I’m at five metres, clutching a rock outcrop on the seabed when the manta ray fixes me with its gaze. I’m free diving so there are no distracting bubbles – just the undulation of wings – four metres from tip to tip – as it passes close enough to touch, with a look that feels…nuanced. We stare at each other for a couple of moments before it wheels round, showing me a white belly scattered with dark spots and a couple of remora fish hitching a ride. Being that close to a manta is thrilling – but it’s the look that stays with me.
An archipelago of 1500 odd islands scattered over 40,000 square kilometres off the coast of West Papua, Indonesia, Raja Ampat is a great place to see manta rays – and indeed sea creatures in general. For one, these waters are home to more marine species than anywhere else on the planet: there are single reefs in Raja Ampat that contain more species than the entire Caribbean.
Photo: Sutirta Budiman/Unsplash