The Manta Trust team at Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru is once again preparing for the greatest underwater show on Earth, and thanks to its intensely researched “hot dates,” marine adventurers can now maximise their chance to swim with the world’s largest-known manta ray population.
It’s one of the most exciting times of the year in the Maldives Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Between May and November, plankton-rich currents lure reef manta rays to local waters in their hundreds for graceful feeding frenzies. Having studied this group of gentle oceanic giants for nearly twenty years, the Manta Trust team at Landaa Giraavaru are best placed to offer extraordinary insights into their habits and lifestyles.
During 2022’s manta ray season, The Manta Trust – whose researchers have run The Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) at Landaa Giraavaru since 2005 – estimated 6,083 manta ray sightings in the waters around the Resort.
At nearby Hanifaru Bay, famed for its mass manta aggregations, an estimated 5,016 sightings were made. Across the archipelago, 176 manta rays were identified for the first time, bringing the total known Maldives reef manta ray population to 5,507 – the largest recorded in the world.
During June 2022, Landaa Giraavaru’s researchers (and guests!) were also lucky enough to encounter more than 60 manta rays on the Resort’s House Reef. For the first time ever, the mantas were observed engaging in cyclone feeding – a rotating feeding circle resembling a cyclone – within a stone’s throw of the Resort’s Arrival Jetty.
“It was so special to show guests cyclone-feeding mantas directly from the beach,” recalls Ellie Strike, MMRP Project Manager at Landaa Giraavaru. “It goes to show, you don’t always need to visit Hanifaru Bay for manta encounters – sometimes they come to you!”
With wingspans of up to 4.5 meters (15 feet), the largest brain-to-size ratio of any cold-blooded fish, and a cognitive function on a par with dolphins, primates and elephants, reef mantas are some of the most impressive creatures in the ocean.
The importance of facilitating connections to mantas to understand their vital place in our ecosystems has sadly only increased this past year, with giant manta rays – the close cousin of the reef manta – being uplisted in December 2021 to “endangered” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List. The reef manta ray remains listed as “vulnerable.”
“When a guest meets these intelligent and curious animals in their natural habitat, something truly magical happens,” continues Ellie. “Awed by nature, they quickly come to realise just how crucial it is to take care of our oceans to protect creatures like mantas. For us as researchers and educators, that’s what our work is all about.”
And it’s not just the mantas that are worth getting wet for at Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru: 2022’s manta season also saw a record 27 whale shark sightings in local waters. The largest of any fish alive today, unthreatening whale sharks also seek to exploit the plankton-rich waters of Baa Atoll – in apparently increasing numbers.
Opportunities for Magical Manta Moments
The Resort’s Manta-on-Call service supplies a “manta phone” that rings when mantas are sighted nearby, before a waiting speedboat whisks them away for an unforgettable open water experience. And with manta rays swimming to the surface to feed, the phenomenon is best experienced while snorkelling, making it accessible to anyone able to swim.
Private manta-spotting cruises can be booked, while the Resort’s new Trainee Manta Biologist program offers environmentally minded 13 to 18-year-olds teens a focused one-to-one deep dive into what it takes to be a Manta Biologist: from photo identification to helping monitor size, behaviour and even pregnancy.
Research driven by the MMRP since its inception in 2005 has been directly responsible for protecting mantas and their critical habitats both within the Maldives and across the world. Some of this research allows the MMRP to determine the most likely mass aggregation dates for mantas around Landaa Giraavaru. 2023’s hot dates are:
- May 17–21
- June 2–6
- June 16–20
- July 1–05
- July 15–19
- July 30 – August 3
- August 14–18
- August 29 – September 2
- September 13–17
- September 27 – October 1
- October 12–16
- October 27–31
- November 11–15
- November 25–29
Note: Manta ray sightings are subject to weather conditions and the temperament of the animals on the day.