In April 2014 See and Sea Org expanded their work in the Andaman Sea with the launch of a new Manta Ray conservation project, Magnificent Manta Rays. Based on the work of the Marine Megafauna Foundation, the new presentation is aimed at Manta Ray education, awareness and research.

See and Sea Org started it’s work in 2011 on a liveaboard expedition to Burma. The project’s aim was to contribute necessities to a village on Bo Choo Island. These donations would hopefully improve the lives of the villagers on the island and also help them to reduce their impact on the environment with the introduction of garbage bins. This trip was made in conjunction with the first Marine Megafauna Foundation’s (MMF) manta ray research ‘Ray of Hope’ trip to the Mergui Archipelago.

Dr Andrea Marshall and the Moken villagers

Andrea and the Moken Villagers

Dr. Andrea Marshall, from MMF, proved to be of invaluable assistance on that  first visit to the Moken settlement, and over the years See and Sea Org and MMF have continued their convenient partnership with further expeditions to Myanmar researching manta rays and helping the Moken.

The first three Ray of Hope Expeditions were led by Dr. Andrea Marshall and 2014’s expedition was lead by Dr. Fabrice Jaine. Dr. Marshall is the Global Director for the Marine Megafauna Foundation as well as the principal scientist for the Manta Ray Research Programme. Dr. Jaine is the senior scientist for the Global Manta Ray Programme with the Marine Megafauna Foundation.

Dr Fabrice Jaine presents the Secret Life of Mantas

Dr Fabrice Jaine presents The Secret Life of Mantas in Khao Lak

In March 2014 See and Sea decided that as they had already been involved with four manta research ‘Ray of Hope’ expeditions to Myanmar and Thailand over the last four years, it seemed like the next logical step for their work. This new manta conservation branch of the charity was initiated by Ric Parker, one of See and Sea’s founding members. Ric was present for all four Ray of Hope Expeditions.

“It’s been a great privilege to have been involved with the Marine Megafauna Foundation on the Ray of Hope Expeditions, not only learning more about Manta Rays from the world’s current experts, but actually participating in their research and taking my scuba diving career to new and exciting levels. Dr Marshall, whilst being one of the most knowledgable manta scientists in the world, is also one of their greatest advocates. She is extremely passionate about the animals all of the time. Andrea never seems to tire of talking about them and encouraging people to get more involved in their conservation.

This has applied to myself as well. After diving with Andrea and listening to her presentations over the years I always felt like I could do more with the manta opportunities presented to me whilst working on Thailand and Myanmar diving liveaboard boats. She has been extremely encouraging about me doing my own presentations and a huge inspiration to get more involved with Manta Rays.

Ric Parker, Dr Andrea Marshall and Clive White

Ric parker with Dr Andrea Marshall and Clive White

It was in February 2014, after returning from my fourth Ray of Hope Expedition that I got the final push I needed, when Dr. Fabrice Jaine presented ‘The Secret Life of Mantas’ to the public in Khao Lak. Attending my fifth Marine Megafauna Presentation gave me the inspiration to start work on my own Manta Education Presentation. The trouble has always been finding the time to prepare everything. Andrea had supplied me with all the materials I needed, I just had to get it all together. And, of course, I needed an audience.” – Ric Parker

First Manta Ray Presentation on Hallelujah Similan Liveaboard

MV Hallelujah Similan Liveaboard

Big Blue Diving Khao Lak’s MV Hallelujah Similan liveaboard

A month or so after Dr. Jaine’s visit to Thailand a great opportunity presented itself. Ric was contact by Lia Barrett, a renowned underwater photographer. She had a few days available in April 2014 and wanted to do a Similan liveaboard before attending the Adex Dive Exhibition in Singapore as a guest speaker.

Lia Barrett

Lia Barrett

Barrett has travelled the world with her photography, she is not only a keen underwater photographer, but also travel and fine art. She has had her work featured in respected publications such as the National Geographic, The New York Times, Huffington Post and various dive journals.

Ric and Lia approached Big Blue Diving Khao Lak about joining their luxurious liveaboard, the MV Hallelujah, for a trip to the Similan Islands. The plan was for Lia to take photos and Ric would add a Manta Ray theme to the trip with his yet unwritten presentation. Hopefully there would be some dives with these majestic creatures too. Big Blue kindly agreed.

“Panic! I hadn’t exactly left everything to the last minute, but I was cutting it fine, to say the least. Departure day came around and it was time to print off my notes, so of course the office printer packed up. The slides weren’t finished either, but those could be done on the boat, right?” – Ric Parker

After the first day’s diving the guests watched ‘Andrea – Queen of Mantas’ in Hallelujah’s comfortable lounge. This BBC documentary, as well as being a great piece of television, also established this as a Manta Ray centred trip. One of the big concerns about conducting Manta Ray presentations and research is of course encountering them whilst diving. Their presence at either of the Andaman Sea’s major aggregation sites would be extremely helpful.

Manta ID Shot from Koh Bon Thailand

Manta ID Shot from Koh Bon

On the first dive at Koh Bon only a handful of divers saw a Manta Ray. It was a brief encounter, though it did yield one possible ID photograph. Chris, Hallelujah’s Tour Leader, made the decision to stay for one more dive at Koh Bon hoping the next dive would be more fruitful. It was a very good call. The second dive at Koh Bon was spectacular. With few other boats around there were not many divers in the water.  All of the guests from Hallelujah were treated to a stunning display by a female Manta ray approximately 3m in disc width. The Manta sighting created a great atmosphere on board and everyone was receptive to hear more about them.

After dinner Ric Parker presented his first ever presentation ‘Magnificent Mantas’, based on the presentations of Dr. Marshall and Dr. Jaine.

“I had been really nervous for the first day and a half of the trip. I had kind of built the trip up to be a special Manta trip. It’s been a great Similan diving season this year with plenty of Manta sightings, but you never know, sometimes they just aren’t around. The Manta at Koh Bon had made for a fantastic dive but it was also backing I needed. Everyone had had a great encounter and there was an excited atmosphere amongst the guests.

I was still nervous though. Even though I have stood up in front of boat loads of divers to give briefings thousands of times before, this was something very new to me. I also had some extremely talented scientist’s footsteps to follow in. I was very nervous. As it got nearer to the time to start I managed to push my fears aside. After the dive we had enjoyed that day all I had to do was stand up and talk about Manta Rays. They would blow everyone away, they would be the star of the show, all I had to do was present the information.

Ric Parker presents Magnificent Manta Rays

Ric Parker presenting Magnificent Manta Rays on MV Hallelujah

It can be a little off putting talking to a group of divers with full stomachs after dinner and tired from four dives that day, I had to tell myself everyone was exhausted and not that the presentation was boring. All in all I think the presentation went extremely well and was well received by everyone. I certainly enjoyed talking to everyone about these animals I have grown to love over my years diving around the Similan Islands and the Mergui Archipelago.

After the presentation I certainly had the feeling that I would like to do more presentations. Hopefully I will be able to and can add something new to people’s diving experience here in Thailand.” – Ric Parker

First Time Diving with Manta Rays

Ric’s presentation taught the group a lot about Manta Rays that evening; facts about their evolution, their intelligence and social behaviours, as well as threats that they face and the technology used by the Marine Megafauna Foundation to study them. The presentation was just a bonus, the real treat had been the dive earlier that day. The Manta Ray had been inquisitive and very playful. All groups had enjoyed a close encounter and many divers could also contribute ID shots of the Manta’s belly. For some divers this was their 1st ever Manta Ray encounter, so that made it a very special trip.

“I could not believe the first time I saw a Manta. It seemed surreal as it circled our group of about 10 divers. It then disappeared into the blue and I thought it was gone. It returned flying through the water in circles at different depths approaching each diver one at a time. The creature was so magnificent and majestic, like something from a storybook. As it soared through the water I realised it was truly free. I later thought, was it curious about the group or just having “good ol’ fun” with us.” – Anthony

“Elated. I was absolutely elated when I first encountered a manta. A giant manta ray, that i’d just heard so much about on our manta themed trip, when I saw her, what was I thinking? Nothing. I was mesmerised, engaged with her, as she waved her arms up and down, dipping, hovering I mimiced her with my arms, playing. My chest felt light, my soul smiling from ear to ear. A new dver, with less than 10 dives, I forgot about my mask, my breathing, that I was underwater. I just watched her beautiful, majestic, free, happy, as she approached each one in our group and finally me! Thank you magnificent Manta! On the boat the group rejoiced, bonded by the experience. I felt like celebrating, like having a beer! But we had one dive left in the day, and maybe we would have the chance to play with her again!” – Schaillee

Manta Conservation and Education: New Steps for See and Sea

See and Sea Org hope that we will be able to further support the Marine Megafauna Foundation’s conservation efforts in the future with the introduction of the Magnificent Manta Project. It is an exciting prospect to educate a wider audience about Manta Rays, their behaviour and conservation. Plus with the increased sightings of these wonderful creatures in the Similans this year there is no more important time than now to get this information out there.

Manta divers on Big Blue's MV Hallelujah

Manta divers on Big Blue’s MV Hallelujah

Dive centres, dive masters and all who work in the diving industry need to be aware of the codes of conduct when honoured with a manta ray’s presence. See and Sea Org have been mentored by some of the worlds leading experts on Manta Rays, so we are now ready to share our knowledge and hopefully protect these awesome animals.

We had the pleasure of being joined by Ric Parker; Khao Lak’s local Manta Ray expert who has worked with several of the world’s leading scientists in this field of research. He had something interesting planned for every night of our liveaboard trip. The highlight was the lecture he gave midway through the trip. It was fascinating information that was interesting to even our most experienced instructors.

For instance, did you know the Manta Ray has the largest brain (relative to its body size) of all fish in the ocean. This makes them intelligent and inquisitive creatures. Ric told us because they are so inquisitive, that it is possible they are just as interested in looking at us, as we are at them. One suggestion was to imitate their movement by slowly flapping your arms as they fly past you. This resulted in a simultaneously awe inspiring and hilarious dive. To see this leviathan soaring past 30 divers all wildly flapping their arms. Whether this technique works or not doesn’t really matter, it made for a very memorable dive.

Of course the lecture was filled with much more including the history of their evolution, current conservation efforts and how we can help as individuals to further the research on these mysterious animals. Ric was very well informed, passionate and happy to answer any questions. I look forward to having him back on the boat next season. – Chris Buckley

Chris Buckley, Big Blue Diving Khao Lak

Ric nous a rejoint a bord du M/V Halleluja pour une croisière aux îles Similans. Ric est un passionné : il vit à khaolak depuis maintenant plusieurs annees. A 40 ans, il gere son propre club : Thaïland Dive And Sail. Mais c’est en tant que plongeur amoureux de la faune marine que Ric est venu nous présenter la reine des mers : la raie manta. Ce superbe animal est aujourd’hui menacé, et Ric n’a de cesse de sensibiliser les plongeurs, expérimentés ou novices, à la préservation de son habitat.

Une présentation divisée en deux soirées interactives. Ric intègre en outre les photos prises par des plongeurs pour le second volet de sa présentation. Et pour impliquer davantage les plongeurs, Ric transmet à des chercheurs les photos des mantas réalisées par les plongeurs pour permettre leur identification.

Un grand merci à Ric pour sa présentation qui nous a beaucoup appris sur les raies manta, leur habitat, les menaces qui pèsent sur elles et surtout sur les moyens grâce auxquels nous pouvons aider à leur protection ; et pour avoir rajouté encore davantage de profondeur à cette fabuleuse croisière ! – Caro Mercier

Caro Mercier, Big Blue Diving Khao Lak