How a Maldives resort is promoting responsible diving and manta conservation
Manta Season is in full swing in Baa Atoll, Maldives – a pristine atoll considered one of the best destinations in the world for spotting reef mantas. As one of the largest groups of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean and boasting ‘globally significant marine biodiversity’, Baa Atoll was declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2011. There are numerous manta cleaning stations and feeding spots, as well as the renowned Marine Protected Area, Hanifaru Bay, where manta rays gather in extraordinarily large aggregations, unmatched virtually anywhere else in the world.
Nestled in the east of Baa Atoll is Amilla Maldives Resort and Residences, a resort that is going the extra mile to help conserve manta rays year-round. Amilla Resort has teamed up with the Manta Trust, an NGO dedicated to protecting manta rays and the marine ecosystems they inhabit. As a Manta Trust Responsible Operator hotel partner, Amilla has committed to minimising the impact its guests have on the mantas and mobula rays they encounter. Manta Ray tourism in the Maldives generates an estimated AU $11.7 million per year in direct revenue.
In real terms, this conservation pledge means all team members at Amilla’s on-site dive center, Dive Butler International, as well as the resort’s H.U.B. water-sports crew, are trained on how to responsibly interact with manta rays – something many operators overlook. This means the teams also help educate guests on how to behave around manta rays and prevent them from accidentally harming them. Getting too close to mantas can disrupt their natural behavior and feeding patterns, while touching them (even lightly) can damage the delicate protective mucus covering them, leaving their skin vulnerable to infection.
So, the teams working out of Amilla follow and advocate for responsible manta encounter guidelines, which include getting no closer than 3m/10ft from them, not blocking their path, and of course, not touching these magnificent creatures. While the guidelines are strictly adhered to, Amilla’s manta diving excursions certainly aren’t lacking in fun and frolics, with the charismatic local and international staff members frequently cracking jokes and sharing incredible manta facts with the guests.
Amilla’s onsite Marine Biologist Zoe Cox says ‘’Manta Rays are the gentle giants of the sea. Swimming with these majestic creatures is unlike anything else. Making sure our experiences do not negatively impact their cleaning and feeding stations encourages them to remain loyal to these sites, which benefits their conservation and increases our chances of incredible encounters”
Amilla Maldives has also recruited a marine biologist to oversee various conservation projects at the resort, including helping to identify and log sightings of individual manta rays as well as restoring the house reef to make it an even more welcoming place for mantas and other marine species that visit it, including turtles, stingrays, reef sharks and dozens of species of tropical fish.
When to dive with mantas
Peak Manta Season in Baa Atoll runs from May to November, with sighting and aggregation sizes peaking around July. The very best time to spot mantas during Manta Season in Baa Atoll is during the full moon and the new moon.
Since mantas are wild creatures, sightings can never be guaranteed. However, Amilla’s diving and water-sports team are pros at tracking mantas and know their favorite haunts, such as cleaning stations, shallow sandy dive sites where they can easily hoover up plankton and of course‚ the world-famous Hanifaru Bay.
Hanifaru Bay is the jewel in the crown of Baa Atoll and has been a Marine Protected Area since 2009 – before the entire atoll was declared a Biosphere Reserve. The site is renowned for attracting exceptionally large aggregations of manta rays, which come to feed on the zooplankton trapped in the bay during May to November.
The bay has a unique dynamic water circulation system due to the funnel-like reefscape. It’s about 1,300m long and 600m wide at the narrowest point. At its peak‚ there can be 100 or more mantas (plus sometimes also several whale sharks) simultaneously feeding on the zooplankton ‘soup’ in Hanifaru Bay.
Hanifaru Bay is also a nesting site for green and hawksbill turtles. The site only allows visitors to snorkel there, to minimise disruption to the fauna, but many divers will gladly accept this stipulation in order to enjoy the once in a lifetime experience of swimming with dozens of mantas. Hanifaru is only a short (4.8-mile) speedboat ride from Amilla Maldives Resort.
Maldives manta facts
The Maldives has the world’s largest known population of reef mantas; about 4,500 individuals have been recorded. Reef mantas can have a wingspan of up to 3.3m/10.8ft. They are generally elusive creatures and are vulnerable to extinction, which makes Baa Atoll – and Hanifaru Bay – even more exceptional.