We heard the diving would be amazing in Lembongan but we had nooooo idea why. There’s tons of manta rays there, that’s why!
They are not threatening to humans, as they don’t have a stinger or vicious teeth or an appetite for flesh. They filter feed on plankton, sweeping it into their mouths and grinding with their more than 2000 “teeth”. These teeth are the reason they are so hunted by humans. The Chinese believe some bullshit that eating ground manta teeth will filter their blood. These animals are threatened with extinction if it’s not stopped.
We went to a manta ray talk by a scientist living on Lembongan. She works for Aquatic Alliance and only studies manta rays. Her and her associates have been slaving for years to get the government of Indonesia to recognize the damage their manta fisheries are doing, a huge one located just one island over from Bali on Lombok. Just a week before we arrived on the island, they were successful in getting federal protection for the manta rays! Not sure if that will mean the hunting will actually stop, but it’s a great start. The woman cried as she was telling us about it. Talk about passion in action! Very inspiring work.
We scuba dived at a spot called secret manta. Theres nothing secret about this spot. Dozens of boats were already there when we arrived at 9am.
The mantas swam back and forth above us in a very heavy current. at points we had to hold onto rocks to keep from floating away. And after only five minutes our guide decided we should swim away and go look at other shit. I was so so soooo upset. I nearly cried on the boat when we were leaving the dive site to go to a different place to dive. I asked if instead of leaving we could do another dive with them and actually STAY with them, but I was out-voted. It baffled me that we weren’t automatically doing two dives with the mantas. That’s the main attraction on Lembongan. There were a half dozen mantas just swimming around. I just knew we had to come back the next day. I needed more manta time.
But at our next site we saw another rare, amazing fish, the mola mola. Holy mola mola, that sucker was big… and weird! The picture below of the mola (also called a Sun Fish, or Moon fish if you’re European) is not of us. I just grabbed one online to show what a massive fish it is. The one we saw looked just like that. He was stoic! The current was insane there as well. We held onto rocks for dear life at 30 meters to sit and observe the mola. Even though I enjoy scuba diving to look at corral and small things, there’s nothing like swimming with the big creatures of the ocean world. Nothing! These dives made me want to seek diving destinations based upon seeing more large fish and sharks rather than just beauty. We want to see whale sharks,
The next day we went out to Secret Manta dive site and I made it perfectly clear that we were to spend the entire dive watching and filming the mantas. We hung out with them for 45 minutes! Being underneath them is sooooo cool!!! Like a snowflake, no two mantas have exactly the same markings. So they are easy to name, spot, and track. We swam with one with a giant W on his belly. The current was much less strong and so it was easier to stay put and just allow them to swim by. They are very curious, sometimes swimming right at you and then corkscrewing in front of you.
They are technically a fish and they never stop swimming, even to sleep, eat, or give birth. We watched a video of a manta in captivity giving birth. The baby comes out and begins swimming right away, abandoned forever by it’s mother. After an uncomfortable twelve month pregnancy, I can see why! Nobody has ever witnessed a manta give birth in the wild.
After our dives (only one with the mantas) I insisted we hire a boat to go back out and snorkel with them one last time. I noticed the snorkelers were having a much different experience with them. They got a lot closer because the mantas swim along the surface.
By the time we got back to secret manta, all the mantas (and boats) were gone. We drove the boat slowly all along the island until we spotted one and jumped in. We did this three separate times and spent about an hour swimming privately with the mantas. What a treat since the scuba dives included about 25 other divers!
There was so much trash in the water we could not believe it. At times it was hard to even see the mantas through all the trash. The trash comes into the bay areas the same way the plankton does, by the current. They both collect there, and that’s why the mantas go there to feed. It was so sad to see plastic floating around and getting into their mouths. During our snorkeling the trash was so thick at the surface it kept getting stuck in my hair, and sometimes we couldn’t see the mantas coming at us. I even found a tiny crab in my hair when I got back to the hotel and started shampooing the trash out of my hair! I photoshopped the trash out of my photos as much as I could, but there was so much. And despite the nastiness of all the plastic, swimming with the mantas was an amazing high to wind our trip down with.