Hanifaru Bay of the Baa Atoll in the Maldives is a place where the dreams of nature come true. Dreams of seeing the ever graceful Manta Rays, lots and lots of them.
The sea-locked swathe of gorgeous atolls scattered down the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is renowned for it’s postcard picturesque luxury resorts and amazing scuba diving. The Baa Atolls situated on the west of the Maldives atoll chain, consists of 75 islands of which 13 are inhabited. This Atoll is divided by a 3km wide channel, with big drop offs into deep waters and is rapidly gaining recognition as a new dive spot for enthusiasts keen to escape the crowds of the better known dive sites in the Maldives. But what makes this atoll so special is the bay of Hanifaru running from the southeastern edge of a small island and large sand flat cay called Hanifaruhuraa. The bay funnels inward, gradually from a depth of 25m to a slope that tables out at 2m and continues over a shallow, rocky reef before opening up to a deep-water channel. A large coral block in the middle of the channel teaming with small fish and invertebrates makes up a ‘cleaning station’ for manta rays who visit the area periodically.For most part of the year, there isn’t much action in the quiet bay, but come the southwest monsoons during May- July an upwelling current from the deep waters to the east brings a superabundance of plankton drawing not just a few but dozens of Manta Rays at a time.
The sight of these magnificent creatures swimming in squadrons of close formation drawn into the bright, shallow amphitheater of a bay is one of those awe-inspiring spectacles of mother-nature you would only expect to see on National Geographic or in pictures. You can experience this first hand diving here, where the manta rays are so close so busy with feeding that they can be closely approached. What could make this already unbelievable site all the more mind-boggling is the special appearance of the gentle giant whale shark, which does happen fairly regularly.
Watching the feeding frenzy of manta rays is more like watching an air show, with the swooping and barrel-rolling is what can only be described as organized chaos. The flow of manta traffic through the channel is unlike anything you would have seen before- squadrons of mantas swimming head to tail, creating an extended train in one direction, passing another group just as impressive moving in the opposite direction making it look like like a production of ‘Swan Lake’. The zooplankton (copepods) that become trapped in huge densities, make this “The” dive site for a manta ray experience. However, on some days when there is no food in the lagoon, no mantas show up, while on others 20 to 50 are a common sighting. The most recorded number one single day is 240 individuals all distinct cos of their markings.
So, for that divers dream come true and ultimate Manta ray experience head on to Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives!