Manta Rays are a fantastic sight in the Maldives where they swim in schools one after the other, feeding on plankton as they swim by. This is such a sight for any diver, but Maldiveans are concerned for their safety. A British Marine Biologist, Guy Stevens who has studied the Mantas at Hanifaru for several years explains in more detail. “The Mantas come into the bay at high tide, often in schools of about 200 in to this one particular spot which is only the size of a football pitch.”
But it’s not only Stevens that is aware of this magnificent sight. Local hotels and safari boats that carry scuba divers have also discovered the Manta Rays at Hanifaru. The government has now declared the bay at Hanifaru a protected area, but Stevens wants to get a patrol boat or ranger to monitor the amount of people that swim with the Manta Rays at one time. “Sometimes the rays have to compete with 100 swimmers and divers crowded in here.” Stevens explained. Manta Rays along with sharks have been declared off limits to fishermen by the Government. However, elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, both of these creatures are being targeted more and more because they are valued either for Chinese medicine or as food. Mantas are intelligent animals. They have large brains in relation to their size compared to any other fish.
Some documented cases have seen Manta Rays seeking contact with humans to help them de-tangle themselves from fishing lines and nets which cut into their skin and cause them serious injury. Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives realised that a decline in the Manta Ray species in Hanifaru would also hurt the tourism economy. Calculations have shown that tourists seeking to swim with the Mantas in one bay alone is worth more than £312,000 ($500,000) a year. So it’s clear to see, these amazing creatures aren’t only a sight for divers, but are a valuable asset to the Maldivean economy. It is calculated that tourism to see the schooling mantas in this one bay alone is worth more than $500,000 (£312,000) a year. With more funding Stevens is hoping to get a patrol boat in Hanifaru to make sure the Mantas there are kept as safe as possible.