The manta rays come to meet Matt, who has immersed himself in apnea. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The manta rays come to meet Matt, who has immersed himself in apnea. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)

Meet The Komodo Manta Rays

#Indonesia

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic Google translation from a post originally written in French. My apologies for the weird sentences and the funny mistakes that could have been generated during the process. If you can read French, the original and correct version can be found here:

  Indonesia: Komodo + Raja Ampat - July 2016

In Komodo (Indonesia), you can' t miss the majestic manta rays. Whether underwater while scuba diving or at the surface while snorkelling, it's a spectacular 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 sequences of this underwater video slept at the bottom of my hard drive for many months ... It was time for me to put a small editing online! 😉

I filmed these beautiful giants at the site of Karang Makassar, logically called "Manta Point" by divers. A name not usurped at all. This 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.

Inoffensive manta rays? But yes ! I specify, because I often ask the question: these huge rays have no sting, unlike these little traitor stingrays ... On this subject I let you (re) discover my painful misadventure of July 2009, in Sangalaki, another "Manta Point", located in the Derawan archipelago, near Borneo).

Five years later my first dive cruise in Komodo in 2011I am happy to see that mantas are still there in numbers. In Karang Makassar, you do not have to go deep or look for them for long.

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 phases of the Moon, into a true 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 current, I'm stuck to a rock with my hook and I sometimes have a hard time keeping up with the "juice" with 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.

Karang Makassar is a real express way to mantas! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Karang Makassar is a real express way to mantas! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The bottom is about ten meters deep. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The bottom is about ten meters deep. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
A new squadron of manta rays! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
A new squadron of manta rays! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
This ray deployed its cephalic fins to direct the plankton on the right surface into its mouth. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
This ray deployed its cephalic fins to direct the plankton on the right surface into its mouth. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The site is shallow, allowing easy observation of manta rays. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The site is shallow, allowing easy observation of manta rays. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The snorkelers can admire the majestic swimming of manta rays flush with the surface. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The snorkelers can admire the majestic swimming of manta rays flush with the surface. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The rolled cephalic fins form like horns. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The rolled cephalic fins form like horns. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)

Komodo is a national park, registered 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 behavior of rays in various situations: when they feed on the surface of zooplankton, filtering water, mouth open; when swimming between two waters, descending or ascending the current (to swallow quantity of plankton there too); or when they are lining up at "cleaning stations" which dot the bottom ...

Because yes, the mantas are in line, in front of these coral potatoes where live small fish cleaners who rid them of their parasites! 😲 Positioned a few meters from one of these "cleaning stations", I see them arrive in squadron and line up one behind the other, to wait quietly for 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 rigor, know that it should not say "manta" but "mobula". A genetic study, published in June 2017, made it possible to group these two kinds of rays into one, so that the "manta" classification no longer exists for biologists. (I refer you to this article by Anthony Leydet which summarizes all that.) But what does it matter, in the current language, one can continue to call them "mantas" (as in the words "mantis", "mantilla" or "coat") ... 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 manta ray hello"

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 (Indonesian traditional boat) seems to perfectly match my expectations: six divers maximum on board (distributed in three cabins) and atmosphere "photographer friendly". Coup de bol, there is availability on dates that suit me.

See also on the blog → Komodo seen from above, it's even more beautiful

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.

With them, it feels like family time cruising! Yani gets up before dawn to prepare a plentiful special diver breakfast and cooks good food all day long. Vovo manages the logistics of the dives. At their side, three Indonesian crewmen and an Australian monitor guide, Matt.

Duyung Baru is my new home for a week! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Duyung Baru is my new home for a week! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Vovo briefs us before each dive. (Duyung Baru, Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Vovo briefs us before each dive. (Duyung Baru, Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Yoga session on the bridge of Duyung Baru. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016, © Christoph Würbel)
Yoga session on the bridge of Duyung Baru. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016, photo by Christoph Würbel)

On the customers 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 really fell well! Will and I are training under the water an ideal duo, with our respective large photographic boxes.

Family photo of our "precious" ... From left to right, the box of Will, that of Vovo and mine. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Family photo of our "precious" ... From left to right, the box of Will, that of Vovo and mine. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)

Supreme luxury for my little person: I have the double cabin of the bottom for me alone ... A real princess! Vovo had told me when I booked: he already had four other guests that week, two couples. The remaining cabin would be for me, and 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 of Matt, the diving instructor, intended in principle for the staff.)

I do not know if the stars line up when I send a booking email to Indonesia, but I'm really polite about it and it's not the first time it's happening to me. Five years ago, in 2011, during my first dive cruise in Komodo, I had done even harder: 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.

Apprentice freedivers this time down at the same time for the group photo under water! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Apprentice freedivers this time down at the same time for the group photo under water! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Our little group is happily posing for the souvenir photo on Rinca Island. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Our little group is happily posing for the souvenir photo on Rinca Island. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)

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 journey time is 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 even "à la carte" according to our desires. Vovo, with its experience, makes us suggestions every day.

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 die drowned or disappear in Komodo, swept away by currents ... The last case is the one ofa 40-year-old Singaporean diver, missing in July 2017. Searches at sea did not find it.

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.

Ready to go diving again! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Ready to go diving again! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Henna, all smiles after diving with the mantas! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Henna, all smiles after diving with the mantas! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)

Ultimate Underwater Ballet

The fantastic Manta Point (aka Karang Makassar) is located not far from another fabulous dive site: Batu Bolong, a colorful, multi-colored coral pinnacle, behind which one is sheltered from the current, where swarms of fish ( I'll post a series of photos someday). On the last day, we return to dive on this site and back ... we cross again the road of the mantas, full plankton orgy on the surface!

Yes, more mantas! They are everywhere 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 power. The opportunity is too beautiful. We decide to go back to the water! In snorkeling for Finns and Germans. In apnea for Matt and Vovo. With the few bars at the bottom of the bottles for Will and me ... We immerse ourselves at 5 meters with our photo boxes, 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 ... 😍

The mantas go back and forth, flush with the surface. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The mantas go back and forth, flush with the surface. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The manta rays come to meet Matt, who has immersed himself in apnea. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The manta rays come to meet Matt, who has immersed himself in apnea. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
An unforgettable encounter ... (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
An unforgettable encounter ... (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
The stains on the belly of manta rays are unique for each individual, much like our fingerprints. It's sort of their "identity card", which allows marine biologists to recognize them. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016.)
The stains on the belly of manta rays are unique for each individual, much like our fingerprints. It's sort of their "identity card", which allows marine biologists to recognize them. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016.)
Mantas are not the only ones who come to feed on plankton on the surface. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Mantas are not the only ones who come to feed on plankton on the surface. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Vovo takes his pose of superheroes in front of the manta for the photo! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Vovo takes his pose of superheroes in front of the manta for the photo! (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
An almost entirely black manta runs in the current. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
An almost entirely black manta runs in the current. (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
From this angle, I understand better why they are also called "devils of the seas". (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
From this angle, I understand better why they are also called "devils of the seas". (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Masta flies reveal stains on their belly and scars ... (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)
Mastas' overtures reveal spots on their belly, and for some, their scars ... (Komodo, Indonesia, July 2016)

One of my photos published in a National Geographic book

Updated, April 2019. Three years after these extraordinary encounters in the waters of Komodo, one of my images of manta rays swimming to meet Matt in apnea - him 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 Miller, American author based in New Zealand who has made a journey that makes you dream (see his Instagram dedicated to this world tour dive sites: @thedivetravelers) ... 🤗

  Indonesia: Komodo + Raja Ampat - July 2016

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