Most of our posts recently have been manta ray info and travel adventures; fascinating but it’s probably time for a project update!
We arrived at the tail end of the rainy season here in Bora Bora…a tail that ended up being longer than we thought…in fact it’s still going. I mentioned before that when it rains heavily the manta dive site gets pretty washed out with silt making the visibility quite poor. This week though we have been able to get there more regularly and got some dives in which has been great. We have seen a manta or two and we’re persevering despite the milky water and hope that it will clear up soon! Obviously the clearer the water the easier it is to see mantas and identify them. Hopefully as the water clarity improves the number of dives will continue to go up as will the number of manta photos we have to share with you.
Oh and it’s a 20 mile round trip on our newly purchased bikes in 30°C heat to the manta dive site, so we’ll be fitter than ever in no time. The things we do for science!
On to cleaning stations! A few weeks ago I said I’d talk a bit more about them, what they were and why animals like manta rays use them. Well, that day has come! Cleaning stations are areas of the ocean, usually part of coral reefs, where large marine animals like mantas but also sharks, turtles, other species of ray and large fish come for a good clean up. When they arrive they sit almost stationary in the water and usually open their mouths or behave in some other way to indicate that they would like to be cleaned. At this point a little task force of specialist shrimps and fish (mostly wrasse and gobies) descend and eat any parasites, dead skin, bacteria and mucus off of the body surface and gills of the larger fish, even going inside the mouths of sharks to clean.
This process is called mutualistic symbiosis. A fancy way of saying that both parties (the manta ray and the cleaner team) get something out of the experience. Cleaning helps keep the mantas healthy as they stay parasite free and any dead or infected skin gets removed from wounds which helps them to heal faster and prevents infection. At the same time the cleaner team are provided with a regular and easy dinner. Manta rays are known to spend hours each day at cleaning stations and return again and again to the same ones; not only day after day but also year after year. This makes them really useful places to study manta ray populations and health.
As the cleaning stations are fixed locations they are also popular places for snorkel and dive operators to take guests to see these amazing animals. It is really important that codes of conduct are adhered to by everyone at these stations so that the natural behaviours of the mantas are not altered. If you’re lucky enough to be going on holiday to somewhere where you might get to see these animals, please take a look at the Manta Trust’s guide for ‘Swimming with Mantas’ before you leave.
Cleaner fish are very eager to clean any animal that seems in need, as I found out on a dive yesterday. We were doing our safety stop (which is just hanging in the water for 3 minutes at 5 meters at the end of the dive to let any excess nitrogen slowly leave our bodies) and a cheeky little cleaner wrasse swam over. It started nibbling on my legs and giving me a good old clean! I don’t think I have much in the way of parasites on my legs but maybe a little bit of peely sunburn – enough for a snack for a cleaner fish anyway. Check out the little video that Bex shot below.
All for now, thanks for coming by and reading.