For decades, scuba divers have flocked to Palau from all over the world to admire the turtles, fish, sharks, and rays that live far below the water’s surface. One especially treasured sight is of the incredible giant manta ray, the largest ray on earth with a wingspan that can stretch to 20 feet. Like many massive marine creatures, these graceful giants rely on tiny microscopic plankton for sustenance. To gather enough nutrients to survive, they barrel-roll over and over through dense concentrations of plankton with their cavernous mouths agape. Delicate sieves in their gills filter out the food and let the ocean water pass through. The barreling giant manta ray dinner party is the most spectacular show in the sea.

For years, I wondered how I could get an invitation to this party and get non-scuba divers (snorkelers!) closer to the giant manta ray action. I went in search of the answers. It turns out scuba divers dive deep and return to their hotels early on the assumption that ocean activity happens down deep and earlier in the day. So one day I tried the opposite tactic: being the last person in the water after all the dive boats had returned home. And what I found that evening, right below the surface, at most 15 feet down, were giant manta rays barrel-rolling themselves to satiation! The giant manta rays are evening surface diners! Now, while the Palau scuba crowd sits in their hotel rooms, I can treat my snorkelers to an epic spectacle!

Of course not all evenings are created equal. Sometimes mantas fail to show up on the half-moon tides, but regularly flock to the surface at the full and new moon because the flowing tidal waters create upwellings that deliver juicy plankton directly to the surface. Our “Palau’s Big 5″ ¬†extension, planned around the moon’s cycle, is designed to invite snorkelers to this very special giant manta ray dinner party and send them home with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Photos and text by WT trip leader Ron Leidich, Palau Snorkeling and Sea Kayaking

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