The Manta-gnificient Reef Manta Rays of Baa Atoll

Like Lisa, our Marine Biologist Intern at Coco Bodu Hithi- Jade the Marine Biologist Intern at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu also had some very wonderful encounters with Manta Rays.Here is her story!

The Baa Atoll is home to some of the richest waters in the Maldives. One of its most famous inhabitants is about 3.5m wide, adorned with a gaping oblong mouth and an enormous pair of black wings which it uses to fly beneath the sea’s surface.

This bat-like creature known as the reef Manta Ray may sound terrifying but is in fact a gentle and graceful giant.

A Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Guest floating peacefully alongside a gentle giant

A Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu Guest floating peacefully alongside a gentle giant

Despite their cumbersome size, some of the oceans greatest giants like Manta Rays and Whale Sharks are plankton feeders. So, I always jokingly tell my guests that I heartily recommend the plankton diet if they want to be BIG and strong.

The Baa Atoll is fortunate enough to harbor an important population of reef Manta Rays: they choose to gather here to mate and feed in plankton-rich waters. To date, 1754 individuals have been identified in Baa Atoll! This total means that nearly 50% of all Maldivian reef Manta’s identified so far in the Maldives have been encountered here! According to Niv Froman, Project leader for the Manta Trust, the Baa Atoll may have the highest density of Manta Rays in the world!

 

Without a shadow of a doubt, my all time favorite excursion at Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu is the Manta Ray trip. It is particularly unforgettable to watch them as they soar underneath you or just above your head!

Every Wednesday, guests who are prepared to don a mask, snorkel and fins hop on board our traditional Maldivian dhoni and cruise the beautiful turquoise waters of the Southern Baa Atoll in search for reef Manta Rays.

Guests sitting on the roof of our dhoni whilst I give them information about the majestic creatures that they are about to encounter

Guests sitting on the roof of our dhoni whilst I gave them information about the majestic creatures that they are about to encounter

We are looking out for moving black shadows and wing-like pectoral fins and dorsal fins protruding from the water’s surface.

Reef Manta Rays are mostly solitary creatures, coming together only to mate and feed. When feeding, they can form loose aggregations of three to large aggregations of as many as 150 individuals!

How to know if a Manta Ray is feeding?

When a Manta Ray is feeding the cephalic lobes which are usually rolled like spirals on either side of their heads are straightened out to help funnel food into their large gaping mouths.

As soon as we spot a reef Manta Ray or even better reef Manta RAYS, we try to quietly jump into the water and respectfully swim or float nearby not to disturb them.

An unforgettable moment for our Guests with the big black flying creature of the deep

An unforgettable moment for our Guests with the big black flying creature of the deep

When peacefully swimming alongside them, we always try to take pictures of their unique pattern of black spots and shaded patches on their bellies to be able to identify them one by one.

We always encourage our guests who have a camera in hand to do the same. By sending us their ID photos, our guests are helping to further the research and conservation of Maldivian Manta Rays.

Meet M1696 “Tofu” an immature female who we’ve encountered four times since 2014. The spots and shaded pattern on her belly help us identify her

Meet M1696 “Tofu” an immature female who we’ve encountered four times since 2014. The spots and shaded pattern on her belly help us identify her

This year we have had many wonderful encounters including M502 “Bonito” a pregnant female measuring 3.3 m from wing tip to wing tip.

Can you spot the pregnancy bulge on M502 “Bonito”?)

Can you spot the pregnancy bulge on M502 “Bonito”?

Although we have a designated trip for Manta Rays, they can grace you with their presence in the most unexpected of moments. On the 7TH of March I took my guests out on a reef snorkeling trip around Muthaafushi island near Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu and out of the blue arrived a beautiful female Manta Ray. We floated peacefully as she flapped her great 2.3 meter wings and swam in circles around a pretty ecstatic group of snorkelers. In the midst of this magical event, I managed to get a good ID shot and later found out that I was lucky enough to have identified a new individual! I decided to name her “Jadealexandra”- after myself.

The best surprises in life often come at the most unexpected of times like M3662 “Jadealexandra”)

The best surprises in life often come at the most unexpected of times like M3662 “Jadealexandra”)

M3662 “Jadealexandra” isn’t the only reef Manta Ray we have identified recently!

With 168 registered sightings in 2014, Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu has been recognized as the TOP SUBMITTER of reef Manta Ray identification pictures in Baa Atoll and the second overall submitter in the Maldives by Manta Trust!

In addition we are also very proud to announce that with 26 newly identified individuals, we are the highest submitters of newly identified Manta Rays in the Maldives!

By sending Manta Trust our identification pictures we are contributing greatly to the research and conservation of the Maldivian reef Manta Ray population.

Manta Trust certifying our support to their research and protection of Manta Rays in 2014

Manta Trust certifying our support to their research and protection of Manta Rays in 2014

Having a front-row seat whilst Manta Rays fly and swirl towards you in a balletic underwater performance is a truly intimate, magical and unforgettable moment.  I hope that everyone has the chance to witness the beauty and grace of the mighty reef Manta Rays one day; a ballet show not to be missed!

M3672 a newly identified Manta Ray gliding through the water accompanied by remoras also known as suckerfish

M3672 a newly identified Manta Ray gliding through the water accompanied by remoras also known as suckerfish

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