First Encounter With Manta Rays

October 22, 2017

I don’t know about you, but my first encounter with manta rays was a special one. Nothing truly special happened on the dive (except for seeing manta rays) but seeing them for first time was exhilarating! In order to properly explain this captivating experience, we would need to go a few years back.

Back home, in Serbia, I was sitting with my friends Jovana and Dušan, who introduced me to the world of diving and (underwater) photography. I still don’t know if I should thank them for that or curse the hell out of them. I could have gone to parties every day, spend money on expensive liquor in fancy clubs with beautiful ladies. Instead, I am buying underwater camera housings, underwater strobes and thinking which next cool destination should I spend my money on. OK, back to the point. They mentioned they were going to live in Thailand for a while, and asked me if I wanted to come.

How stupid of them, how can you live in Thailand, it’s a foreign country

First I was thinking, how stupid of them, how can you live in Thailand, it’s a foreign country. My mind was still in the ‘2 weeks vacation mode’ and living somewhere else was impossible outside of mother Serbia! They afterwards explained it to me, explained that you can just live in Thailand, the same as you do in Serbia and, for a digital nomad like me, it was much easier. I was thinking ‘Actually, how stupid of me’. Long story short, I said yes and went to Thailand with them. After that, we split up and I went to Vietnam and Cambodia and we met again in Bali.

Amazing Bali Rice Terraces
Amazing Bali Rice Terraces

When I arrived in Bali I was an experienced diver with almost 30 dives (yup, that was a joke, I have to stop you before you write that hate comment. Hate comment about something else)! They told me about the must dive sites in Bali and one of them was, of course, Manta Point at Nusa Penida island. They told me it’s a place where you will 100% see a manta ray. My mind could not really accept the fact that I will 100% see an animal that I only saw as a kid on nature shows on TV. So, they have introduced me to fellow Serbian Branko, who used to work at a dive shop, but now he owns one – Zero Gravity Diving. I was up for it, so we set up the date and that was it.

On the boat

I still remember the briefing Branko gave us about manta rays and how they are in this particular place for cleaning. He also told us that the spots on their bottom side are like fingerprints and of course, at the end of the briefing, he told us not to touch or chase them, and that they will approach us for sure. As we approached the dive site, we were soon surrounded with huge cliffs going down to a small inaccessible beach which was bathed in enormous waves. All around us, the water was teeming with boats which were coming and going, while divers jumped in and out of boats like tiny ants. Everything seemed very disorganized, but every boat knew where they were going and what they were to do.

Nusa Penida, Manta Point
Nusa Penida, Manta Point

The boats stopped, we prepared our equipment, jumped into the water and after the thumb down sign (which means dive in) of our guide Branko we submerged ourselves into the world of silence.

The unforgettable moment

We dived for less than two minutes and in the distance I saw one manta ray, and just after it, rather close, another one. And there it was, one of the most beautiful ocean creatures, gliding through the water with ease, while it flapped its massive bird like ‘wings’, and the time seemed like it slowed down.

At that moment, my childhood flashed in front of my eyes: I am just a kid watching nature programs and I see all these magnificent creatures and I never thought that I will, at any point in my life, see them in person. I know this might seem like overreacting, but let’s be realistic, I grew up in Serbia, where dreams are easily shattered if you allow yourself to dream at all. At that moment I didn’t care about photographing, I just enjoyed and fed my brain with a spectacular dance of these extraordinary animals. After that, it was “camera ready, strobes ready, let’s go” time. After that dive, we had another really nice one at Crystal Bay, but to be honest, nothing could beat seeing manta rays.

And there it was, one of the most beautiful ocean creatures, gliding through the water with ease while it was flapping its massive bird like ‘wings’

This is where my love affair with manta rays started, I returned to dive with them time and time again and I just can’t get enough of it.

That’s enough about me, what about mantas?

Manta rays are considered vulnerable by International Union for Conservation of Nature and the main threats are fishing nets, harvesting them for their gill rakes (to be used in, you guessed it, Chinese medicine) and of course, the threat that concern us all – pollution. A big misconception about manta rays is that they are dangerous and also, they were wrongfully accused of killing Steve Irwin. Their sting is completely harmless since they evolved from bottom dwelling creatures to filter feeders. Their wing span can reach up to 5.5 meters. The biggest one I have seen had almost 4 meters of wing span and it was swimming next to a diver. It was like a magic carpet flying by.

For the Indigenous Polynesian people ‘Manta rays’ were a symbol of guardian spirit representing wisdom and strength. The name of the manta — hahalua — can be interpreted as ‘two breaths’; ‘ha’ meaning breath, and ‘lua’, meaning two.

Do you get my fascination with mantas now?

Do you? Are you aware what kind of a miracle of nature they are? Epitome of the natural beauty, remarkable animal resilience, a fine example of 20 million years of evolution and representation of guardian spirit, wisdom and strength in people’s cultures, that’s what they are and we should just enjoy their beauty and try not to pluck the flower out or it will die.

PS. OK, when I think about it, I’m glad I’m not spending any money on expensive liquors in fancy clubs.

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