We were suspended in the water, weightless and light as a feather. The current wasn’t as strong here and only the brightly shinning sun, penetrating a few meters below the waters surface, told me which direction was up. We were starting our safety stop during our ascent from the ocean floor after enjoying a drift dive at Manta Point in Komodo National Park, Indonesia. As its name suggests, our main goal here was to see the beautiful ballerina’s of the sea, the Giant Manta Ray.
As I adjusted the air in my BCD, I looked up and had to remind myself to keep breathing as I watched in awe while 3 giant manta rays swam directly overhead. As I looked down and fumbled with my GoPro, another group of giant manta’s swam underneath us. I watched as they gracefully glided though the water with effortless flaps of their outstretched wings.
I had arrived on the island of Flores in the town of Labuan Bajo only a few days earlier. I was intent on exploring Komodo National Park, both terrestrial and aquatic. The Komodo Islands are reported to be one of the best dive locations on earth. I was excited to get back under the sea after obtaining my Open Water Diver certification from PADI only a year ago in Honduras.
After doing some research I discovered that being an open water diver wasn’t going to allow me to dive at the locations I wanted to, such as Manta Point. So I opted to spend the first 2 days of my 5 day stay upgrading to the Advanced Open Water Diver certification. Due to the strong ocean currents and deep dive sites, to dive in the Komodo’s you really do require an advanced level of diving.
Today was a my final day in the Komodo’s and I was having an incredible send off. The first two dive sites had been gigantic bio-diverse aquariums filled with thousands of fish and brightly colored coral. Along with finding my favorite underwater creature, the sea turtle, I had also spotted a white tip reef shark and a beautiful eagle ray, the smaller cousin to the giant manta’s.
Due to the changing and very strong ocean currents that day, our dive master had made the last minute decision to switch locations for the last dive site and thus we ended up at Manta Point. This would be my 3rd time diving this site and I had been lucky enough to swim with the giant rays a few days before.
As we arrived at Manta Point someone called out that a manta was breaching the surface. They were literally all around us! Quickly getting our gear on, we dove into the water, eager to befriend the the giants of the ocean.
Throughout the dive we came across giant manta’s swimming solo, sitting in cleaning stations along the ocean floor. To watch them and avoid being taken away by the current, we’d have to find a dead piece of coral or a rock to grab onto while keeping a watchful eye not to touch or kneel on the spiky sea urchins that littered the bottom of the ocean. When it was time to move on, we’d simply let the current take us away, one of the fun things about doing a drift dive.
As we began to approach the the limits of our oxygen supply, my guide signaled it was time to begin our safety stop. Slowly ascending, we kept a watchful eye for one last glimpse of the giant manta’s and that’s when the party started. Within minutes we were surrounded by 8 giant manta rays, both above and below! They were now traveling in pairs and small groups, sometimes turning their heads to give us a look before gently gliding away.
Words cannot describe what an incredible experience it is to be in the ocean swimming with sentient beings. As a new diver I’m constantly in awe of how close you can get to the wildlife in the ocean. On land, wild animals have learned to run when they see humans, as we are one of the top predators. It’s very hard to get close to a deer or a rabbit or fox. But humans aren’t suppose to go under water and so these creatures have yet to develop any sort of fear of us. To them, we’re just another fish in the sea! This is one of the reasons I’ve fallen in love with scuba diving.
As our lengthened safety stop came to an end and we surfaced into the hot sun, I thought of how incredibly lucky and blessed I was for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I could barley contain my excitement as I could think of no better send off from the Komodo’s than being surrounded by these gentle giants.