One of the most incredible things about manta rays is their sheer size, they’re basically like floating blankets. There are two species, the reef manta and the giant manta ray. They giant ones can grow up to 7m, and the reef mantas are around 3-4m on average. They can also live for up to 50 years. You are most likely to see the reef mantas as they feed closer to shore than the big ‘uns.
They feed on plankton primarily as they are filter feeders, but the larger ones also eat fish. This is good news as it means that they’re not going to eat you and they don’t eat anything particularly dangerous (turtles tend to eat jellyfish which means there are usually bits of jellyfish in the water around them).
If you are concerned about jellyfish then consider purchasing a wetsuit and follow these tips for avoiding jellyfish as well as what to do if you do get minor stings. I got stung when snorkelling with rays which was a pain (literally) but if there are dangerous jellies around then don’t get in the water.
Always remember to look out for boats and don’t crowd marine life. For your own safety, don’t get in the water if its too choppy and use a lifejacket if you’re not a strong swimmer.
Be sure to adhere to the snorkelling code of conduct in order to protect the reef, do not touch any coral or marine life, apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going into the water and don’t take anything from the ocean, unless it’s trash.
I was lucky to see manta rays in two places in Indonesia, at Manta Point near Komodo Island and at Manta Point off the island of Nusa Lembongan in Bali. In the Komodo Islands, we could see the mantas really well from the boat as they were feeding on the surface, once we jumped in it was difficult to find them in the choppy waters.
In Nusa Lembongan, it was a totally different experience as they were underwater. The water was much calmer so it was a better experience, albeit a very crowded one. The trick is to jump in as soon as it is safe to do so, in order to get to see the rays before they disappear.
To see manta rays at night, you need to go on a night dive but make sure you go with a good provider and be careful. The ocean can be dangerous at night, there could be currents, predators like jellyfish or even sharks around as well as the chance of bumping into sharp rocks or marine litter like fish hooks. Don’t go anywhere without your torch and your buddy.
If you want to photograph manta rays, then I suggest doing it in the daytime. If you’re a keen photographer then the sheer size of the rays means that it is worth investing in a fish-eye lens to get the whole thing in frame.
Try and get them in shallow waters to use the natural sunlight or use a strobe if you’re diving deeper. Be patient as you’ll get a better shot from waiting than by chasing the manta around. If you’re snorkelling then you can get a decent shot by using a GoPro in underwater housing.