One of the main reasons guests come to the Maldives is to swim, snorkel & dive the azure blue Indian Ocean on one of the many farus, thilas, giris or channel reefs. Home to approximately 1100 species of fish and an even greater number of invertebrate species, coral reefs are the densest ecosystems on the planet in terms of biodiversity! Despite this huge range of creatures, Maldives has a few big ocean dwellers which, for snorkelers and divers, are a must-see, and are part of the reason Maldives offers world class diving and snorkeling experiences! Among these creatures is the reef manta ray (Manta alfredi). Maldives is home to the largest known population of Manta in the world, and their distribution is strongly linked to food availability (zooplankton), which is in turn dictated by the monsoonal currents. Manta season for Gili Lankanfushi runs from June through until November, due to the Hulhangu (wet season) monsoonal currents which flush huge abundances of plankton to the Eastern side of the atoll. During Iruvai (dry season), the Mantas will migrate to the Western side of the atoll, or possibly to another atoll altogether. This being the case, Gili Lankanfushi, our dive school Ocean Paradise, and several lucky guests have spotted some of these gentle giants during the season so far at our house reef; as well as a cleaning station outside Paradise Island we call Lankan Corner; Bogy faru by Himmafushi; Sunlight Thila dive site; and even in our own lagoon next to the arrival jetty!
Working closely with the Manta Trust, Vaidas and I work hard to photographically track the Manta rays we spot. We do this by taking photographs of the ventral side (belly), upon which is a black spot pattern unique to each individual, like a finger print. By comparing our image to the National Database of 3350 mantas, we can determine and track the migrations and health of each individual in the Maldives. We try to encourage guests to help us out, and this month we have had several guests kindly donate IDs from their dives!
Occasionally we come across a Manta which has never been ID’d before, as was the case last week during one of our group boat snorkels. First spotted by the boat crew, snorkel guide Nappe quickly ushered our guests over to the area where the manta was feeding! It swooped around us for almost 20 minutes before it was time to move on. One swift duck dive, and I managed to capture the mantas underside, which I later sent to the Manta Trust for confirmation that it was in fact a new Manta, which we were able to name! We would like to welcome ‘Nappe’ the Manta to the North Male area! We hope to spot her again soon as we continue to unravel the mysteries of manta ecology!