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Meet the "Queen of Mantas"
This conservation biologist shares her preferred places to spot mantas.
“Queen of Mantas” Andrea Marshall has studied the graceful swimmers for more than a decade. From her base on Tofo Beach, Mozambique, this National Geographic emerging explorer and manta ray ambassador shares her preferred places to spot and dive with mantas—in, it turns out, some of the world’s most beautiful locales. Travelers looking “to give back and aid us in protecting these amazing animals,” she notes, can become citizen scientists on one of the trips organized by Ray of Hope Expeditions, which Marshall founded in 2012.
During the southwest monsoon season both mantas and enormous schools of baitfish feed on the microscopic riches upwelled by the trade winds that blow across the Indian Ocean every year.
Marshall describes this nation as a “manta pub crawl for the sheer variety of places to spot rays, from the flourishing reefs around Raja Ampat to the island of Komodo, known for its “dragon” lizards, to tiny Nusa Penida, off Bali. “Indonesia is accessible to everyone,” Marshall says, with budget and high-end options. The country went from being one of the biggest fisheries to a protector of mantas. Her Nusa Penida tip: Dive at Manta Point, where mantas are “cleaned” by wrasse fish. Manta season: Year-round in Komodo and Bali; December through April in Raja Ampat.
One of the first nations in the world to protect mantas, the island republic of Maldives is swarmed every year in monsoon season by hundreds of the giant rays, which swim into Hanifaru lagoon to feed on plankton. “I was moved to tears the first time I saw it,” Marshall says. “The lagoon is one of the few places where snorkelers can see big aggregations of mantas. Manta season: May through October, depending on monsoons.
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Some 240 miles off the southern tip of Baja California, the Revillagigedo Archipelago, a World Heritage site, centers on four islands known for their remote diving sites and for some of the best viewing of sharks, whales—and swooping giant manta rays. “The mantas around Revillagigedo are really friendly,” says Marshall. “And the archipelago is a well-protected marine biosphere with very seasoned dive operators.” Manta season: November through May.