Watching manta rays swim nearby – perhaps feeding on zooplankton near the water’s surface, receiving a ‘spa treatment’ at a cleaning station on the ocean’s floor, or parading through the sea as part of a courtship train – is one of the most beautiful and peaceful ocean experiences you can have.
Here are three places in Australia where you can have this experience.
It’s possible to encounter reef (or coastal) manta rays (Manta alfredi), which have wingspans of up to 4.5 metres, at World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef, one of the world’s longest near-shore coral reefs.
With mantas frequenting nearby waters year-round, Coral Bay, a small town and holiday destination 114km south of Exmouth-Learmonth Airport, is a popular spot for manta tours. According to the Ningaloo Visitor Centre’s website (visitningaloo.com.au), one reason why this area is a magnet for mantas is the number of cleaning stations found along this section of the reef. At these natural stations, small cleaner wrasse feed on and remove parasites from the mantas’ bodies – a win-win situation that keeps both species returning.
Thanks to photo identification – where divers and snorkellers photograph mantas’ bellies to capture their unique markings and then email these photos to scientists at Project Manta – hundreds of individual mantas have been identified near Coral Bay. (Though not all at once!)
Sign up for a half or full-day manta tour with one of Coral Bay’s operators … or get a more immersive reef experience on a multi-day liveaboard, for example, Sail Ningaloo’s Shore Thing (sailningaloo.com.au). I captured the following manta footage on one of Sail Ningaloo’s trips, during a manta snorkelling session in Bateman Bay. (And, yes, we saw the hammerhead shark there, too!)
In Moreton Bay and a 25-minute ferry ride from Cleveland (about 29km east of Brisbane), North Stradbroke Island is another well-regarded spot for witnessing manta rays. Go between October and March, when reef mantas frequent Manta Bommie, a rocky reef and cleaning station off the island.
Manta Lodge & Scuba Centre (mantalodge.com.au) runs regular diving and snorkelling trips to this and more than a dozen other dive sites. While they try to go to Manta Bommie whenever they can, sometimes conditions make this impossible.
Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort (ladyelliot.com.au) is known as the ‘Home of the Manta Ray’, and research has identified over 700 individual mantas in the surrounding waters. (But, again, not at once!) Though you could potentially see a reef manta ray off the western side of this Southern Great Barrier Reef coral cay at any time of year, perhaps near the Lighthouse Bommie and 45-Degree Bommie cleaning stations, your best bet is to visit between May and August, when they aggregate here in larger numbers.
And, bonus, humpback whales migrate past Lady Elliot between June and October. So if you visit in June, July, or August, you have a really good chance of spotting mantas AND, if you’re really lucky, a whale.
This is a video from the one day (thus far) when I was that lucky. :)
Even if you don't see a whale underwater, you might spot one swimming offshore as you walk around the island or hear one's song when you dip your head beneath the water's surface.
Inspired by mantas
Here's a poem I wrote last year, after a winter visit to Lady Elliot. I hope your moments with mantas inspire you as well.
Ah, ballerina, sailing through the sea,
every move you make reveals the joy of being free.
As I float here, watching, my heart wants nothing more
than to be part of this beauty – a sense of what this life is for.
Your wings caress the water, silk amid the sun;
gentleness surrounds you here where light and art are one.
The ocean is your dance floor, and I'll visit for as long
as mermaids can, while mesmerised by the silence of your song.
Manta ray wall art featuring many of these images are available for purchase.
If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it via one of the social media or email sharing buttons below. You can also subscribe to this blog.