By Steph Venables
On my count, one, two, three, go!
It’s hard to beat the excitement just before a dive, especially if it’s a survey dive at a manta aggregation site. Will we see mantas? How many? Will they stick around? Will they be new individuals, or old favorites?
On our recent Ray of Hope Expedition, we had 12 spectacular, manta-loving guests join us for 10 days of manta diving at our satellite research station at Papua Explorers Dive Resort in Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Throughout the course of the expedition, the MMF team was able to share an insight into the world of marine megafauna research, which in all honesty, is not always easy!
The first few days started off a little slow, on some dives we saw no mantas at all, on some we had one or two fly by in the distance. But when you are studying large, highly mobile marine animals that can cover greater distances and dive to greater depths than you, sometimes this is simply the way it goes.
The group’s perseverance paid off though, big time! We were treated to large surface feeding aggregations, close encounters in crazy currents, calmer dives at cleaning stations where we were really able to lose ourselves in the graceful and mesmerizing movements of the mantas, and even to aerial views of mantas feeding in the stunning lagoons of Wayag. We encountered large, mature females, frisky males, juveniles and even a tiny ‘young of the year’ baby manta. Raja Ampat really showed its magic above and below the water, and we managed to squeeze in some ‘fun dives’ too to experience the colorful and biodiverse reef ecosystems of the archipelago.
Once the initial excitement of being surrounded by manta rays died down, our guests were able to focus on their ID photographing skills, while scuba diving and even freediving with mantas. So good, in fact, that we managed to beat our past Ray of Hope Expeditions record for Raja Ampat. The final trip totals were 180 manta encounters, 119 different individuals and 43 new additions to our regional Manta Matcher catalog. Quite an achievement for 10 days of work!