Unique marine encounters, are often just the thing to turn a regular dive into an unforgettable one. Unfortunately, with thousands of dive destinations to pick from and even more dive sites, it’s an not an easy bet to be at the right place at the right time. However, you can drastically increase your chances of such encounters by planning your scuba diving trips around the most popular scuba destinations famous for sightings of the animals and in the right seasons. In this case we’re taking a look at the best places and best times to encounter the ever graceful Manta Ray.
1. Kona, Hawaii (All year round)
The Kona Coast is one of the best places in the world to get up close and personal with manta rays. Often described as an experience of lifetime when one chances on one of these magnificent creatures, dive operators in Hawaii plate up this experience with night dive twist making it just spectacular. Divers are given underwater flashlights and are directed to point their beams towards the surface. The bright lights attract hordes of plankton which in turn bring the mantas as well as a ton of other fish to the vicinity. Much to the delight of divers and snorkelers even the manta rays often swoop, turn and even somersault towards the light where the plankton is plentiful displaying the surprising agility of this creature. More than 60 individual Mantas identified by spots on their underside, have been photographed, cataloged and named as regulars on the Manta Ray Night Dives. (For more read: Must Dive Sites: The Manta Ray Night Dive in Kailua Kona, Hawaii)
2. Baa Atoll, Maldives (May to July)
Hanifaru Bay of the Baa Atoll in the Maldives is a place where the dreams of nature come true. Dreams of seeing the ever graceful Manta Rays, lots and lots of them. This Atoll is divided by a 3km wide channel, with big drop offs into deep waters. The bay funnels inward, gradually from a depth of 25m to a slope that tables out at 2m and continues over a shallow, rocky reef before opening up to a deep-water channel. A large coral block in the middle of the channel teaming with small fish and invertebrates makes up a ‘cleaning station’ for manta rays who visit the area periodically.For most part of the year, there isn’t much action in the quiet bay, but come the southwest monsoons during May- July an upwelling current from the deep waters to the east brings a superabundance of plankton drawing not just a few but dozens of Manta Rays at a time. The most recorded number of manta rays spotted here in one single day is 240 individuals all distinct cos of their markings. (Read more: Experience The World’s Greatest Manta Ray Aggregation at Baa Atoll, Maldives)
3. Koh Bon, Thailand (October to May)
A world class diving destination- Thailand, there are a number of dive sites in the Similan islands among others others, however your best bet would be Koh Bon.
Manta Rays come in numbers to Koh Bon because it’s both a cleaning and feeding station. There are around twenty different resident Manta Rays at Koh Bon that are regularly identified by their unique fingerprint like markings on their underbellies. Generally they’re not shy and are used to having lots of divers and bubbles in the water. They’ll glide past at touching distance seemingly as intrigued with the divers, as the divers are with them.
4. Raja Ampat (Irian Jaya), Indonesia (April/ May)
Put simply, Manta rays are common diving in Raja Ampat, in Indonesia. The Kri’s Manta Point in Raja Ampat is a famous cleaning station, frequented by the graceful giants. They are not shy either and swim closely above you so you can see them, at arms length away.
5. South Plaza Island, Galapagos Islands (June and October)
Often seen in open water between the central islands, most often from the cliff at South Plaza or from the beach at Rábida in the Galapagos Islands, Manta rays are always a delight for divers. Wolf and Darwin too are good sights for manta rays and whale sharks among other shark species as well.