Manta to Blue Magic. Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia. January 2015.
© Corinne Bourbeillon

Manta ray festival in Blue Magic

#Raja Ampat # Indonesia

  Indonesia: Raja Ampat - January 2015

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: 

The site is called Blue Magic. This isolated reef in the open sea is frequented by manta rays in season. It is one of my favorite diving spots in Raja Ampat (West Papua, Indonesia).


January 25, 2015. That day, I am the only diver on the boat. I am with my super papuan guide Otto Awomwho supervises the dives at Sorido Bay Resort in Papua Diving. For the underwater photographer that I am, this is the ultimate luxury. Dives a la carte and private guide! I feel super-princess... 🤗

The end of my stay is approaching and I asked to return to Blue Magic. Every dive at this well-named site is a festival - humpback parrotfish, barracudas, schools of jacks - and every dive is different from the last.

Otto on the Papua Diving boat. Raja Ampat, Indonesia, January 2015.
Otto Awom, guide at Papua-Diving, is one of the pioneers of diving in Raja Ampat (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)
School of trevallies at Blue Magic. Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015.
A school of trevallies spinning at the top of the reef of Blue Magic. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)

When we arrive in the area, Otto scans the water for the top of the reef, which is about 12 meters deep at high tide. "Mantas!" He launches.

I look at the water too. I am hallucinating. We see very clearly the dark diamonds of several large manta rays. We are the only boat in the area, the only divers. No other boat could scare away the beautiful giants. So we have good chances to admire the manta rays under water...

We decided not to do the deep part of the reef (25-30 meters) that we usually explore at the beginning of the dive, to go directly to the top (around 12 meters deep) since the huge manta rays seem to be in the mood to hang out there that morning...

Good shot! We spent more than an hour underwater with manta rays. 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 crazy current. And we can see it well on my little video, the visibility is not extraordinary, the water is full of plankton. But when there is both current and plankton, it is often the guarantee of beautiful encounters!

Considering the conditions, I am very happy to be with Otto Awom, who is probably the best connoisseur of the underwater world of the Dampier Strait, in Raja Ampat. He is among the first to have explored them, about twenty years ago, with Max Ammer, before the development of diving tourism in the region.

At Blue Magic, as on all the other sites, Otto knows perfectly well how to evaluate the direction and the strength of the current, in order to guide the boat's captain so that he drops us at the right place for the launch: that is to say, a little bit off the site but not too much either, the objective being not to miss the reef during our descent by drifting.

Underwater, we arrive right where we should, on the side of the reef, close to the top. After a few minutes of waiting, in the middle of silver schools of jacks and purple clouds ofanthias wriggling, the majestic manta rays make their appearance!

Mantas rays at Blue Magic. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)
Mantas rays at Blue Magic. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)

An hour with the mantas

I fixed myself to the reef with my hook to avoid having to fight against the current, but I am badly positioned to enjoy the show (and incidentally to film and take pictures). I float like a small flag, held by my line fixed to the front of my stab (the Vest-stabilizer divers, for the uninitiated). In short, not at all in the right direction... the manta rays arrive on the side of my fins. I have to contort myself to point my lens towards them. Exhausting and inconvenient.

Otto stays a little away, to let me make my pictures quietly. He shows me with his finger a coral spatula a little above, in the middle of the high part of the reef and closer to the trajectory of the manta rays.

I unhooked myself and managed to progress until there. There is sand and dead coral debris 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 getting exhausted and settle down almost comfortably, with my back to the rock, well in front of the sea giants.

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 do one flight after the other, not caring about our presence. They sometimes pass very close, above our heads, it seems that they like to feel our strings of bubbles caressing their bellies.

We will spend more than one hour to observe them, without moving. I counted about ten of them. These gigantic stingrays have a wingspan of 4 to 5 meters, maybe more. I am fascinated. They are both imposing and graceful.

I'm in a better position than before to admire them, but the conditions haven't changed and it's really not ideal for filming or photographing.

I am against the light, in a loaded water, and I can hardly leave my protective coral pad to try to approach gently the manta rays in order to get a better picture. The current would take me away immediately and it would be impossible for me to come back to the reef with the strength of my fins...

So I have to be patient and wait for them to come to me to hope to get one or two good images. The time to switch from video to photo mode, and vice versa, I miss a lot of opportunities and pester my regulator...

When the mantas are too far away, my flash only catches the particles in suspension and the small fish wriggling in the foreground. When they are too close and come to rub their belly on my bubbles, they "overflow" the frame, despite my wide angle. Super annoying. 😂

Manta to Blue Magic. Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia. January 2015.
A manta ray hovers just above my head, giving me a great view of its belly, whose spots are unique and identify each individual, like our fingerprints. (Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia, January 2015)

What about Manta Sandy?

On the top of Blue Magic, the situation is much less comfortable than at another famous site of Raja Ampat for manta ray observation, called Manta Sandy (near Arborek Island), where you are wedged at the bottom on the sand to admire the mantas. This site is shallow, even snorkelers can enjoy the show.

Manta rays are very common in Manta Sandy and are more numerous during a season that goes roughly from October-November to March-April. They swim above a cluster of coral spats on a sandy bottom, which are populated by small cleaning fish.

I had attended a fantastic carouselthree years earlier. I give you the video I made in 2012 below:

Manta Sandy is considered as THE manta spot of the Dampier Strait. I went back there, during this new stay in 2015, but I was less lucky than three years ago. I did not fall at such a good time - there was not much current - and I only saw a few mantas passing by this time... Disappointing compared to what I was hoping for. But other divers assured me that they had seen, a few days earlier, a spectacular ballet.

Nature is like that, nothing is ever guaranteed, even in Raja Ampat. This year, it was at Blue Magic that I experienced my most beautiful encounter with mantas!

Ultimate reward: for my last day, we went once again to Blue Magic. And at the very end of the dive, as we were going back up to the top of the reef, Otto and I came across giant mantas again... This time, we couldn't stay with them for long - we had no more air left.

Emmanuel, another diver who was with us that day, but who followed a different route underwater with another guide, was not so lucky. Not rancorous, he sent me the pictures he shot on the boat when we came back and with which I had fun to edit a mini "teaser", posted a few days ago on the Facebook page of Petites Bulles d'Ailleurs :

Thank you Emmanuel for this little souvenir film! For once I'm in front of the camera. What do you want... Mantas make me happy.


Some links

→ For the defenders of nature: the mantas are part of the threatened species, I refer you to the sites of the NGO Mantatrust (in English) and the association Longitude181 (in French) to know more

→ For fans: All my articles about manta rays

→ For pragmatists: Practical information to organize your trip to Raja Ampat

→ For enthusiasts: All articles on my trips to Raja Ampat

  Indonesia: Raja Ampat - January 2015

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  1. Superbes images . Nous avons eu la chance de refaire ces deux sites mais mon préféré est définitivement blue magic !!!!! Nous sommes moins contraints qu’à manta Sandy et les mantas sont plus proches …. Pour les images c’est mieux !!!! Merci

  2. THANK YOU Corinne for these great pictures (yes, yes!); as for the mantas ballet, always so poetic! And Blue Magic, um... 😉
    With bizzzzzzzzzz

  3. Je partage ta fascination pour ces raies! Sidérant de les voir évoluer si gracieusement , en dépit de leur poids et envergure! M’ont fait spontanément penser à la danseuse américaine Loïe Fuller, pionnière de la danse contemporaine, qui faisait tournoyer de longs voiles lors de ses chorégraphies, à l’image des raies mantas dans ces abîmes aquatiques! 😉

    1. @Ysbilia: oui, c’est un autre genre de ballet, ici, naturel et subaquatique… 🙂 Pour le reste, on n’est qu’à quelques mètres sous la surface, bien loin de l’abîme !

  4. @Corinne : désolé, aucun commentaires… 😉 C’est trop beau, c’est tout, et çà veut tout dire ! Heureusement que j’aurais vu au moins une fois dans ma vie un ballet de mantas en plongée !
    Ah oui ! Toujours résolu à m’y rendre, bien entendu ! 🙄

    1. @Didier: j’espère que tu iras un jour prochain. Il y a de quoi s’émerveiller, même en étant contraint au palmes-masque-tuba. À Manta Sandy, les snorkelers peuvent aussi profiter du ballet des mantas… Et puis, il y a tout le reste : la biodiversité exceptionnelle de la région est sous l’eau mais sur terre aussi.

  5. Hello Corinne!
    J’ai eu le plaisir de lire ce billet sur un canapé du Je Meridien à Sorong, où nous passions la nuit avant de rentrer vers ce froid parisien que nous avons retrouvé hier…

    Blue Magic… Nous y avons plongé deux fois ce séjour, et c’est également notre site favori (avec Cape Kri, Sardine Reef et Arborek…), et comme toi nous avons eu la chance d’y croiser deux mantas océaniques géantes, de 5 à 6 mètres d’envergure, sur la fin des deux plongées…
    Nous étions seuls sur le site avec notre guide Jason (du homestay Yenkoranu), et c’était magique… Autre souvenir mémorable du lieu, le banc de carangues qui y réside est venu m’envelopper, poussé par le courant, alors que je prenais de photos, flottant au bout de mon reef-hook…

    Sinon pour le manta-watching “classique”, nous ne sommes pas allés à Manta Sandy, mais à Manta Ridge (Slope). C’est une station d’alimentation (et non de nettoyage comme Sandy) au bord d’une pente et avec un bon courant, ce qui fait qu’il y a moins de monde, surtout de bon matin, et un peu plus d’action.

    Et il y a sinon quelques autres sites propres au manta-watching – un peu plus confidentiels, car initialement réservés à l’opérateur historique, Papua Diving, qui les a découverts – dont un (Manta Yehuda) où nous avons pu dire au revoir aux mantas lors de la dernière plongée du séjour… Sniff
    We had 20 beautiful dives, and plan to return next February!

    ben & kayo

  6. Manta Festival at Raja Ampat: that nay !!
    Le Festival International de la Manta, c’est aux Maldives et nulle part ailleurs 8)

  7. Magnificent…
    Plongeur encore novice, j’ai découvert votre blog il y’a une semaine et je pense l’avoir parcouru facilement 4 ou 5h, ça donne vraiment envie !
    Do you think that the Mantas are visible in December and are the dives accessible according to you to the beginner divers (10 dives)?
    Thanks again for your blog, it's perfect.

    1. @Ben: the Blue Magic site is, I think, a little too difficult with an experience of only 10 dives. But the Manta Sandy site is quite accessible to beginners.
      Pour la saison, je crois qu’on commence à voir des mantas dès décembre, peut-être même avant ? Mais je ne sais pas trop, je n’y suis pas allée à cette période-là, et les saisons pour les animaux marins c’est comme celles de la météo, parfois ça arrive en avance ou en retard, rien n’est jamais certain…
      Ravie, en tout cas, que mes Petites Bulles d’Ailleurs vous aient à ce point envoûté !!!

  8. After having already browsed your articles for a year, I leave you a little comment.
    Your pictures are simply fabulous, and your articles are very useful for choosing the best dive sites.
    So I was fresh on Komodo in the beginning of the month, and in early July it will be Sipadan with Billabong, then Derawan.
    Je garde le top de Raja Ampat pour ensuite et compte bien passer mon divemaster, peut être à komodo car les forts courants promettent d’être formé avec des conditions exigeantes.
    Je te suis avec 3 années de décalage mais j’ai la chance en travaillant à Jakarta d’être directement sur place 🙂

    2 small questions to the professional photographer that you came back:
    -J’ai pour l’instant un G16 et j’aimerais acheter une lampe Itorch, je ne sais pas quel modèle entre 5, 6 et,7. D’un millier à 7000 lumen. La luminosité en Indonésie étant très forte, une lampe puissante est sûrement nécessaire pour faire plus que de la macro, non?
    -J’ai vu que tu étais un peu allée aux Philipinnes. Les requins baleines le must c’est bien à Cebu?
    A Komodo on m’a aussi parlé de Corto Divers à Palawan je crois, sur un site où il y a deux immenses épaves de navires militaires japonais de la 2ème guerre. Tu connais? Je n’ai pas trop vu de plongées épaves sur ton blog, tu es fan de macro comme moi ;-), le plus exigeant à photographier peut être?

  9. J’aurais encore plus peur avec une visibilité qui laisse à désirer. Les images et la vidéo sont magnifiques; merci pour ça. Je n’en ai croisé qu’une fois mais je faisais du PMT et j’avais été surpris de voir comme ces bêtes sont majestueuses tout en étant très vives lorsqu’elles veulent filer vitesse grand V.
    Déjà qu’une raie c’est impressionnant alors une raie géante je n’ose même pas imaginer…
    Thank you again for these beautiful images, it is dreaming.