Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text:
In Komodo (Indonesia), it is hard to miss the majestic manta rays. Underwater diving or from the surface with a simple snorkel, it's a sumptuous sight!
Manta Point on video
I bring you back to July 2016, in Indonesia, in the heart of the National Park of Komodo. Besides his famous dragons, the archipelago is also the place dreamed to observe the graceful and harmless manta rays.
The footage from this underwater video had been sleeping at the bottom of my hard drive for many months... It was about time I put a little editing online! 😉
I filmed these beautiful giants at the site of Karang Makassarlogically called "Manta Point" by divers. A name not usurped at all. It is the most famous and popular mantas spot in Komodo.
It is relatively safe and accessible to all. That would be bottle diver, freediver or simple swimmer in palms-mask-tuba (what's called PMT or snorkeling), it is quite easy to observe the immense manta rays (in the 3-4 meters wingspan), who love to walk in the area between girlfriends.
Harmless manta rays? Yes, they are! I say this because I am often asked the question: these huge stingrays have no sting, contrary to these little treacherous stingrays... On this subject I let you (re)discover my painful misadventure of July 2009, in SangalakiAnother "Manta Point", located in the Derawan Archipelago, near Borneo).
When diving, simply position yourself at a strategic location on the bottom, which rarely exceeds 10-15 meters deep, in the area, and wait. After a few minutes we see them arrive, in small groups, effortlessly ascending the often furious current that sweeps the coral debris substrate.
This site can be transformed, according to the tides and the phases of the Moon, into a real aquatic expressway!
We do not realize it in my video, everything seems very calm, very peaceful, but in reality, to be able to film without being swept away by the currentI'm attached to a rock with my hook and sometimes I have a hard time standing in front of the "juice" with my hook. my imposing box photographic, to keep the mantas in the frame ... I have neither the power nor the elegance of these enormous fish.
Of course, snorkeling on the surface as under diving, it is useless to want to follow them as they swim quickly and the current can be strong in Komodo. They are the ones who decide to approach, who accept our presence or not, who come to meet us or not.
Komodo is a national park, inscribed on the list of World Heritage and UNESCO Biosphere Reserves. And Karang Makassar, in the heart of the park, is really an exceptional site to observe the behaviour of rays in various situations: when they feed on the surface of zooplankton, filtering the water, mouth open; when they swim between two waters, going down or up the current (to engulf a quantity of plankton as well); or even when they queue up. at the "cleaning stations" which dot the bottom ...
Because yes, the mantas are queuing up in front of these coral potatoes where small cleaning fish live to rid them of their parasites! 😲 Positioned a few meters away from one of these "cleaning stations", I see them arriving in a squadron and lining up one after the other, to quietly wait their turn!
Fascinated, I stay in the same place, without moving, for thirty minutes, without being able to detach my eyes from the show, which starts again, never ending ...
The manta is a mobula.Small scientific parenthesis: in all rigour, know that we should no longer say "manta" but "mobula". A genetic study, published in June 2017, made it possible to group these two types of ray into one, so that the classification "manta" no longer exists for biologists. (I refer you to this article by Anthony Leydet that sums it all up). But whatever, in everyday language, we can still call them "mantas" (as in "mantis", "mantilla" or "mantle")... It suits them so well!
The most curious sometimes come in hovering glance take a look at the weird creature who releases glittering bubbles a few meters from them. Not at all scared by my presence, many will even be positioned just above my head ...
I had already seen this behavior five years ago. At the time I posted this video, where we see a manta ray coming to examine me more closely and deploy one of his cephalic fins approaching, as if to greet me. I baptized this sequence "The cuckoo manta ray."…
I give it to you below, just for fun:
The diving cruise has fun
To admire the mantas rays of Komodo in July 2016, I opted as in 2011 for a diving cruise. After a lot of research on the internet forums of divers, my choice fell on the Duyung Baru. This pretty little pinisi (traditional Indonesian boat) seems to correspond perfectly to my expectations: maximum six divers on board (in three cabins) and "photographer friendly" atmosphere. Lucky for me, there is availability on the dates that suit me.
The boat belongs to Vovo and Yani, an adorable German-Indonesian couple. They know the area and the park of Komodo, where Vovo has sailed and dives for about fifteen years.
They make you feel like family on a cruise! Yani gets up before dawn to prepare a hearty breakfast for the divers and prepares good food for us throughout the day. Vovo manages the logistics of the dives. At their side are three Indonesian crewmen and an Australian instructor guide, Matt.
On the customer side, I am lucky: nice and interesting people, always in a good mood, with whom I get along very well. Really a good pick, this cruise!
There is a young couple from Finland (City and Henna), another from Germans (Chris and Michi), all expatriates in Asia (Jakarta and Singapore) and an Indonesian, Will, an underwater photographer like me. I invite you to visit his site → WilliamSusanto.comHe makes beautiful pictures (and not only underwater)!
To the lottery diving pairsso I'm really glad I fell! Will and I are an ideal underwater duo, with our respective large photo boxes.
Supreme luxury for my little person: I have the double cabin at the back for myself alone... A real princess! Vovo had told me when I made the reservation: he already had four other customers that week, two couples. The remaining cabin would therefore be for me, and at no extra cost "single". (Will, the sixth of the group, was added at the last minute: he was able to join the cruise by sharing the cabin with Matt, the diving instructor, which was intended in principle for the staff).
I don't know if the stars line up when I send a booking email to Indonesia, but I'm really glazed over on this one and it's not the first time it's happened to me. Five years earlier, in 2011, on my first dive cruise to Komodo, I had done even better : I had the whole boat for myself !!!
On board of Duyung BaruI really appreciate the kind atmosphere in our little group. Before and after the dives, we chat, we get to know each other and we exchange our respective knowledge ...
Matt and Vovo, who are also instructors ofapnea, organize yoga sessions on the bridge, to work relaxation and breath control, and they offer us a morning of initiation to free diving, without bottles or bubbles.
Will, for his part, gives me tips on the management of light under water, the position of my flashes, the configuration of my box. He even offers me a strap, which he has in hand, to carry it more easily, on learning that the one I ordered and that I should have received before departure did not arrive in time.
Like Chris, he has a drone, and these two big boys have fun together with their toys, bringing us back spectacular images of Komodo seen from above. As for me, I'm happy to show each other, on the screen of my computer, various small tricks to treat his photos in Lightroom…
To dive in Komodo, a multi-day cruise is in my opinion the best option, preferable to day trips (day trips) from Labuan Bajo (the port of Flores where all the hotels are and from where all the boats leave). The day trips do not give as much freedom, the trip is long, you can not go to more remote sites and discover the whole park. For those who still prefer to be based on land, I spotted during my preparations for Komodo Resort, on the island of Sebayur, located halfway between Labuan Bajo and Komodo Island (but better to be two, their "single" supplement is salty). The travel time is thus halved to reach the most famous spots (Karang Makassar "Manta Point", Batu Bolong, Castle Rock, Crystal Rock, The Cauldron, etc.).
To know which boats had availabilities on my datesI used the site LiveAboard.com, that I find very well damn to make tracking (on the other hand, I never booked through their platform, so I do not know what it is worth, I usually prefer to contact the operators directly). Then, then, I went to the site of the Duyung Baru to make my reservation request. If you are not comfortable in English (or German) and prefer to exchange in French, Olivier of the site Asiaqua.com can take care of everything (I discovered afterwards that he offers the Duyung Baru in his catalog).
What's good, too, when you're such a small group, is that the itinerary of the cruise is flexible or even "à la carte" according to our desires. Vovo, thanks to its experience, makes suggestions to us on a daily basis.
It must also take into account tides and currents, which are particularly formidable this week, because we are in a new moon. Safety first.
In this context, I find our group really nice. No grumbler to fill the atmosphere, everyone understands why we must sometimes dive elsewhere than on the site originally planned. And nobody protests when it is necessary to give up certain spots, too exposed, to fall back on more protected areas.
The choices of Vovo, who knows the park as his pocket, are always wise and everyone is there, despite different levels within our small palanquée.
Ultimate Underwater Ballet
The fantastic Manta Point (aka Karang Makassar) is located not far from another fabulous dive site: Batu Bolong, a spectacular, multicolored coral pinnacle, behind which you are sheltered from the current, where swarms of fish are flying around (I'll post a series of pictures next day). On the last day, we go back to dive on this site and on the way back... we cross again the road of the mantas, in full orgy of plankton on the surface!
Yes, more mantas! They're all around the annex!
Our boatman cautiously reduced speed, then shut down the engines. The conditions in this area at this time of day are excellent, there is almost no current. The opportunity is too good. We decide to go back to the water! Snorkeling for the Finns and Germans. Snorkeling for Matt and Vovo. With the few bars remaining at the bottom of the bottles for Will and me... We dive 5 meters with our photographic tanks, for ultimate images.
We never tire. Impossible to be jaded, not to marvel again. The emotion is intact. Time suspends its flight. This new encounter with the mantas, unexpected, without any other boat around, is really magical ... ????
One of my photos published in a National Geographic book
Updated, April 2019. Little pride, three years after these extraordinary encounters in the waters of Komodo: one of my images of manta rays swimming to meet Matt in apnea - he with open arms, amazed by the spectacle - is part of the photos published in the book 100 Dives of a Lifetime published by National Geographic Books!
Many underwater photographers from all walks of life, including the famous British Alex Mustard (He is notably the author of the photo of cenote on the cover) helped to illustrate this book. This one is written by Carie MillerShe is an American author based in New Zealand who has made a journey that makes you dream (see her Instagram dedicated to this world tour of dive sites): @thedivetravelers)... 🤗