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The Ultimate Manta Ray Experience

Updated on January 9, 2014

The Ultimate Manta Ray Experience

At certain times of the year, a tiny bay in the Maldives turns into a churning mass of floating plankton drawing in hundreds of manta rays in the ultimate feeding frenzy. Floating, gliding, flipping and turning, these graceful creatures feast in the tight confines of Hanifaru Bay. if that isnt enough, slow moving whale sharks often venture in to join in the spoils. Once the plankton runs out, the feeding extravaganza comes to an end and the rays silently glide towards the sandy sea floor.

Such an incredible spectacle of nature draws hundreds of tourists a year which gives local communities an economic incentive to conserve the fish rather than hunt them.

The Manta Ray At A Glance

The manta ray is the largest species of ray. Rays and sharks are cartilaginous fish which means that they have skeletons made of cartilage rather than bone. manta rays have a short tail and no stinging spines. They are very acrobatic and can leap and flip up from the water while swimming. These graceful swimmers are up to 29.5 ft (9 m) wide, but average about 22 ft (6.7 m) wide. The largest weigh about 3,000 pounds (1350 kg).

Manta rays are larger than other species of rays as they have adapted to an open ocean filter feeding lifestyle. As they filter feed, they catch plankton and fish larvae on flat horizontal plates of russet-colored spongy tissue that spans the spaces between their gill bars. Sharks and sometimes orcas (killer whales) are the main predators of the manta ray.

The manta ray has a symbiotic relationship with many other organisms such as wrasse, remora, and angelfish which swim over the ray's skin and into its gills eating parasites and dead tissues. This type of symbiotic relationship, where both animals benefit is called mutualism. (For more interesting examples of symbiotic relationships in nature, please visit this page: Natures Fascinating Symbiosis.)

Gentle and curious creatures, manta rays will often swim alongside divers and sometimes surface near boats when their engines are shut off.

This page was made for charity. All proceeds will be donated to The Wild Animal Sanctuary a 320 acre sanctuary where Large Carnivores - the species that face euthanization more than any other exotic animal - are protected for the rest of their lives. For more information on the captive wildlife crisis and why sanctuaries such as the Wild Animal Sanctuary are so important, please go here.

Learn More About Manta Rays And The Reefs They Live In With These Excellent Resources

Hanifaru Bay

The Maldives, a chain of tiny islands and gorgeous atolls scattered down the Indian Ocean is known for its picturesque beaches, luxury resorts and incredible SCUBA diving. Manta rays frequent this area year round and are usually found at various cleaning stations. One of the most popular dive destinations to see manta rays lies along the Baa Atolls, at the bay of Hanifaru.

The bay funnels water inward from a depth of 25m to a slope that levels out at only 2m and then continues over a rocky shallow reef and then finally opens up into a deep water channel. A large coral block lies at the center of the channel teams with fish of all sizes and colors. This area is where manta rays often come to be cleaned by other fish.

Come monsoon season - May-July,- there is an upwelling current from the deep waters to the east that brings plankton, huge quantities of plankton. This plankton draws the manta rays in in large numbers, between 20 - 50 on a good day, the record being 230. Truly this is an awe inspiring spectacle of nature.

Hanifaru Bay Manta Rays

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SCUBA Dive at Hanifaru Bay

While the manta rays are enjoying their feeding frenzy, you can dive up close and personal with them. They are so busy feeding that they are not skittish of near by divers. Watching the manta rays swim through the channel is unlike anything you have ever seen before, they come in in one direction, swimming head to tail and swim out in the opposite direction head to tail. These amazing feeding aggregations are truly one of the world's natural underwater spectacles.

What makes this dive experience even more thrilling is the frequent visits by slow moving whale sharks to the area. The whale shark is a gentle giant, and an active feeder, targeting concentrations of plankton or fish. Its no surprise that it enjoys the abundance of plankton found at Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives.

SCUBA diving and tourism is controlled in this area in order to protect the manta ray and other fragile marine life in the area. Not all resorts cater to divers. Often it's better to go for a full liveaboard experience as everything is rather expensive, including equipment hire.

Manta Ray Conservation In The Maldives

The Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP), founded in 2005 by biologist Guy Stevens is a non-profit research, conservation and education organization based at the Four Seasons Resorts in the Maldives. It was created in an effort to better understand the resident manta ray population, create greater awareness and understanding of these graceful rays, highlight trends in the mantas behavior, estimate the population size, plot reproductive patterns and track their movements spatially and temporally.

As one aspect of the project, individual manta rays are tagged which allows for greater research into the reproductive and mating behavior of the manta ray population, an area in which little is currently known.

Finally, the project works to conserve and protect the manta ray population. Manta ray viewing has become so popular (The Maldives are now one of the top 5 dive destinations world wide), that the pressure of tourism may seriously strain the mantas population and its feeding activities. Therefore, the research the MMRP is conducting and its collaboration with holidaymakers, local communities and government officials to further the conservation of these amazing animals through education and legislation is absolutely critical.

As a result of the efforts of MMRP and others such as the Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF), Mohamed Aslam, the Environment Minister of the Maldives, announced the protection of coral reefs and waters in and around Baa atoll Hanifaru, Baa atoll An'gafaru and South Ari atoll Maamigili on June 8, 2009. Apart from restrictions on fishing, the marine protected areas permits diving and snorkeling only under strict guidelines. Speed limits are imposed on boats to prevent lacerations to the giant fish from boat hulls and propellers, and waste management programs are being implemented on local islands to prevent pollution. Guy Stevens said The new protected areas are "one of the last places on the planet where rays and whale sharks still roam in numbers reminiscent of times gone by."

Thanks For Visiting - I would love to here from you!

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    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 6 years ago

      Ah, another beautiful and deserving lens! Congrats on your SSA!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      What wonderful creatures, thank you for telling us more about them. It must be an incredible experience to dive with manta ray. Congratulations on your Sunshine Award and on the funds raised for a worthy cause!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Congrats on your Sunshine Award! Thanks to your work, Wild Animal Sanctuary has earned $99 towards their cause. Hanifaru Bay Manta Rays

    • TopStyleTravel profile image

      TopStyleTravel 6 years ago

      Congrats on the Sunshine Award. Great lens about this majestic animal. Never knew that one could swim with jellyfish safely.

    • burgessvillian profile image

      burgessvillian 6 years ago

      Love your lens on manta rays. Congratilations on the sunshine award.

    • MichelleLacroix profile image

      Michelle Lacroix Toro 6 years ago from United States

      Wonderful site, I learned some interesting things while visiting here. I would LOVE to know HOW you were able to achieve the bordered and blue background modules? Can you point me in the right direction?

    • verymary profile image

      Mary 6 years ago from Chicago area

      rays are incredible! one of my sons adores them & will love checking this page out after his homework today! congrats

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 6 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Cool sea creatures! Congratulations on your Summer Sunshine win!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 6 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Congrats on your win today! Well deserved.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      This super lens is now featured on Sunshine Award Nominees. I enjoyed my visit here very much.

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      Another lovely lens on this theme. *-*Blessed*-* and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust and also on charity-lenses-for-summer-sunshine-giveaway

    • hayleylou lm profile image

      hayleylou lm 7 years ago

      I love manta rays - they are so graceful - great lens with lots of info - 5* -I have also lesrolled this to my own animal lenses :)

    • tklark profile image

      tklark 7 years ago

      You know your stuff! Beautiful photos. Well done.

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 7 years ago

      A beautiful lens about an intriguing topic. I would love to visit the Maldives, we actually looked into it at one time. Manta Rays have always fascinated me. 5* all the way!

    • KarenHC profile image

      Karen 7 years ago from U.S.

      Fascinating lens -- I'd love to see these animals up close.

    • Nicky2Time profile image

      Nicky2Time 7 years ago

      Fantastic lens. I think the ocean is fascinating and, at times, mind-boggling. It's part of the reason why the Discovery channel is a staple in my home. Well written, good use of colors and images, and very informative. 3,000 lbs! really?

      typing zoomriff in order to submit...these words kill me :)

    • profile image

      JFB91 7 years ago

      Really interesting. Thanks!