Manta Rays in The Maldives
Where and When to See Manta Rays in the Maldives
Almost everyone who visites to the islands heard that there are Manta rays in the Maldives. Snorkeling or diving with giant sea 'devilfish' is usually highly regarded and is the top "must do" in the travel bucket lists. Therefore nothing can be more depressing than coming to the resort just to find out that "now is not the Manta Ray season". Why? - you ask. Is not there always a Manta here?
The answer is yes. Manta rays are always and around, but they move and migrate with the seasons. The Maldives is a spectacular destination for sightings of manta rays. However, you need to know where and when to spot them. Therefore, if your main goal is manta rays, make sure that you have chosen the right time and the best location of your resort in the Maldives.
To know where to find manta at any time, we need to know a few things about the seasons and ocean currents of the Indian Ocean.
Best Time to See
In the Maldives, there are only two seasons - actually called monsoons, and not seasons. The southwestern or monsoon Hulhangu (usually and somewhat erroneously known as the rainy season), runs approximately from May to October. Neatly capturing the Christmas and New Year markets, the northeastern or monsoon Iruvai (you may have heard of it as a dry season), is more likely between December and March. April and November are transitional periods between these two monsoons.
During the southwestern monsoon, the prevailing ocean currents in this region of the Indian Ocean flow from west to east. When these currents reach the Maldives archipelago, there is a strong upwelling, a process in which pure and nutrient-rich deep waters are displaced from more than 2000 meters of ocean floor IN and THROUGH small atolls. As this water flows through atolls from west to east, it enhances and increases the productivity of the food chain, so by the time it reaches the eastern side of the atolls, it is a real soup-zooplankton. And guess what: the mantas feed on this zooplankton!
Therefore, at this time they will migrate to the eastern sides of the atolls, where divers and snorkelers will be delighted with their dancing at the cleaning and feeding stations.
The northeast monsoon changes the direction of the currents. Now they will flow from east to west, means that visibility will now be better on the atoll's eastern side (due to the incoming ocean current), but less zooplankton, therefore, there are no Manta Rays. Mantas is likely to be - you guessed it! - hover around the western edges of the atolls.
So, in general: from May to October it is more likely to see the manta rays on the eastern edges of the atolls. From December to March, on the western outskirts of the atolls. Of course, the season can change sooner or later in any year, and as with anything in nature, there will never be any guarantee for spotting, but if you follow this simple rule, you will significantly increase your chances!
Best Places to Spot
In the Maldives, you can spot manta rays during diving excursions as well as on a snorkeling / swimming trips. Diving operators in the resorts and guest houses offer both types and take you to the sites with their boats.
The best place to see Manta is Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll, the only UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the Maldives. Between May and November, every year, during the Southwest monsoon, on certain days the moon's phases massively increase plankton in the bay. Such a high plankton concentration attracts hundreds of "filterers" in Hanifarг Bay and do not be surprised to see here up to 200 Manta Raus accompanied by a dozen whale sharks.
The Addu (Seenu) Atoll is the southernmost atoll in the Maldives and shaped like a heart. It's an exceptional scuba diving destination. Here, you can spot manta rays year round. In fact, it's manta heaven and not long ago in 2015/16 it was still kind of a hidden gem for seeing manta rays! The Addu Atoll is the only location in the Maldives where mantas with over 5 meter of wingspan are known to exist.
You may also spot manta rays in South Ari during the northeast monsoon from September/October to May (the peak viewing time is February - April). In other months it's really hard to find manta rays here.
Check our list 10 Best Resorts to Swim with Mantas and Whale Sharks in the Maldives
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