Snorkelling with the Manta Rays

Seeing as we are in Coral Bay this May, our shared birth month, we decided that snorkelling with Manta Rays would be cool gift to each other for an experience to celebrate. We arrived at the Coral Bay Eco Tour office on the morning of our tour at 7.50am as advised where we were provided with our fins, and the usual pre-adventure tour paper work to complete. A brief introduction to the day was given and we were on our way.

A short bus trip took us around to the jetty to board the boat. Once on board we were provided with fins, snorkels and an optional summer wet suits. The water at this time of year in Coral Bay is very pleasant so the wet suits weren’t needed for warmth, but as there was still a few Red Bell Jelly Fish around, and after Paul’s awful experience with them last week, we welcomed the protection the wet suits would provide.

Our boat for the day

We were divided into three groups of ten, with a guide for each group. First stop was a pretty part of the coral reef including a shark cleaning station. If you don’t know what a shark cleaning station is, it’s a natural phenomenon, a place where special cleaner fish await their big clients. Sharks, and other big fish arrive, and go into a sedative state while the cleaners do a thorough job of cleaning any parasites out from their gills and mouth. When we snorkelled across the station there were two rather large sharks, I think they were reef sharks, lazing on the bottom as myriads of little fish busied themselves cleaning them up. Hundreds more cleaning fish hovered nearby announcing their presence to any more big fish in need of a clean. Was it scary – well just a little. Definitely fascinating!

Fortunately this wasn’t the day we went. I think I would have been just a bit more than a little frightened to be swimming with this crowd.

A cup of hot coffee or tea awaited our return to the boat with banana loaf and biscuits. Snorkelling can use quite a lot of energy so the snack was welcomed to keep us all refuelled.

A spotter plane goes up at 11am to seek out the Manta Rays and radio their location to the boat skippers. We still had time to spare, so our skipper took us to another great little piece of the reef. On each of these reef snorkel stops we could take our time getting back on board, but we were told that when we started with the Manta Rays, we needed to keep fins, masks etc on when exiting the water, and we needed to be quick. Mmmm, I wasn’t sure how I’d go with that. Fearing I’d be to slow at exiting the water I opted out of the second reef swim. If I was to slow on the first dip in with the Mantas – well at least I’d have seen them once.

A Manta Ray had been spotted, we were off. The first group of ten entered the water, then it was our turn. We sat on the rear tail board of the boat awaiting the call from the skipper, “go” she says (yes we had a female skipper), and without thought, into the water we slid, and we were off. Having done the Whale sharks years ago, I expected the same sort of speed would be needed to keep up. However, the Manta Ray hung around underneath us, just gracefully going about his business and doing what Manta Rays do. The photographer with our tour would kick himself down, down, down, beneath the Ray and snap photos of us all snorkelling above. Oh to have such power, I can barely kick myself two metres under the water! Occasionally the Ray would roll onto his back in the water to take a look at us, usually with a succession of big, slow, graceful complete rolls in the water, only metres away from us. To get a full view of that big white underside – amazing!

Our guide gave us the signal to group together in the water to await pick up. The third group were dropped in, then the boat circled to pick us up. I managed to scramble back on board relatively quickly, not with the grace of our well practiced guides, more like the humph of a beached whale, but with enough speed not to be to embarrassed to go again. We had four amazing, magical dips in with the Manta Ray.

Back on board, wet suits and flippers off, and a welcome lunch of a chicken and salad roll, and some fresh fruit. Then a meander back into port slowing to watch Dugongs and turtles on the way. The dugongs were distant, and I can’t honestly say I saw them, but some on board managed to pick them out as they rose to the surface to breath above the dark sea grass. Apparently tiger sharks are common to see too, but none this day.

For our return trip we went upstairs in the warm sunshine. The water was clear, the sky blue, and the sun warm. We’re not usually ones to take ‘selfies’, but on this occasion a photo as a reminder of this memorable day seemed appropriate. The trip, the crew, the skipper, the Manta Rays and Ningaloo coral reef with all the gorgeous reef fish to look at – what a day, what a pleasure!

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