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The site is called Blue Magic. This is one of my favorite dive spots in Raja Ampat. This isolated reef in the middle of the sea is conducive to fabulous encounters.
January 25, 2015. That day, I'm the only diver on the boat. I'm with my Papuan super-guide Otto Awom, who oversees dives at Sorido Bay Resort from Papua Diving. For the underwater photographer I am, it's the ultimate luxury. Diving à la carte and private guide! I feel super-princess ... ????
The end of my stay is approaching and I asked to return to Blue Magic. Each dive on this well-named site is a festival - humpback parrots, barracudas, schools of jacks - and every dive is different from the previous one.
When we arrive at the area, Otto searches the water for the top of the reef, which is about a dozen meters deep at high tide. "Mantas! " He launches.
I scan the water too. J'hallucine. We can clearly see the dark rhombs of several large manta rays. We are the only boat on the area, the only divers. No other palanquée risking the escape of the beautiful giants. We have a good chance of succeeding in admiring them under water.
We decided not to do the deep part of the reef - which we usually explore at the beginning of a dive - to go straight to the top, since the huge rays seem in the mood to hang out that morning ...
Good pick ! We will spend more than an hour under water with the mantas. Here is a small summary in 1 minute 30 of video:
Current and plankton
At the top of Blue Magic that day (as often), there is a current of madness. And we see it well on my little video, the visibility is not extraordinary, the water is loaded in plankton. But when there is both current and plankton, it is often the guarantee of beautiful encounters!
Given the conditions, I am very happy to be with Otto Awom, who is probably the best connoisseur of the underwater seabed of the Straits of Dampier, Raja Ampat. He was among the first to have explored them some twenty years ago, alongside Max Ammer, before the development of diving tourism in the region.
At Blue Magic, as on all other sites, Otto knows how to evaluate the direction and strength of the current, to guide the boat's captain to drop us off at the right place for launching. to say a little off the site but not too much, the goal is not to miss the reef during our descent in drift.
Underwater, we arrive right on the side of the reef, close to the summit. After a few minutes of waiting, in the middle of the silver banks of spinning trevallies and purple clouds ofanthias wriggling, the majestic mantas are appearing!
An hour with the mantas
I fixed myself on the reef with my hook so as not to have to fight against the current, but I am badly positioned to enjoy the show (and incidentally shoot and take pictures). I float like a little flag, restrained by my rope attached to the front of my stab (the Vest-stabilizer divers, for the uninitiated). In short, not at all in the right direction so ... the mantas arrive on the side of my fins. I have to contort myself to turn my goal towards them. Exhausting and inconvenient.
Otto stays a little apart, to let me do my pictures quietly. He points to a coral potato a little above, in the middle of the upper reef and closer to the mantas' trajectory.
I pick up and manage to progress until then. There is sand and coral debris dead at the foot of the huge potato, I can settle there. There, I am sheltered from the furious flow of the current, which breaks on both sides of my refuge. I can finally stay turned on the right side without exhausting myself and stall almost comfortably, back to the rock, facing the giants of the sea.
They quietly run upstream, mouth open to swallow a plankton, slowly spinning over the coral to get clean skin by small fish that swarm.
They seem to glide effortlessly and chained the voltes, regardless of our presence. They sometimes go very close, above our heads, it seems they like to feel our strings of bubbles caress their belly.
We will spend more than an hour observing them, without moving. I count a dozen. These gigantic rays are four to five meters wide, maybe more. I am fascinated. They are both imposing and graceful.
I am better installed than before to admire them, but the conditions have not changed and it is really not ideal for filming or photography.
I am against the light, in a heavy water, and I can hardly leave my protective coral potato to try to approach the mantas in order to have a better image. The current would take me away immediately and it would be impossible for me to return to the reef with the strength of the palms ...
So I must be patient and wait for them to come to me to hope to achieve one or two drinking images. The time to switch from video mode to photo mode, and vice versa, I miss a lot of opportunities and plague my regulator ...
When the mantas are too far away, my flash catches only suspended particles and small fish that wriggle in the foreground. When they are too close and rub their belly on my bubbles, they "overflow" the frame, despite my wide angle. Super annoying. ????
And Manta Sandy?
On the summit of Blue Magic, the situation is much less comfortable than at this other famous site of Raja Ampat, called Manta Sandy, where one is wedged deep on the sand to admire the mantas. This site is shallow, you can even enjoy snorkeling.
Manta rays have their habits there and are more numerous during a season that goes roughly from October-November to March-April. They evolve over a pile of coral potatoes on a sandy bottom, which are populated by small fish cleaners.
Manta Sandy is considered THE mantas spot in the Strait of Dampier. I returned, during this new stay in 2015, but I was less fortunate than three years ago. I did not fall at such a propitious time - there was not much current - and this time I saw only a few mantas ... Disappointing compared to what I was hoping for. But other divers assured me that I saw a spectacular ballet a few days earlier.
Nature is so, nothing is ever guaranteed, even to Raja Ampat. This year, it was at Blue Magic that I had my most beautiful encounter with the mantas!
Ultimate reward: for my last day, we went again to Blue Magic. And at the very end of the dive, as we went back to the top of the reef, Otto and I, we crossed again the road of giant mantas ... This time, we could not stay long with them - there was no more air in reserve.
Emmanuel, another diver who was with us that day, but who followed a different course underwater with another guide, was not so lucky. Not resentful, he sent me the images he shot on the boat when we returned and with whom I had fun putting together a mini "teaser", posted a few days ago on Facebook page of Little Bubbles Elsewhere :
Thank you Emmanuel for this little souvenir! For once I'm in front of the camera. What do you want ... The mantas, it makes me happy.
→ For the conservationists: the mantas are part of the threatened species, I refer you on the sites of the NGO Mantatrust (in English) and the association Longitude181 (in French) to know more