We were up nice and early in the caravan park to pack up and wait for the tour to start. The bus was a bit late to take us down to the boat ramp but eventually got on the boat with another 10 people or so. Fraser our marine biologist skipper (and owner of the company, we discovered) is doing his PHD on manta rays and manages the research centre at Coral Bay so he knew his stuff, and Meg and the crew all were really helpful and Meg had this huge badass camera that I got the CD of photos from because the GoPro isn’t too crash hot under water – so all the underwater pics are from her!
We got our wetsuits on and grabbed some flippers and a snorkel mask and jumped in. First snorkel was around a feeding station in the closer section of the reef where bigger animals go and somehow let the little fish know that they won’t eat them and its okay to come up to them and eat all the parasites and things on their bodies and in their gills.
There were about 15 grey reef sharks at the station just milling about with big and little fish feeding off the bits on their bodies! Amazing. Meg reckons a few of them were heavily pregnant too. They didn’t seem too fussed with everyone snorkelling above them and we hung around there for a while before drifting off and doing a bit more of a snorkel around the reef – some big colourful fish and lots of little blue ones!
Then a green turtle appeared in the middle of everyone and was just floating on the surface getting some air for a while before swimming back down and hiding in some reef. So cute.
Back on the boat we had some morning tea while Fraser talked to us about mantas and how to swim around them (just not in their face, and 2 metres away) and to stick together behind them in a horseshoe and swim to keep up as they move pretty quickly for their size. The spotter plane was flying overhead and Fraser got a call on the radio with a position and quickly motored over there as we all lined up on the back of the boat ready to jump in and swim. We went in two groups and Smash and I were in the first group. When we were in it was a bit of a intense swim against the current to keep up with her, but she was huge! 4 metres across and a very deep black colour on top.
There were lots of feeder fish underneath and to the side of her belly having some lunch and she was drifting up and down feeding on the floor and rising up a few metres to check things out. Very graceful. We rotated with the second group pursuing and jumped back on the boat then motored around and picked them up, and did it all over again! So fun, a bit hectic but very fun. We had a fair bit of a swim with her and then Meg dove down really deep to get a shot of underneath her belly, where the markings are for identifying which manta it is. Fraser knows all the regulars that come in to the reef for a feed and they’ve all got names and characteristics so she got her photo and we all jumped back on the boat. Her name was Batty and she was one of the regulars that wasn’t very fussed with snorkelers and divers hanging around her, according to the crew. Next stop was further out on the reef via some spots that were regular hangout places for turtles, dolphins, sharks and rays. We stood out on the front of the boat and saw heaps of turtles under the water, occasionally sticking their little heads up for air, and lots of sting rays and eagle rays, and then a mother and baby dolphin jumping up and feeding and messing around in front of us on our way.
They followed us for a while and then split off in another direction, and immediately after Fraser called out that he’d spotted a tiger shark on one side of the boat. One of his mates was doing his PHD on the sharks so the girls jumped in the water with the big cameras to get a few shots for identifying him. He didn’t seem too fussed and continuing swimming around as Fraser gently navigated the boat around so the girls could get a good shot. He was pretty big – about 3-4 metres long – but it was hard to get a good view of him from above the waves. Back on the boat and we got given some toasted ham cheese tomato sandwiches which we smashed through a large number of intermittently with numerous cups of tea to keep us warm. Eventually pulled up to another feeding station where Fraser had been given a tip that another manta was hanging out at, so we jumped in and straight away were face to face with another huge one!
She was beautiful, just floating in the current and occasionally flapping her wings to stay in the one place as the little fish moved busily around her. We watched for a while and then left her in peace, jumped back on the boat and got motored over to our last snorkel destination.
It was a beautiful and relatively sheltered part of the reef with lots of interesting fish and a number we hadn’t seen before, which was awesome. Did a bit of an explore and eventually came back to the boat as we were all pretty wrecked from the sun and salt and waves, so Fraser took us leisurely back to the boat ramp as we ate biscuits and drank more tea and moved around to stay warm.
It was only 3pm but it felt so much later by the time we’d hit the shore and said thanks and goodbye to the crew. A quick shower to feel a bit more human and we got in the car and on the road to Carnavon, unsuccessfully wedge tail eagle spotting on the roadside (it was just a falcon), and stopping in at a rest stop by the Minilya River.
We hung out our gear to dry and lazed around before getting an early sleep after an awesome day. The moon was huge and so bright tonight! Attempted to get a good photo but it’s tough to do without a tripod. Roughing it, hey?