If you’ve ever been snorkeling, you know what an incredible experience it can be. You get a bird’s eye view of the amazing world beneath the surface of the ocean: undulating coral formations, bright fish of all shapes and sizes, and silhouettes that would be impossible on land. Best of all, there’s minimal skill required to do it; as long as you’re comfortable in the water, you can strap on swim fins, a snorkel, and a mask, and jump right in.
At the Mai Dive Astrolabe Reef Resort on Fiji’s Ono Island, guests can have a unique snorkeling adventure at the nearby manta ray cleaning station. It’s a phenomenon that can be observed in only a few places on Earth, and just off Ono Island in the Great Astrolabe Reef is one of those places. Whether you’re an experienced diver who’d like to see something new and fascinating on your next outing, or a diving novice who’s a bit intrigued, read on to learn more about observing this amazing undersea occurrence.
Cleaning Stations Explained
The name makes it sound like a place where people take the fish they’ve pulled out of the water and prepare them for eating, but that couldn’t be further from what actually happens at a manta ray cleaning station. It’s actually a 100% naturally occurring phenomenon, and no creatures are harmed! In fact, it’s highly beneficial to all involved species. A manta ray cleaning station is where manta rays go to literally get cleaned. Specifically, cleaner fish and crustaceans will clean, or rather eat, the parasites that have collected on the manta rays’ bodies. It may sound odd, but it’s essential to the survival of the manta rays and the harmony of the underwater ecosystem.
It’s also a remarkable process to witness: the rays remain in sight while the cleaning is taking place, and it’s fun to see the smaller fish flitting about doing their jobs. More than that, though, what you actually get to witness is the symbiotic relationship between species that helps to keep this part of the natural world in balance. By watching the manta rays in the cleaning station, you begin to understand how when it comes to nature, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts — even though the parts are enchanting to watch.
The Mai Dive Manta Ray Experience
When you stay at Mai Dive, you’re just a ten-minute boat ride away from the manta ray cleaning station. Once you’re at the offshore spot, you put on your mask and snorkel, then gently get into the water. There’s not a lot of swimming or strenuous activity necessary for divers here — you just float and wait for the mantas to show up so you can watch them move slowly below.
As the manta rays arrive at the cleaning station, the smaller cleaning fish will soon emerge and swim up to their charges. From a diver’s perch on the water’s surface, it’s easy to see the cleaners take care of the beautiful kite-shaped rays as they circle around the rocks. In fact, guests are likely to see multiple manta rays, sometimes as many as ten in one dive.
What makes the cleaning station near Mai Dive so special is that it’s one of the most accessible manta ray cleaning stations on the planet. There aren’t many other places where you can witness such a magnificent and majestic display of the natural world ensuring its longevity. Even the most seasoned divers find that a snorkeling adventure at the Mai Dive cleaning station is one of the best underwater experiences a person can have.
Why Only Snorkeling?
Some guests might wonder why only snorkeling is done at the manta ray cleaning station, since scuba diving is a more immersive experience and preferred by experienced divers. There are a few reasons, and the main one is that the water at the cleaning station is very shallow: 25 feet in the deepest areas and as few as five feet in the shallowest. These depths are not as conducive to scuba diving as some other areas of the Great Astrolabe Reef.
Snorkeling is also easier for guests who are not experienced divers. There’s no training or certification needed, and no heavy equipment to put on before getting in the water. Scuba diving is a more complicated undertaking, whereas with snorkeling, guests can just get in the water and start looking around.
Finally, snorkeling is less disruptive to the manta rays and fish in the cleaning station, and to the ecosystem in general. Scuba diving puts guests right in the middle of the action, which can potentially halt it. Snorkeling allows guests to observe everything without getting in the way of the process.
The Best Manta Ray Dive Experience
Mai Dive offers regular boat excursions to the manta ray cleaning station. Guests are provided with the few pieces of equipment they’ll need to have a beautiful, one of a kind experience that they won’t soon forget. Even if you’ve dived to great depths, even if you’ve seen rare species and exotic corals on your adventures, you’ll be thoroughly enchanted by the manta rays at the cleaning station, and you’ll feel good knowing that you’re not interrupting this extraordinary natural occurrence.