Hanifaru Bay in the Baa Atoll is the Maldives' top diving spot. It is a long and narrow bay at the small uninhabited island of Hanifaru. The bay is a protected marine park thanks to its importance for the manta ray population, and the whole Baa Atoll has been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Why do hundreds of manta rays flock to Hanifaru Bay? The main factor is the bay's unique shape and location. It's long and narrow shape acts as a scoop for the planktons that are swept up to the surface of the ocean by the southwest monsoon current from May to November. With the lunar tide which pushes against this ocean current, the plankton becomes trapped, forming a thick, nutritious soup for the mantas. With optimal conditions, you can have up to 200 manta rays from all over the archipelago feeding on planktons here.
Manta rays are filter feeders that feed on tiny organisms including plankton, shrimp, and jellyfish. As they glide along in the water, they filter through large volumes of water to feed. When they encounter nutrient-rich waters, they do a backward somersault, also called a barrel roll. This helps them stay in the feeding spot and maximises their food intake.
While they usually form a chain and swim in a line when they feed, the situation at Hanifaru Bay is different. When their numbers go above 100 mantas, they seem to lose their coordination and swim in all directions, resulting in a frenzied feeding. This is a sight to behold and can last a few hours.
The manta ray feeding season is considered to be from May to November, during the southwest monsoon. However, the best time to visit Hanifaru Bay is between late June and October when the conditions are optimal. Since the lunar tide causes more plankton to be available in the bay, try to book your stay during a full or new moon when the tides are higher. That way, you'll have a higher chance of bumping into a large group of mantas.
The waters at Hanifaru Bay can get murky with planktons during the manta high season. So to get the best shots of the manta rays, follow these tips:
Leave the flash off, as lights and strobes are not allowed in the marine park without a special permit.
Use a wide-angle or fisheye lens. This lets you get in as close as possible and capture a wider scene in the murky water.
Move slowly and let the mantas approach you.
Stay near the surface to make use of natural light.
Use slow burst mode so you don't miss anything.
If your camera can't focus, it may be due to the plankton. Try locking the focus at arm's length.
Try shoot at the outer-bay, where the water is deeper and visibility is better.
Try taking videos - the manta feeding is a lot more impressive to watch when in motion.
Get a license if you're shooting commercially.
Being one of the best diving locations in the Maldives, Hanifaru Bay is a dive spot not to be missed. However, don't forget to visit the other beautiful dive spots and islands in the Maldives as well. At Club Med Kani and Finolhu Villas, we can arrange diving tours across the Maldives and even PADI certified diving courses. So what are you waiting for, book your stay with us!