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Last Updated on 20/03/2021
Fiji is world-famous for its healthy coral reefs and abundant marine life. One such aquatic visitor to its waters is the manta ray. Snorkelling with manta rays in Fiji is a thrilling bucket list activity for any marine enthusiast. There’s something so serene and otherworldly about cruising alongside these peculiar ocean giants. So, without further ado, here’s your complete guide to swimming with manta rays in Fiji (scroll down to the bottom of the post to see one in action!):
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What’s so special about manta rays?
Photo credit: Swanson Chan
There’s no doubt about it that manta rays are extraordinary looking creatures. Similar to stingrays in appearance (but without the dangerous barbed tail), they look like benign blankets gliding through the ocean. They can also live up to 50 years!
There are two different species of manta ray: the reef manta and the giant manta. Both species are pretty sizable. Reef mantas grow to about three or four metres in length whereas the giant mantas can reach up to seven metres. You’re more likely to see reef mantas when snorkelling as they tend to swim closer to shore to feed on plankton.
Every year, manta rays grace Fiji’s tropical waters in search of food. They’re vital for the ecosystem because they dive down deep and come up to the surface of the water, providing coral reefs with vital nutrients. A particular characteristic of theirs is they like to leap out of the water. It’s thought they do this to attract mates, announce good food spots and shake off parasites.
Read more about these weird and wonderful creatures in this article by National Geographic here.
Where to see manta rays in Fiji
The best place to see manta rays in Fiji is the channel between Nanuya Balavu and Drawaq, two islands that make up part of the Yasawa Island group.
So, how do you even get there? By island-hopping of course!
Since Fiji is made up of approximately 333 islands, island-hopping is a popular activity among travellers. The easiest route is up the Mamanuca Islands and yep, straight past the manta rays in the Yasawa Islands. You can book your whole trip through Awesome Adventures, including transport and accommodation. Easy as that.
To see the manta rays, you need to book a resort that offers the activity. Luckily, you have several different resorts to choose from that suit a range of budgets. You’ll get an opportunity to see them whether you’re shoestringing it or splashing out. The closest one to the channel is Mantaray Island Resort, followed by Barefoot Manta and Barefoot Kuata.
Other resorts include:
- Paradise Cove
- Botaira Beach Resort
- Boathouse Nanuya
- Nanuya Island Resort
- Korovou Eco-Tour Resort
- White Sandy Beach Resort
I’ll mention again that you can book your resort stays through Awesome Adventures. Bear in mind some of them have meals included in the price and some don’t. You also need to stay a minimum of two nights no matter what resort you stay at. You can read more about what each resort offers in my complete guide to island-hopping in Fiji here.
I stayed at Korovou Eco-Tour Resort on the neighbouring Naviti Island. It was a delightfully cheerful backpacker-friendly resort with the option to upgrade to slightly more fancy ‘bures’ (small and beautifully-furnished private accommodation). Other than seeing manta rays, there was plenty to do. The resort offered fire-dancing shows, fires on the beach, gorgeous sunset walks and enormous meals (included in the price).
When is Manta ray season?
Manta ray season in Fiji lasts from May right through to October. Incidentally, this also coincides with Fiji’s peak season so resorts tend to be busy. If you’re keen to see them but want to avoid the crowds, I recommend that you aim to book your trip for late May or September. You should just about be able to catch a glimpse of them then.
It’s worth stressing that manta rays are wild creatures so there’s always a possibility that they will decide not to make an appearance at all. Although not a whole lot is known about them, the tour guides are well-versed in knowing roughly when they like to show up. Hint: it’s during high tide.
At this crucial time of the day, they’ll head out in their boats to try and spot them. If they do, you’ll know it from their cry of ‘manta! Manta!’ and there will be a mad scramble to grab your snorkels and jump into the water.
Swimming with manta rays: what to expect
Photo credit: Adam Juman
Swimming with manta rays had been on my bucket list ever since I’d heard that it was possible to do. I was bursting with excitement when the day finally came to make that dream a reality.
Unlike some of the closer resorts that rely on ‘manta!’ cries, Korovou is a little further away. So, we bundled into our boats as the time came up to high tide and sped off in the direction of the channel, hoping to catch a glimpse of them.
It was already pretty busy when we arrived. A yacht had moored and people from other resorts were already snorkelling in the water trying to spot the stars of the show. I felt a twinge of trepidation. Surely, the manta rays would be frightened off their dinner by all the dozens of legs thrashing about?
Nonetheless, we splashed (or rather flopped in my case) into the water and our expert eagle-eyed guides got to work scanning the hazy blue of the depths below. Manta rays like to switch it up by diving down and rising up to the surface so our particular spot was pretty deep. I’m not the strongest swimmer so I was thankful for my lifejacket which I pushed ahead of my like a raft.
We were in the water for a little while and I was beginning to wonder if they were going to make an appearance at all when at last we heard the long-awaited cry of ‘manta! Manta!’ and we swam in the direction of the voice. There, gliding a few metres below us was a single manta ray. Its dark winged and white underbelly cut a stark shape as it rolled and rollarcoasted in the water, feeding lazily on plankton.
I was struck by how big it was. Even for a reef manta, three metres across was still enormous up close. It looked like a large, dark bedsheet emerging from the gloom.
The manta ray waited patiently as eager snorkelers brandished their GoPros and tried to get a little closer. It seemed completely unfazed by this interaction. Perhaps, it was just as curious of us as we were of it. Before long, it decided that it was done for the day and it sped down into the depths faster than any of us could try and keep up. Just like that, it was gone.
That was the only manta ray we saw on our trip. It was nearing the end of September so I felt pretty lucky to see one. Manta rays keep their own time. One day there might be five and another day none at all. Not knowing is all part of the thrill.
We spent the rest of the excursion snorkelling over lush coral reefs and spotting shoals of colourful fish along the way. I certainly wasn’t complaining!
Manta Ray Encounter Etiquette
Photo credit: Max Gotts
Just like any wild animal encounter, it’s important to be respectful so that you and the manta rays can have the best possible experience. After all, you’re a visitor in their ocean, not the other way round. Manta rays are harmless so they don’t pose a threat. Still, we want them to continue to migrate through the South Pacific because they help maintain the health of the coral reefs.
So, to ensure that you and the manta rays have a great time together, here are just a few pointers to bear in mind:
- Always listen to your guides. They’re the experts.
- Don’t try to touch them. It could shorten your encounter and even hurt them.
- Approach the manta rays slowly and try to keep three metres away from them so as not to disturb them.
- Don’t try to chase or harass them in any way, particularly if you’re trying to get a photo of them.
- If a manta ray comes towards you, be calm and try not to thrash about. It’ll swim by you and won’t pay you any notice.
- Always be aware of other snorkelers and boats around you to avoid the risk of injury. If you’re diving, make sure the surface of the water is clear of obstacles above you.
Read more about how to have ethical wildlife encounters here.
Is swimming with manta rays ethical?
Photo credit: Max Gotts
During this particular activity in Fiji, there’s no artificial feeding and you get to see the manta rays in their habitat as naturally as possible. The only issue that could have detrimental effects on the manta ray population is overcrowding.
Fiji’s tourism has grown in popularity as many marine enthusiasts are attracted by the country’s healthy coral reefs (some of the healthiest in the world!). While this has provided more employment opportunities, work needs to be done to make sure that activities are sustainable.
This means managing the number of people observing the manta rays at any given time. Although it was fairly busy the day that I went, the manta ray didn’t seem to be in any distress.
The Manta Trust, an organisation which researches Fiji’s local manta ray and devil ray population operate from Barefoot Manta Island Resort, close to the channel where they’re found. In fact, the resort has a whole team of scientists and marine enthusiasts who are dedicated to ocean conservation so you know that the manta rays are in good hands.
Tips for swimming with manta rays
My attempt at photographing a manta ray…
- Bring an underwater camera or GoPro with you to get some epic shots of the manta rays. I would also recommend that you have a way to carry it hands-free so that you can swim to keep up with these magnificent creatures.
- Not the strongest of swimmers? Always do what feels safest to you. The tour guide should give you a lifejacket which you can use as a bit of a raft. That way you can concentrate on spotting mantas rather than worrying about getting tired.
- All your snorkelling gear can be hired from the resort you’re staying at so there’s no need to bring your own.
- You can wear whatever swimwear feels comfortable to you, but make sure you take a spare towel, sarong or t-shirt with you when you’re on the boat. Once you’re out of the water you can get chilly and you’re prone to sunburn.
- Wear reef-safe sunscreen. Chemical-based sunscreen containing oxybenzone has been known to damage coral reefs. By wearing non-nano mineral-based sunscreen made from zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, you’ll be helping to preserve Fiji’s pristine reefs. My favourite is Green People because they donate to the Marine Conservation Society. Oh, and the sunscreen is scent-free and non-greasy! Alternatively, you can ready my complete guide to eco-friendly sunscreens here.
- Whatever you do, don’t miss your chance. Like most island-hopping activities in Fiji, swimming with manta rays require a minimum of three people to run. If you get to your next island and decide to do the activity the next day, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to. Seize the opportunity as soon as possible.
- Patience pays off. Manta rays can be elusive creatures and they don’t tend to be on time so you might find yourself hanging around for a bit. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t show up at first. Your guides will do everything they can to make sure you see one. Booking yourself into a resort for two or three nights pays off because if, for any reason, you don’t see them the first time around you have a few more opportunities.
Seeing these alien-like creatures up close was truly a once in a lifetime activity. Whatever you do, make sure you add swimming with manta rays to your Fiji itinerary. You won’t regret it, trust me.
Have you ever snorkelled with manta rays before? Let me know in the comments!
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