Manta Ray Cleaning Station at Addu Atoll
Heading off the back of the boat it was a fast descent. The deep blue below and ahead of us. The current was running. I could feel the thermoclines washing past, my depth increasing with each fin stroke. Ahead was the channel, the opening into the atoll from the big blue outside. Finning hard, my breathing laboured and tiredness hitting I was beginning to wonder what we were doing here. This was not where I was supposed to be. It was hard work, far too hard for a holiday. The current was pushing us into the atoll now. A blessing in a way. I could see the sides of the channel and the bottom was coming into view. And then it was the moment I had been dreading. We had to hook on to the reef. After 25years of diving this was a new skill. If I got this wrong it was the end of the dive for everyone. Could I do this to my friends; missing the hook was not an option.
All of a sudden our guide was there, unravelling my hook line, finding me a piece of the seabed that was not going anywhere. And then the thing that goes against everything in diving was needed. I had to inflate my jacket. If the reef hook came loose I was going to the surface in a hurry. A recipe for a visit to the decompression chamber.
Taking a deep breathe I was hooked on. The line was vibrating in the current. I was still and not going anywhere. More deep breathes, calming myself. Looking around the cleaning station was nothing more than a plateau. Small fish were swarming, but the 5 mantas that had been seen from the surface were nowhere to be seen.
And then in the distance an outline appeared. It was there. The creature we had travelled so far to see. The manta glided past, looking at us on its first loop. Gliding gracefully against the current that we had fought to reach this point. As we turned to watch it pass there was the realisation that another was on the cleaning station. Sizing each other up, the larger manta rises above the smaller.
The large manta circled us, looking into our eyes. There was a connection. The strangest feeling; that this huge creature was understanding and accepting our presence in its world. After a while it's cephalic fin rolled, content with our presence and ready to enter the cleaning station.
Stacking like planes over an airport the mantas waited their turn at the cleaning station. The small cleaner fish working their magic with each customer as they arrived. Small nips made the mantas jump and the movement of pleasure as they swam over and through our bubbles was clear to see.
Eventually our air was low and it was time to return to the human world. Carefully emptying the air from our jackets and as a group we unhooked and left the bottom. Racing again we headed further into the atoll. Ascending all the time. Slowly at first but then getting caught in up-currents, eddying around us and spinning us to the surface. A fast and furious dumping of air and finning downwards took us back to a safe depth to finish the safety stops and end our dive on a high.