Hypnotised, all I could do was give in to the waters, to my breathing and to the gracefulness of this beautiful creature.
The boatman had pulled our diveboat to a stop close to a small limestone cliff. We had arrived at Manta Point dive site of Nusa Penida, Indonesia and were gearing up, doing our final safety checks before backrolling into the bright blue waters. Satu, dua, tiga – our boatman shouted in local Indonesian excitedly, pointing his forefinger rapidly to where manta rays were splashing their wings at the surface. YES! YES! They were out to play today!
I had arrived the night before at Nusa Lembongan, one of the three Nusa Islands off south-east Bali, and this would be my first dive at Nusa Penida and my first dive with manta rays. I was excited, this would be another badge for my dive adventures. The 45-minute boat ride passed quickly as I chatted with a young intern from the Marine Megafauna Foundation who described passionately their work at manta ray conservation and habitat protection in Bali. Distracted at times by the high waves crashing against the cliff faces of Nusa Penida, all I managed to get from her was that these brainy gentle giants live in perpetual motion, and to please leave them alone when they are being cleaned at the cleaning station.
Going down to 10m, I felt my tummy rumble a little. No problems with equalizing, no problems with the cold 22C but the slight currents at Manta Point had made itself known. Focusing on managing the surges that came and went every minute, I saw nothing beautiful for the first ten minutes until the loud clanking from my diveguide perked me up. Above me were two manta rays of more than 3 metres dancing against the surface light. Inhale exhale surge, inhale exhale surge, I allowed the water to push me closer towards (or further from) them transfixed admiring in awe at the large wing-span of their fins. Silhouetted they flapped their wings and glided slowly away from enthusiastic humans, leaving us to wait patiently for more of their friends.
We did not have to wait long as we swam towards the cleaning station and found more manta rays swimming gracefully as they attended to their business. Most divers hung back maintaining neutral buoyancy, moving as gently as these wonders. The avid underwater photographer attempted to get closer, but most were respectful of these incredible creatures as proper diving etiquette demanded. I took what pictures I could with my GoPro, but the up-down surge did not help at all.
The magical moment for me was the sighting of a “black morph” manta ray with a largely black ventral surface. Hypnotised, all I could do was give in to the waters, to my breathing and to the gracefulness of this beautiful creature. Simply grateful to have swum with mantas.
I was sorry when air started running low, and as if knowing our reluctance to leave, a few more manta rays approached us for their final performance at the shallow waters of our safety stop before bidding goodbye.
Later that week, I was lucky enough to swim again with these massive creatures at Manta Bay dive site known for being a popular feeding ground due to its vast amount of plankton and jellyfish. Close to the reef bottom, a manta came incredibly close to us, a moment both magnetic and electrifying rendering it unforgettable.