Arriving at Ukulhas, the Maldives most eco-friendly local island, I wanted to see what kind of underwater activities I could participate in during my visit. When I found out one of the available day excursions was snorkelling with Manta Rays I was very intrigued and decided to jump at the opportunity.
Guesthouses on the island offer a range of other tours including sank bank excursions, romantic picnics, snorkelling safaris and fishing, but seeing as I was travelling alone I decided to instead go and spend some time with the birds of the ocean.
The guesthouse manager told me to be ready at 7 am, so I was up bright and early ready for my adventure. I was escorted to the jetty at about 10 minutes past 7 (easily accessible from any guesthouse on the island), as the driver pointed to a speedboat. “Enjoy,” he said as I look around to see that I’m the only tourist here. “Am I alone?” I say to him while he’s already one foot on the vehicle. He nods.
One part of me was ecstatic I had my own private tour, the other was a little hesitant to jump on a speedboat with two complete strangers. But, knowing the friendliness and hospitality of the people here, and also how laid back and vague they can be, I embraced it.
Soon enough we were out in open water, a short 15-minute ride from the island. On board were the captain (driver) and our spotter on the lookout for any movement. As we approached a shallow area of aqua blue water, reflected by the white sand underneath, we noticed two boats up ahead.
I was a little relieved and very much excited to see if we could spot a Manta Ray and surely to my surprise, within about 2 minutes of our arrival, there was one just up ahead.
The boat moved at a very slow pace as to not disturb the animal and eventually came to a halt. There she was, a beautiful, gracious creature flying through the deep blue sea.
Within minutes she swam right under our boat, spreading her wings and giving me the best above water view I could have asked for.
Before long I heard the guide say “Get ready” so I quickly shuffled all my snorkelling gear on and sat on the edge of the boat ready for his signal to jump. “Now,” he says as I follow him into the water.
It was clear but a little murky from the abundance of plankton (making for the perfect Manta feeding ground) and for a little while I could only see the big blue. Until my guide pointed up ahead and one came into view.
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Throughout the session, I would see 4 separate Mantas. They swam around us almost as if they were showing off, so gracious and majestic. One swam within meters of me, dancing around the ocean, mouth wide open feeding on some plankton and fish. I was truly ecstatic to have a chance to see their world, but naturally, questions arose about the ethics of my experience.
While in no way did I feel we were disturbing the creatures I did have questions about the monitoring of the experience. On this day there were only a few of us, no more than 5 tourists on 3 separate boats. But I wondered if there were more, how would that affect the ethics of the experience? These were questions I would have to ask the conservationists further into my holiday.
Overall my experience was extremely positive, and one that will always stay in my memory. I feel that when you have the chance to witness these creatures in their natural habitat it fills you with an urge to want to protect it, and this experience only encourage me to promote responsible tourism even more. It especially fuels a desire in me to want to help protect our oceans, in fact, their oceans.
We all have a role to play to protect their oceans and we can start by making simple choices such as refusing single-use plastic products, participating in responsible tourism and being mindful of our impact.
Thank you to Ukulhas Inn for sharing this experience with me. If you have any questions about my experience please drop a comment below or contact me on social media.
Tour company: Ukulhas Inn (Can be arranged through any guesthouse on the island)
Best time: Mantas can be found any time of the year