Indonesia : Komodo + Raja Ampat - July 2016
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 difficult to miss the majestic manta rays. Underwater while diving or from the surface with a simple snorkel, it is a sumptuous show!
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 dragonsThe archipelago is also the perfect place 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 the divers. A name not usurped at all. It is the most famous and popular manta spot in Komodo.
It is relatively safe and accessible to all. Whether you are bottle diver, freediver or simple swimmer in palms-mask-tuba (this is called PMT or snorkeling), it is quite easy to observe the huge manta rays (in the 3-4 meters of scale), which adore to walk in the sector between girlfriends.
Harmless manta rays? Yes, they are! I specify it, because I am often asked the question: these enormous rays do not have a stinger, unlike these small 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).
Five years later my first dive cruise in Komodo in 2011In Karang Makassar, I was happy to see that mantas are still there, in numbers. In Karang Makassar, there is no need to go deep or to look for them for a long time.
While diving, you just have to position yourself at a strategic spot on the bottom, which rarely exceeds 10-15 meters of depth, in the area, and wait. After a few minutes, you can see them arriving, in small groups, effortlessly going up 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!
You can't see it in my video, everything looks very calm, very peaceful, but in reality, to be able to film without being swept away by the currentI'm tied to a rock with my hook and I sometimes have a hard time holding on to the "juice" with my imposing box I have neither the power nor the elegance of these enormous fish.
Of course, when snorkeling on the surface as well as diving underwater, it is useless to follow them as they swim fast 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 Unesco World Heritage List and Biosphere Reserves. And Karang Makassar, in the heart of the park, is really an exceptional site to observe the behavior of the 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 gulp down a lot of plankton in the process); or even when they queue up to "cleaning stations". which dot the bottom ...
Because yes, the mantas are lining up, in front of these coral spuds where small cleaning fishes 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 behind the other, to quietly wait their turn!
Fascinated, I stay in the same place, without moving, during about thirty minutes, without being able to detach my eyes from the spectacle, which starts again, without ending...
The manta is a mobula. A little scientific aside: in all rigor, you should know that you should no longer say "manta" but "mobula". A genetic study, published in June 2017, has combined these two genera of rays 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 common parlance, we can continue to call them "mantas" (as in the words "mantis", "mantilla" or "coat")... It suits them so well!
The most curious ones sometimes come to glide and take a look at the small strange creature which releases glittering bubbles a few meters away from them. Not at all frightened by my presence, several will even come to position themselves just above my head...
I had already observed this behavior, five years earlier. At that time, I posted this video, where we can see a manta ray coming to examine me more closely and deploying one of its cephalic fins while approaching, as if to greet me. I had named this sequence "The manta ray that makes cuckoo"…
I give it to you below, just for fun:
The dive cruise has fun
To admire the manta rays of Komodo in this month of July 2016, I opted as in 2011 for a dive cruise. After a lot of research on divers' internet forums, I chose the Duyung Baru. This pretty little pinisi (traditional Indonesian boat) seems to correspond perfectly to my expectations: six divers maximum on board (divided in three cabins) and "photographer friendly" atmosphere. Luckily, there is availability on the dates I like.
See also on the blog → Komodo seen from above, it is even more beautiful
The boat belongs to Vovo and Yani, a lovely German-Indonesian couple. They know the area and the Komodo Park very well, where Vovo has been sailing and diving for about 15 years.
With them, we feel like a family during the cruise! Yani gets up before dawn to prepare a copious breakfast for the divers and cooks us good food all day long. Vovo manages the logistics of the dives. Next to them, three Indonesian crewmen and an Australian guide instructor, Matt.
As for the clients, I was lucky: nice and interesting people, always in a good mood, with whom I got along very well. This cruise was really a good choice!
There is a young Finnish couple (Ville and Henna), another German couple (Chris and Michi), all expats in Asia (Jakarta and Singapore) and an Indonesian, Will, an underwater photographer like me. I invite you to visit his Instagram (@_william_susantoo_)It makes wonderful pictures (and not only underwater)!
To the lottery diving pairsSo I've really fallen in love with it! Will and I form an ideal duo underwater, with our respective big photographic boxes.
The ultimate luxury for my little person: I have the back double cabin all to myself... A real princess! Vovo had told me when I booked: he already had four other customers that week, two couples. So the remaining cabin would be for me, and at no extra cost "single". (Will, the sixth of the group, was a last-minute addition: he was able to join the cruise by sharing Matt's cabin, the diving instructor's cabin, which is normally reserved for staff).
I don't know if the stars align when I send a booking email to Indonesia, but I'm really lucky on this one and it's not the first time it happened to me. Five years earlier, in 2011, on my first dive cruise to Komodo, I did even better: I had the whole boat to myself !!!
On board of Duyung BaruI really appreciate the friendly 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, apneaThey organize yoga sessions on the deck, to work on relaxation and breath control, and they offer us a morning of initiation to free" diving, without bottles or bubbles.
Will, on his side, gives me advices on the management of the light under water, the position of my flashes, the configuration of my housing. He even offers me a strap, that he has in addition, to transport it more easily, by learning that the one I had ordered and that I should have received before the departure did not arrive in time.
Like Chris, he has a drone, and these two big boys have a lot of fun together with their toys, bringing us spectacular images of Komodo from above. As for me, I am pleased to show to some and others, on the screen of my computer, various small tricks to treat its 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 journey is long, we cannot go to the more distant sites and discover the whole park. For those who still prefer to be based on land, I had spotted during my preparations the Komodo Resort, on the island of Sebayur, located halfway between Labuan Bajo and the island of Komodo (but better to be two, their "single" supplement is salty). The travel time is thus reduced by half 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.comI found it very well done for scouting (on the other hand, I never booked through their platform, so I don't know what it's worth, I usually prefer to contact the operators directly). Then, I went to the Duyung Baru to make my reservation request. If you are not comfortable in English (or German) and prefer to communicate in French, Olivier of the site Asiaqua.com can take care of everything (I found out afterwards that it offers the Duyung Baru in his catalog).
The good thing about being such a small group is that the itinerary of the cruise is flexible or even "à la carte" according to our desires. Vovo, with his experience, makes suggestions 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.
Dramas in Komodo. These are not stories. Every year there are divers who drown or disappear in Komodo, swept away by the currents... The latest case is that ofa 40-year-old Singaporean diver, missing in July 2017. Searches at sea did not find her.
In this context, I find our group really nice. No grumbling to spoil the atmosphere, everyone understands why we sometimes have to dive somewhere else than the site initially planned. And nobody protests when we have to give up some spots, too exposed, to fall back on more protected areas.
Vovo's choices, who knows the park like the back of his hand, are always judicious and everyone finds their way around, despite the different levels of our little group.
Ultimate Underwater Ballet
The fantastic Manta Point (alias Karang Makassar) is located not far from another fabulous dive site: Batu Bolong, a multicolored coral pinnacle, spectacular, behind which we are sheltered from the current, where swarms of fishes swim around (I will post a series of pictures one day). On the last day, we went back to this site and on our way back... we met again mantas, in full orgy of plankton at the surface!
Yes, more mantas! They are everywhere around the dock!
Our boatman cautiously reduced the speed, then cut the engines. The conditions in this area, at this time of the day, are excellent, there is almost no current. The opportunity is too good. We decided to go back to the water! Snorkeling for the Finns and the Germans. Snorkeling for Matt and Vovo. With the few bars remaining at the bottom of the tanks for Will and me... We immersed ourselves at 5 meters with our photographic tanks, for ultimate images.
One never tires of it. Impossible to be blasé, to not be amazed again. The emotion is intact. The time suspends its flight. This new meeting with mantas, unexpected, without any other boat around, is really magic... 😍
One of my photos published in a National Geographic book
Updated, April 2019. Three years after these extraordinary encounters in the waters of Komodo, I am proud to say that one of my pictures of manta rays swimming to meet Matt in apnea - him with open arms, amazed by the show - 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)... 🤗