The manta night dive

It is late in the afternoon and we are on our way to Fesdu Lagoon here in the Maldives, where we want to park before dark. The entrance to the lagoon is not wide, so we can only enter during daylight, as we can see the reef. The special thing about this lagoon is that it is not only big enough for a liveaboard, but especially because mantas regularly come into the lagoon in the evening to eat. And that is the perfect opportunity for us divers to take a night dive with these elegant giants. 

Manta feeding in our lights

Once the boat is anchored, we hang four super strong lights just above the water to attract plankton, the manta’s favorite snack. It’s amazing to see a huge cloud of tiny life gathering at the stern just below the surface. And of course we are already looking extensively over the railing for the manta. As soon as the sun goes down, this elegant ray swims into lagoons to eat and thus they are immediately protected against, for example, tiger sharks for the night. And they have a special eating technique, specific for the manta. What they do is a kind of backward roll, called backflip or manta barrel. And they can really do that endlessly without throwing up from the nausea. Because let’s be honest, if we did, we’d be spinning on our feet in no time. 

Anyway tonight we hope to be lucky and everyone is really looking forward. Of course we do a briefing to make sure we all understand what is expected. But then it’s just waiting for the Manta and hoping she comes, in the end it is not a zoo but nature so you never know. 

Dancing together

I gather everyone for a briefing for this dive and explain that behind our ship we’ll be sitting in a circle on the bottom in the sand, being as careful as possible because the sand is like powder sugar. Everyone takes a torch and shines it diagonally upwards to the center of our circle. It is important that we keep that torch a bit away from us, because the manta uses it as a reference and swims close to it. So if you don’t raise your lamp and the manta comes, this huge animal with a span of three to five meters and about 500 kilos of weight will swim casually against you and that is just not the intention. Not only would that give a huge mess, it can also hurt a lot, not to mention the manta is a protected species, so you can’t touch it. 

After the briefing everyone goes outside again and of course we can only do one thing, stare over the railing at the manta. We see some mackerels that eat ‘our’ plankton with their mouths open: ksssst… get away, that’s not for you! And we look at the various strange animals that come towards our light. And then it happens: MANTAAAAA calls one of our crew members and I run over to him, look along his pointing arm and sure enough… MANTAAA!!! Time to go diving! I ring the ship’s bell to signal that we are going to dive and everyone boards our Dhoni, our dive dinghy, and begin to change. Bit of a madhouse and that’s actually fun. Everyone is giggling and screaming and eager to get into the water. First, one of our guides, armed with a number of torches, enters the water to mark our location. Then everyone follows and I jump overboard as one of the last and descend to about ten meters. My god what a dust, well that’s what you get with so many enthusiastic divers and sand, and I look around to find my orientation and check where my fellow guides are. As soon as I got it I look for a suitable spot and watch our guests to see if everything is going well. A few have the lamp a bit low, so we help everyone to make sure no one is swum into. Due to all the commotion of divers looking for a place to sit, the manta has swam away for a while, but she will come back again. In the meantime, a pink whip ray joins our group and keeps things busy while we wait. Fortunately it doesn’t take long and out of the dark water a large shadow comes by and starts swimming elegantly and calmly, flying just above our torches. What a wonderful experience that is! Endless, magical and apparently hungry, this manta spins in circles with her mouth fully open and just 10cm away and soon she got a boyfriend to join in the fun. The visability is of course not clear, but the experience lingers on for a lifetime. I hear people laughing with pleasure and some even chatting with their regulators in their mouths, the oohs and ahhs are heard clearly and as time passes quickly a the 45 minutes are over in a heartbeat. Time to go up and we try to get everyone to the safety stop under our Dhoni. Once in the stop it seems as if people have won the lottery and make flying movements with their arms and all have a big smile on their face. How beautiful life is! 

Love life… Blow bubbles…