by Don Silcock
Almost like clockwork they appear every day – usually just after 8 AM, in time for their morning ablutions. The trick is to let them be cleaned in peace from behind the line… For just like us humans, manta rays clearly prefer not to be disturbed while they attend to their personal hygiene. So let the cleaner fish go about their business and content yourself with watching the mantas hover patiently above the main bommie that is “cleaning station central” at this quite unique site in Dampier Strait. The chances are that you will be amply rewarded for your patience with a superb display of underwater “ballet d’action” as these incredibly creatures put on a show worthy of the ballerinas of Covent Garden!
Manta Mantra, or as it is sometimes referred to Manta Sandy or 3M, is located on the southern side of the large reef that separates Mansuar Island, from the much smaller Airborek Island, at the western end of the Dampier Strait. It is both a cleaning station and feeding site, the strong currents there provide a reliable source of rich plankton – the food of choice for these marvelous creatures. The cleaning station is comprised of a number of small bommies located in the channel between the main reef, and a smaller one to the south. The currents that run through the channel, together with the numerous cleaner wrasse and butterfly fish on the bommies, have created the perfect conditions where mantas can be cleaned of their parasites.
Manta Mantra is probably the most reliable place to see mantas in Raja Ampat and is therefore very popular. To ensure the presence of so many divers does not drive away the mantas, a strict demarcation code is enforced by most of the operators who visit it! A line of rocks has been laid out in about 16m of water, close enough to the bommies so that divers can observe and photograph the mantas, but far enough away to allow them a “comfort zone” where they can be cleaned in relative peace. So position yourself behind Manta Mantra’s demarcation line where you can comfortably hold on against the currents and then wait… The site is fairly shallow, so bottom time is not an issue and as the mantas complete their cleaning rituals they often come and check out the waiting divers with some upfront and personal interactions.
Mantas are intelligent and curious creatures and the ones who visit Manta Mantra seem to become fully accustomed to the presence of divers and their bubbles – which at other aggregation sites and cleaning stations is often not the case. Left in peace to complete their cleaning rituals, they almost seem to take a delight in putting on a show for the assembled audience!
Don Silcock divides his time between Sydney and Bali, where he has just built a house as a base for further exploration of the Indo-Pacific region.
His website, Indo Pacific Images, is full of information on diving Indonesia and other destinations throughout the world.