We are extremely fortunate that our tiny island of Nusa Lembongan, just off the coast of Bali is a short boat ride away from not one but two manta ray dive sites: Manta Point and Manta Bay
Manta Point is where we see all sorts of manta-tastic action, from feeding and cleaning through to mating trains of up to 20 manta rays swooping and banking overhead. Manta Bay is where we tend to see smaller manta rays feeding in shallower depths, which is consistent with it being a ‘nursery’ site. Between these two epic Nusa Penida dive sites, you’ll see the full spectrum of manta ray behavior!
Seeing a manta ray while diving is an incredible moment and one that’s on many scuba divers’ bucket lists. The more you know and understand about manta rays, the more impressive and exciting your sightings will be… so here are some of our favourite manta ray facts to get you started:
Manta Ray Facts
- “Manta” is Spanish for “cloak” which refers to their large blanket-shaped bodies.
- Manta rays evolved from stingrays but unlike other stingray species, mantas do not have a stinging spine. They are completely harmless.
- They have a large brain relative to their body size in comparison to other sharks and rays.
- Because of their enormous size, the only known predators of manta rays are large sharks and humans.
- Manta rays look like they have horns but these are actually large fins which they use to direct plankton into their mouths when they are feeding. When they are not feeding, they roll up the fins which result in the horn-like appearance.
- Manta rays feed on plankton and occasionally on very small fish. They are filter feeders and do not have teeth for biting or chewing.
- Manta rays such as those found along the south coast of Nusa Penida are reef manta rays and they average 3 – 5 meters from wing-tip to wing-tip.
- Reef manta rays stay in the same area for long periods of time but they have also been recorded traveling from spot to spot. Did you know that some of our Nusa Penida manta rays have been spotted in Komodo?!
- Reef manta rays can swim up to 24km per hour (estimated escape speed)
- Female manta rays give birth to a single pup every two to five years. Their gestation period is believed to be around a year long.
Why Is It More Important to Dive With Manta Rays Now?
During COVID-19, like most of the world, Bali has been under lockdown for many months, which meant no diving. You may be asking why this is a problem but divers acting as citizen scientists play a huge part in helping marine scientists to learn and understand more about manta rays and other ‘marine megafauna’ species, including the ocean sunfish or mola.
The markings on the underside of a manta ray (spots, shadows, lines, blotches etc) are unique to each individual manta ray, much like a human fingerprint. Scuba divers and underwater photographers are encouraged to become citizen scientists and take pictures of the manta rays markings to submit to Marine Megafauna Foundation or upload to the Manta Matcher database.
The unique markings on manta rays allow scientists to identify individual rays and to track where and how far they travel, estimate population abundance, examine their life history and reproductive ecology, determine spatial and temporal movement patterns, identify localized habitat usage and study patterns of natural predation and body scarring. Photography can also provide information on population decline in threatened regional populations, which is essential in the development of effective conservation and management strategies. The more we know about a population, the better it can be protected*.
Dr. Andrea Marshall, co-founder and principal scientist at the Marine Megafauna Foundation said:
“Initiatives like Manta Matcher reveal how much more we can achieve when we break down traditional barriers in science and invite people from all walks of life to participate in studies of our natural world. Collaborative wildlife studies will lead to hard hitting global conservation solutions”.
Of course though, due to COVID-19 there are now almost 5 months of missing data and information…. which we hope to be able to help get back on track as soon as possible!!
Why Nusa Lembongan Island Needs Divers Too
Like many small island communities around the world whose economy is largely dependent on tourism and scuba diving, Nusa Lembongan has been hit by widespread unemployment as local businesses have closed. Unlike in developed countries where governments have put into place furlough schemes, benefits and financial support for those who are out of work due to COVID, there is no comparable equivalent in Indonesia.
There are literally hundreds of charities, organizations and crowdfunding campaigns for mainland Bali but Nusa Lembongan does not have the same tourism numbers as Bali – we are a very small island where unfortunately the cost of living is higher than on the mainland due to all resources needing to be shipped here.
Further compounding the problem is Lembongan’s extremely dry micro-climate which makes it impossible to grow rice and many of the other staple fruits and vegetables which are produced on the mainland, where those in rural areas can be self-sufficient.
How You Can Help
Come and see us when tourism re-opens! You’ll have an amazing diving experience, AND you’ll be playing a huge part in helping to regenerate the economy on the island. If you’re an underwater photographer you can become a citizen scientist and start capturing pictures of manta rays too! If you can’t travel yourself please recommend Nusa Lembongan to others!
Latest Travel News
The Governor of Bali has announced that Bali will be open again for international tourism from September 11th which is when we hope the free tourist visa on arrival will be reinstated!
We understand that there are many islands around the world that are facing similar problems and if you do travel this year, wherever you go, you’ll be helping local communities at a time when they need it most – and we thank you for traveling!!
*Marine Megafauna Foundation website