Mantas of Maldives By Aminath Ishrath
Manta Rays are the gentle giants among the “Big 5” of the Maldives marine life. Good news is, they can be spotted all year round the year as they migrate through the atolls. If swimming alongside a Manta is on your bucket list, you just need to be a bit ahead in planning where you are and when you are there. Here is why.
Maldives experiences two distinct monsoons. The Northeast monsoon is approximately from January to April and the Southwest monsoon is from May to November. In each monsoon, the temperature varies, wind patterns and rainfall changes, and schools of fish behave differently.
The diet of a Manta consists of plankton navigating the ocean currents. Plankton concentrates near different atolls during the two different monsoons and the Mantas migrate to these atolls to feed and clean. While most people generally encounter Reef Manta Rays in Maldives, another species can be found here; the Oceanic Manta Ray. About two feet larger than the average Reef Manta, Oceanic Mantas can also be distinguished by the spots and coloration on the dorsal and ventral surfaces. These giants are also known as pelagic fish because they do not generally swim as close to the surface as Reef Mantas. If you spot an Oceanic Manta, consider yourself very lucky!
Here are some of the best spots you should keep in mind.
A marine protected area in Lhaviyani atoll, this Thila (underwater coral mountain) is in full manta season swing right now. During September and October, these giants drop by Fushifaru cleaning stations and snorkelers and divers can see them gliding around with cleaner wrasse dutifully feasting on any parasites. It is definitely a well-oiled system under the sea.
From December to April, this shallow Thila in North Male’ atoll is frequented by Reef Mantas looking to clean themselves. Referred by almost all marine biologists as a spa station for Mantas, Rasfari North is an excellent spot to snorkel with these amazing creatures!
If you are a Manta enthusiast, you have heard of Hanifaru Bay. A UNESCO biosphere reserve in Baa Atoll, this marine park is known for spectacular encounters where hundreds of Mantas gather to feed on plankton from May to November. An incredibly lucky moment would be to witness the barrel-roll feeding technique!
If you miss the Manta gathering at Hanifaru, do not worry! Once the plankton changes its course with the current, the Mantas follow and head to Raa atoll. The area around Vandhoo is frequented by manta rays during the southwest monsoon and Kottafaru is also a good spot for during the wet season.
Feeling adventurous yet? Keep these tips in mind; enter the water calmly, be respectful of these creatures and enjoy the spectacular show!