BRR! THE CHILLY WATER trickles into my 3mm wetsuit, and I’m reminded that we are paying a price for the nutrient-rich water. It’s the cool upwelling from great depths close to Nusa Penida’s Manta Point that draws large filter-feeders to the area.
My computer now reads 23°C, way below the 27-28° we have enjoyed on previous dive-days in Bali. But after only a few minutes a huge manta appears, and we forget all about the temperature.
It swoops over a large pinnacle and disappears again. It takes me by surprise and I have to shoot from the hip. Did I get a few decent shots despite the less-than-optimal exposure settings? Will it be the only manta we see today?
With all my attention directed at my camera, I hear my wife’s muffled shouts in her regulator behind me. I turn and see her pointing at a train of a dozen big mantas coming straight at me.
OK, so this is how it’s going to be…
Manta Point is a cleaning station and the mantas hang out to enjoy the grooming service of the cleaner wrasse.
It is almost guaranteed to see at least a couple of mantas during a one-hour dive there, but today we’re really lucky. Between 12 and 15 large rays swirl over the shallow pinnacle again and again, coming really close, and it’s splendid.
The mantas are oblivious to us and the countless other scuba-divers, freedivers, and snorkellers in the water. If they were bothered by humans, they would have disappeared long ago. The site has been frequented daily by large numbers of dive-boats for years.
After 45 minutes of more or less constant action the manta train suddenly departs. Remembering the cold, we end the dive with a big smile.
Waiting for our boat to pick us up, Bernd, one of the divers in our group asks: “So why is it called Manta Point?” Pretty humorous for a German.
I have known Jan and Henriette Bebe since training as PADI instructors with them in Denmark in 2000. A few years after, they left their jobs to pursue careers as dive-industry managers in South-east Asia. After a few years in North Sulawesi, they relocated to Bali to manage Lotus Bungalows and its dive-centre Gangga Divers.
Jan is in charge of all diving activities, but though Henriette manages the resort she also enjoys being part of the dive-team during busy periods.
They spend most holidays at exciting dive destinations such as Galapagos, Raja Ampat and Palau, but have enjoyed Bali for more than 10 years, and have no plans to leave.
The resort is in Candidasa Bay in the centre of the east-coast diving scene, and offering easy access to the sites around Nusa Penida, the local coast and the shore-based sites in the Tulamben area.
The endangered hawksbill turtle is very common around Nusa Penida.
Today we plan to splash at Nusa Penida’s Malibu Point. Jan says there’s a good chance of encountering Mola molas, though we try not to jinx it by uttering the M-word.
It’s the right season and apparently a go-to place to see ocean sunfish.
Malibu Point is typical of sites on Nusa Penida’s northern side, with a sloping reef that eventually disappears beyond 30m. Enormous barrel sponges with their modernistic shapes are dotted about, and the fish life is prolific.
We see at least one or two hawksbill turtles on every dive.
All dives around the small island are drifts. It’s all about negotiating the ever-changing current that sweeps the shores from deep water in the channel between Bali and Lombok. There are no permanent moorings – you are picked up at the end of the dive after a safety stop under your SMB.
The trick to finding Mola mola is to look for thermoclines indicating cold water welling up from the depths, and unusual congregations of the bannerfish that usually surround the big creatures.
The yellow and white bannerfish are easier to spot against the dark background, and perform a grooming service that seems to be why the sunfish visit what to them is shallower water.
Fifteen minutes into the dive, I see Jan waving his arms. He points into the blue and throws us the “hang loose” signal normally associated with Hawaiian surfer dudes. Under water, it means Mola mola.
We make the mistake of approaching a little fast, but I still manage to get a few good shots. Many hang loose-signals are exchanged as the Mola mola lazily disappears.
Ever since I learned about the parasite that eats the tongue of the clownfish, I can’t pass a colony of Nemos without checking if any have been attacked by the cruel isopod Cymothoa exigua.
On three occasions around Nusa Penida, I do find an affected specimen, with the tell-tale two black dots staring out at me, but unfortunately every time I have my wide-angle lens attached – not ideal for capturing a creature the size of a pinhead inside the mouth of a fairly small fish that moves as if on a diet of Red Bull and double espressos.