Mirihi Island: Charming dance of mantas

Wrapped in short wetsuits and packed with heavy diving equipment, the two students waded from the beach into the turquoise, crystal-clear sea. A baby whitetip reef shark swims past them. With a mixture of awe and anticipation, diving beginners Stephan and Sandra face the upcoming event. It is the first time that they have abandoned the usual snorkeling depths and dived to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. The easily accessible house reef of the small Maldivian island of Mirihi is particularly well suited for this purpose.

When diving instructor Philipp gives the start command, the air is released from the jacket and together it goes meter by meter into the deep blue depth. For the first time in their lives, the two see a soft coral reef, which offers marine life in every imaginable color and shape. Colorful parrotfish nibbling on corals, grim-looking triggerfish, octopus, and giant moray eels sleeping in the reef rifts. Delicate garfish and barracudas chase past the colorful spectacle unimpressed, while the house reef turtle slumbers comfortably on the seabed.

The southern Ari Atoll is one of the most popular and best diving regions of the Maldives. Over 1,500 species frolic in the depths of the ocean.

Pale, pale, coral reefs

But even in a paradise like the Maldives, not everything that glitters is gold. Whether natural or anthropogenic, the constant warming of the oceans, and climatic anomalies such as El Nino are also increasing the reefs in the Indian Ocean: coral reefs die off large and change the underwater world off the coasts of the island republic.

"Reefs are built up by hard corals, which only survive as long as they are supplied with sugar by algae," explains Mirihi regular Matthias in a relaxed diver's round. The algae are distributed over the entire limestone skeleton of the coral and make the reefs shine in their bright colors. When the oceans get too warm, the corals reject the symbiotic algae from their coral tissue and blanch.

In addition to the environmental impact, the changed ocean currents have also done good: they brought planktonreicheres water into the atoll and thus more plankton eaters such as manta rays and whale sharks. There are about 200 whale sharks around the southern outer reefs of the Ari Atoll. "We used to end the manta and whale shark season in April and now we're seeing it almost year-round," reports Divemaster Hassan, "especially at the whale shark spot Maamigili Beru."

Of course, this includes a portion of luck, because about social behavior, living habits or migration routes of the largest fish in the world, one knows almost nothing today. Even marine scientist and deep-sea diver Jacques-Yves Cousteau reportedly took 20 years to see just two specimens of these unexplored giants.

The dance of the mantas

Because mantas follow plankton, their whereabouts are easier to determine than any other sea creature. Also, they are always found at so-called cleaning stations in the reefs, to be rid by Putzerlippfische of parasites and dead skin. At the notorious Hukurudhoo Faru, one of the best manta spots in the southwest of the Ari Atoll, chances are always good.

For Sandra and Stephan it means that they could meet the world's largest ray species on their third dive. "Once I was there with about 30 mantas in Fressrausch," says Divemaster Philipp while driving to the dive spot. "When they eat, they start beating somersaults and flip-flops, and it looks like they're dancing through the water." This unique experience can not be topped so fast. "I was in the middle of it and did not know where to look first."

Arrived at Manta Point, the experienced divers jump into the water full of anticipation. Some of them are equipped with professional underwater cameras to capture the potential manta encounter for eternity. "Plankton-rich water also means that the view could not be the best," warns diving instructor Eva. Next to her, Philipp's charges are still busy with their equipment: checking oxygen bottles, hoses and mouthpieces, putting on weights, spitting in glasses, putting on fins.

The silhouette of the devil's snake

Underwater confirms Eva's guess: The visibility is cloudy, the current quite strong. Sandra and Stephan try to keep their position by the air balance in the jacket and stay as quiet as possible, to have little buoyancy. Sometimes Philipp has to hold on to them so they do not get carried away.

Suddenly one of the dive guides knocks on his tank with a metal hook: the signal! In the far blue, a dark silhouette emerges. All pairs of eyes are aimed at the floating creature.With calm, almost slow motion wing beats the giant ray approaches. A second, slightly smaller, follows him inconspicuously. Tightly accompanied by two ship keeper fish, they glide silently through the sea like bats.

The imposing phenomenon of the devil ray has already in the 18th and 19th centuries repeatedly inspired human imagination. At that time, sailors told hair-raising stories of sea monsters, the whole ships and their crew are said to have torn to the bottom of the sea. The name Teufelsrochen comes only from the head fins - called "devil horns" - which are located on the side of the head of the animals and serve to guide nutrient-rich water in the direction of the mouth. More than a "devilish" look is not behind the harmless giants.

Shortly before the two giant mantas disappear again in the deep blue, they turn around and now circle directly above the divers to be tickled by the ascending bubbles their white bellies. Elegant, they sail in eight loops above their heads. No wing flapping remains unobserved, no turn unfotografed.

When looking through the diving goggles, the animals appear even more impressive and closer than they really are. One even believes that they are so close to them that one could touch them. But before that happens, they sail mysteriously back into the darkness - without a trace, as if they had never been there.

Nightdive at Mirihi Housereef - Maldives (HD) - July 2016 (April 2023).

Maldives, Water, Indian Ocean, Mirihi Island, South Ari Atoll, Dive Island, Maldives