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Playing with manta rays in Raja Ampat

written by Joey Pool – Perth Scuba Photographer

So, it was with great reluctance that my arm was twisted, my hair pulled, and I was thrown bound and gagged into a plane to head off for the warm waters of Raja Ampat… Yeah right! (on second thought that sounds more like a chapter of Fifty Shades…)Manta Ray Raja Ampat by Johanna Pool

Last week I returned from a 10 day journey cruising along the coast of Raja Ampat. This was a bit of an exploratory trip where we sought out new dive sites and hit a couple of old favourites. Our first stop of the journey was in the Dampier Strait where we descended on a very aptly named Manta Spa. This wasn’t like most those other dive sites that are named “Shark Point” and there’s not one shark to see or “Turtle Wall” and you’re lucky if you find a nudibranch! When they said Manta Spa they meant Manta Spa!!! The site is a Manta cleaning station (hence the name) and the big fellas cruise on in to get their wings cleaned by the little cleaner wrasse. They were BIG and quite happy to come in close to the camera. This was my first try of my 15mm fish eye and the Manta’s helped me out by coming in less than a metre from my dome port!

It was great to watch these huge fish cruise in lazily and spin around us as they got cleaned. They weren’t bothered by the divers bubbles at all and they put on a great show for all the crew. The dive site wasn’t just good for the Manta Rays, but we also found a couple of wobbegong, one lazing on the sand and the other sitting in a coral bombie waiting for unsuspecting fish. As I was photographing the wobbegong one of the other divers (thanks Sheridan!) got my attention and pointed behind me. As I turned a Manta Ray came sweeping over me and I had just enough time to snap a couple of photos! Yippee!!! And with that I was satisfied and ready to come up from a great start to a 10 day dive tour.

Our next two dive sites for the day were Cape Kri and Blue Magic, both of which had gorgeous and colourful coral growths. There were plenty of schooling fish and just a little bit of current… Okay, A LOT of current!!! Woah! Now that was fun getting plunged past the reef at a million miles an hour and trying to take photos – NO CHANCE! Until we turned a corner and then *poof* the current was gone and you could swim around and marvel at how quickly  the conditions could change. When the current was strong that was when the most fish life was around, once the current slacked off the schools of fish decreased – current good! Plus, there was very little swimming required, all you needed to do was drift and control your direction with a quick flick of a fin here and there.

Then it was time for a night dive on Yembesser which is a small Papuan village. There was loads of cool stuff there including the tiniest little bobtail squid that when you looked really closely reflected all the colours of the rainbow! Plus pygmy seahorse, whip coral shrimp, flat worms, brittle stars and gorgonian crabs. The next 5 days of exploring Raja Ampat was great – so many fish and beautiful coral formations that you didn’t know where to look. Perth Scuba Instructor Joseph “Mac-Daddy” is leading a group to Raja Ampat next year and I’m sure he’s going to have a BLAST!

For more photos from my trip click here.

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