs in the world. It also offers its guests one-of-a-kind activities like ‘Manta scientist for a day’. And that for us, was the deciding factor.

Kudos to the Maldivian government for actively protecting Hanifaru Bay, by limiting the number of boats visiting at any given time. It has also banned diving in the bay. Only snorkelling is allowed.

A big thank you to the Recreation Centre staff and marine biologists at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru, Guy Stevens (manta scientist and conservationist extraordinaire), the Manta Trust and the Maldivian Manta Ray Project, for all the amazing work you do with the mantas and to protect the ocean.  Thank you for the most spectacular experience of our life! Nothing will ever match up to the pure, unadulterated, almost child-like joy of swimming with the playful mantas in their natural habitat. Unless, the next time, we get to swim with a whale shark 😉

Till then, dhanee my dear friends. We’ll surely be back for more quality time with the Maldivian mantas.

This blog is written by Anne Pinto Rodrigues. Anne describes herself as a nature lover, art enthusiast, accidental gardener, polyglot, but to travel and explore new cultures has been a passion. She have been very fortunate to live this dream in her various travels for study, work and pleasure. You can read more from No Roads Barred! http://noroadbarred.wordpress.com/

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