Science and fascination within one's reach
Every year, during the mating season of the manta rays in Yap, scientists and interested divers from all over the world descended upon the small island of Yap, in the middle of the West Pacific. Julie Hartup, Project Manager of MantaTrust, has been studying the animals for many years and is a pioneer in this region. Supported by the team from Yap Divers and Manta Ray Bay Hotel, under the guidance of Bill Acker and his family, she launched this unique event – Manta Mania – three years ago.
The motivation behind Manta Mania was to give guests an insight into the scientists' work and to enable divers to participate in some of the research work.
“This is an rare opportunity for divers to dive with manta rays together with the scientists who study them. You’ll get to see the type of equipment we use, how we gather information and how its processed. We planned this event to take place during manta mating season, the most active time of year where close interaction with multiple animals is nearly assured – we are hoping to get a lot of valuable information. During the day you’ll dive with mantas and over the pristine reefs surrounding Yap, in the afternoon you’ll attend workshops to learn about megafauna, and in the evening you get to see pictures of these amazing animals. Not only will you be learning about mantas but also their very close relatives the mobula, sharks and other marine mammals. We hope everyone will come away from this experience awed by the ocean and its creatures with a deep appreciation for Yap and love for its people and culture,” said Hartup.
After the dives, seminars were conducted so participants could learn not only about the behaviour of mantas and sharks, but also the concerns about overfishing. The brutal practice of finning – cutting the fins off the sharks – is a topic that comes up again and again. However, marine scientist Vanessa Jaiteh, who has spent substantial time with fishermen in Indonesia, commented on their everyday life, saying that there was a different understanding there, as many people simply did not understand why the fins of sharks were so much in demand. For them, it is a struggle for survival, to provide for their families. Indeed, the business of finning does not “see” the people living in the poorest regions of the world.
The topic of plastic waste was another thematic focus. On this, Kathy Townsend from the University of Queensland, Australia has been involved with pollution for many years, especially in the case of sea turtles that often mistake plastic waste for their natural food and perish when they consume it.
Other guests were welcomed by General Manager Ruud van Baal and the staff of the Manta Ray Bay Resort. The family atmosphere in Yap made staying at the hotel a very personal and memorable experience.
Even if some days were clouded with rain clouds or the mantas did not show up at every dive, this year's Manta Mania was definitely a success. Numerous interactions were recorded at different dive sites, with the help of photos of the underbelly pattern of the mantas. 11 different manta rays could be counted. Researcher Hartup also observed a pregnant female, an indication of a healthy population in the waters of Yap. All the information collected was entered in the MantaTrust's database.
At the final presentation, in the evening, there were some tears, new friendships... and hope – a baby manta ray was spotted during one of the dives, and he now bears the name “Gabe”, after a family member suffering from cancer. What a meaningful gesture!
News from Yap:
Congratulations to OP Acker on becoming the first Yapese dive instructor and carrying on the Acker legacy as a dive pioneer in Yap. With OP on the dive team, there are now two Ackers as PADI professionals on the dive boats showing guests Yap magic underwater. As Manta Ray Bay celebrates our 30th anniversary as a world-class dive operation, we turn a corner and welcome the next 30 years of success.