All SCUBA divers have “the list”: places we want to visit, dive sites we wish to explore, specific marine life we want to encounter. For many, seeing a Manta Ray is on “the list”. These majestic creatures glide through the water like graceful fighter planes, using their delta wings to shift direction while searching for microscopic prey and employing their cephalic fins to scoop aggregations of plankton, shrimp and copepods into their mouths.
Diving with Manta Rays can be mesmerizing and addicting.
Article and photography by Eco-Photo Explorers Michael Salvarezza and Christopher P. Weaver; additional photography by Rashyd
But like with most wild animals, Manta Ray sightings are often infrequent and unpredictable. One place divers can go in the hopes of seeing these beautiful fish are the islands of the Maldives. In the Ari Atoll, along with the Baa and Arru atolls, Mantas are known to congregate in large numbers, affording divers terrific opportunities to experience these animals in their natural state.
Because of the ever-present threat of over-fishing, along with impacts from climate change and other environmental dangers, populations of Mantas are under pressure. In some areas of the world, where Manta sightings are more frequent and predictable, human interactions can also affect the behavior of the Mantas. It is with these dangers in mind that the Manta Trust was formed to help study these creatures.
The Manta Trust is a UK-based charitable organization formed in 2011 to help coordinate research and conservation efforts globally for Manta Rays. Through this research, the Manta Trust hopes to contribute to the long-term protection and preservation of this species.
The Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) is a founding project of the Manta Trust and is a coordinated effort among dive instructors and operators, biologists, local communities and various tourism operators to collect data on the Maldives’ Manta Ray populations. Because of their efforts, there is a better understanding of the movements of mantas in the waters of the Maldives as well as the effects of tourism and human interactions for this population than any other in the world.
One of the innovative ways the MMRP scales its research is to involve scuba divers and citizen scientists in their work. Divers have the opportunity to join MMRP sponsored expeditions aboard liveaboards to gather photographs and help identify individual Mantas alongside researchers from the MMRP. Luxury Yachts Maldives, which operates the Conte Max and Duke of York liveaboard dive vessels, partners with the MMRP to provide a world class luxury dive experience during these special expeditions.
Divers on board these vessels can expect plenty of dive time between sumptuous meals and ample opportunity for rest and relaxation. Typically, divers wake each morning to a dive briefing before heading out in the accompanying custom dive boat known as a dhoni for an exhilarating dive followed by breakfast, a mid-morning dive, lunch and an afternoon dive before dinner. Plenty of nitrogen to be had by all!
While the reefs of the Maldives are captivating, the special Manta Trust expeditions aboard the Conte Max and Duke of York are focused almost exclusively on Manta Ray encounters. Some of these trips will take the divers much farther afield than regular liveaboard expeditions, reaching the Baa Atoll and even further north to find feeding Manta Ray aggregations.
For divers aboard the special Manta Trust expeditions, the opportunity exists to participate in research by helping photograph and identify individual Mantas. Guests may even have the chance to name any newly identified Mantas.
Divers who travel to the Maldives don’t have to join a special Manta Trust expedition to experience in water encounters with Mantas. Depending on the time of year, Mantas can be found in a number of the atolls. We recently caught up with Bill Bleyer as he returned from a trip aboard the Duke of York. Having won his trip aboard this luxury dive vessel at the 2019 Long Island Divers Association Film Festival (http://lidaonline.com/), Bill ventured to the Maldives with Manta Ray encounters firmly on his “list”.
“We got to dive with manta rays at the famous Manta Point in the Alifu Atoll in the North Central Province,” reports Bill. “You usually only see them there when the tide is going out, bringing nutrients out from the lagoon into the ocean, which attracts pelagics including manta rays. We got there on an incoming tide but we got lucky because two manta rays came to the cleaning station and circled around while we watched from about 20 feet below on top of the reef. They were majestic, about 20 feet across. I was happy because I have been diving since 1980 and have been trying to see manta rays ever since, including going to French Polynesia and Yap in Micronesia which is famous for manta rays but managed not to see them in three days of diving there.”
Bill’s manta experience did not end there.
“After our 17th and final dive we were headed back to the Duke of York on our support diving dhoni when the captain spotted a manta ray near the surface. He said he would stop so any of us who wanted to could jump in to snorkel. I did that and swam as fast as I could towards the manta, which was initially heading away. But it turned around and swam right towards me and then circled around me twice only a few feet away. It was a dream come true. It was clearly the highlight of an otherwise great trip!”
If you wish to experience the Maldives on board a luxury dive yacht, complete with excellent service, mouthwatering cuisine, comfortable accommodations and diving operations that are second to none, consider a trip on board the Conte Max or the Duke of York. If you are passionate about Manta Rays, sign up for one of their special Manta Trust expeditions. But regardless of when you go, chances are your “list” will have fewer items on it when you return!
The only international airport is located on the main island of Male. It is serviced with direct flights from Doha, Dubai, Colombo (Sri Lanka) and a few other destinations.
Liveaboard dive boats, such as the Duke of York and Conte Max, will arrange pickup right at the docks alongside the airport.
A valid passport is required for entry. Visas are not required.
Diving and Accommodation
The 118ft/36m Duke of York, built in 2010, has 10 large en suite cabins all with air conditioning. There is a diving dhoni and a team of at least 11. The 99ft/33m Conte Max, built in 2004, has 8 large en suite cabins all with air conditioning. There is a diving dhoni and a team of at least 12.
When to go
The Maldives has an equatorial tropical climate. December through April is the dry season. February through April is the hottest time of the year, with temperatures in the 80s and 90s Fahrenheit each day. May through November is the rainy season.
The local currency is the rufiya (Rf) but US Dollars and Euros are generally accepted at all resorts.
Power voltage used in the Maldives is 220 Volts to 240 Volts (50 Hz). Be sure to double-check your appliance’s compatibility before plugging them in. Converters / adaptors are usually available upon request at your hotel front desk.
To learn more about the Manta Trust and special chartered expeditions aboard the Conte Max, visit their website: https://www.mantatrust.org/maldives