Diving with manta rays and whale sharks at Manta Bowl
The waters around the Philippines are a playground for snorkelers and divers and my plan for this trip was to spend as much time in the water as possible and to tick a few new things off my bucketlist. Day 2 I snorkelled with whale sharks, something I’d dreamt of for years so I was pumped and hopeful about my chances of also seeing manta rays.
I’d read about Manta Bowl, a cleaning station for manta rays, that can be reached on a day trip from Donsol and figured this would be my best bet for seeing them during my trip. I found a dive buddy, Simon, and we booked through the dive centre at Giddy’s place in the main town of Donsol. We had the choice to go straight to manta bowl for all three dives or to do a dive at San Miguel island, as the bowl is doesn’t have much in the way of coral we opted to take our first dive at San Miguel while the others snorkelled.
While you may be excited for manta bowl and want the best chance of seeing manta rays I would recommend the San Miguel dive on the way. This idyllic spot just 100M off the lush green island is a deep dive along a wall with technicolour coral and fish.
The boat ride alone was stunning as we passed lush green islands, white sand beaches and watched a pod of 20 dolphins jumping playfully through the water.
Manta Bowl is a 30 metre drift dive with a pretty strong current so often you have to hook onto rocks and then just sit and wait patiently for the rays. Our first dive at manta bowl was pretty uneventful with no rays to be found. There isn’t a huge amount of coral around the manta bowl although we did manage to find a curious little moray eel. Between dives waiting on the boat we spotted a whale shark circling around. We grabbed our snorkel and jumped in to swim with it. Unlike the Donsol whale shark interaction the previous day, there was only us and one other boat at manta bowl so just about 10 of us in the water with this whale shark so we got enjoy it in a more intimate environment and it stayed on the surface for about 15 minutes with us.
Such as with any wild life encounter, manta rays cannot be guaranteed, even at manta bowl! On the third dive I was beginning to lose hope, we’d moved positions a few times without any joy when finally a lone manta ray appeared out of the deep blue, winging it’s way over to us. Like a bird gliding through the air, manta rays are so gracious, it feels almost as if you’re watching it in slow motion.
As the ray neared us we could see something attached to it, fishing wire wrapped all around it and flowing behind it like another tail. Our divemaster approached it, holding his hand up as if communicating with it, the ray floated in a stationary position allowing our divemaster to cut the wire off it. I wondered whether as well as coming here for the cleaner fish they know that people are here and can help them too. It’s pretty awesome to watch a wild creature and a person interacting like this and rather than feeling like intruders or voyeurs it felt like we were there to help.
Afterwards as I watched the ray swim away free of wire and slowly mad my way back up I felt so lucky to have ticked yet another amazing experience off my bucketlist and I was only 3 days in to my Philippines adventure.