Typically the turquoise atolls, pristine beaches and luxurious water bungalows are what first draw tourist to the Maldives. But for me, and my colleagues, it’s all about what’s under the waves. The Maldives rich marine life in regards to abundance & diversity makes it a high priority on any ocean lovers bucket-list. And Baa Atoll is no exception, in fact it hosts one of the most spectacular sites in the world – Hanifaru Bay.
Local fisherman have known about Hanifaru Bay for hundreds of years but rumor has it the true magnificence of Hanifaru Bay was appreciated when protests sprouted up regarding using the area of seaplane runway (which obviously didn’t fly..hehe). You see, when tide and time align, Hanifaru fills with plankton & the small bay become a frenzied feeding ground for one of the oceans most majestic creatures – the Manta Ray.
The Maldives is home to over 4,000 recorded Manta Rays & my friends/office mates at Manta Trust are responsible for monitoring them: tracking their migrations, pregnancies, mating scars, and battle wounds. You see, every Manta has a spot pattern on their stomach that works like a finger print, identifying each individual manta. Meaning these guys have a pretty hefty database to keep updated.
When those tides and times are lining up, the team at Manta Trust is potentially busy photographing the tummies of dozens, if not hundreds of these gentle giants in Hanifaru. The bay is only about the size of a football field and the mantas have a wingspan of about 3.5 meters, things can get a little hectic. Mantas often follow a chain like feeding pattern, piggy back riding and sometimes barrel rolling, filter feeding on as much plankton as possible.
Prior to being in the Maldives, I had only encountered Mantas four times. I consider myself so #blessed to have been able to witness mass feeding here in Hanifaru in Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere. The bay is regulated so that a restricted number of snorkelers and boats may enter at any time making it the most amazing encounter.
Unfortunately, Mantas, like so many species, are being killed at an alarming rate. You see, there’s a bogus claim that their gills have healing powers, and so mass numbers of these rays are being slaughtered every day in order to make soup… Hopefully we humans can get it together before these remarkable species are no longer around.