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Ecuador is one of the best destinations in the world to explore under its blue waters. The beauty of the whole south Pacific concentrates a colorful marine fauna on its submarine cliffs and more. The Galápagos Marine Reserve, The Machalilla National Park, The Bajo de Cope Reserve, and the whole coastland offers unique diving sites in the world. Maybe this is why the National Geographic Magazine listed Ecuador among the 21 Best Places in the World for diving on its January 2019 edition.
On a quick conversation with Michel Guerrero Mancheno, marine biologist and PADI certified diving instructor, I could learn more about this activity and could finally understand how they study the marine flora, fauna and microorganisms. They start by taking a sample of the marine life for investigation purposes regarding its behavior and the possible impact of human activity. It’s a fascinating challenge. They’re research and further publications help to better manage and protect marine life, to control the environmental impact and to explore better ways to a safe use of sea life resources.
A biologist is an open book and through a sincere conversation he took me on a journey to the depths of the Ecuadorian sea to appreciate the beauty of the oceanic manta ray, one of Michel favorite’s fish. These species has a flattened body, therefore its name in spanish: “mantas”, blankets in english. They feed on zooplankton and they can even jump out of the water and actually fly as a way to communicate something we still can’t certainly know.
Michel’s body language and hands movements shows his passion for this giant fish while telling me that the manta ray often travels thousands of miles furrowing through the oceans and he doesn’t hesitate to call them “giant ships” who can reach up to 315 inches from one tip to the other.
The giant manta ray or Mobula birostris, visits the Ecuadorian coasts especially the Isla de la Plata area at the Machalilla National Park in Manabí from early June to late October. It’s visit depends on the cold Humboldt stream and not only for them but also many other marine life as the humpback whales.
Michel looks more like a fit sportsman than a scientist. This marine life lover has dedicated his life work to the manta ray study in Ecuador since 2008. He’s founder member of the Ecuadorian Marine Megafauna Foundation and Chief Officer for the manta ray’s project in Ecuador whose main purpose is to boost the research and protection of this animals to further structure a proper plan for its conservancy. He insists that the main cause for the manta ray’s death is the contamination of seawater, touristic and fishing ships, and indiscriminate fishing.
Even worse than this, in many seas there’s a direct manta ray fishing and its gills are often dried and shipped to asian fish markets for anti inflammatory medicines, they say, because it hasn’t been scientifically proven to be true. Also, its meat is consumed in Asia and its skin turned into boots, belts, wallets and so on.
Diving among these beautiful creatures is an unforgettable experience. I remember one time diving at the Isla de la Plata where I saw a manta ray swimming around us for more or less 40 minutes. They are highly sociable individuals usually attracted by the bubbles a diver produces. It was like watching a giant bird flying peacefully underwater. The most impressive feature is their eyes than can produce an unspeakable sensation. Plus, on our way back to the surface, we saw an adult humpback whale of more or less 590 inches long curiously staring on us.
The oceanic manta ray lives in the Ecuadorian seas and it is the biggest ray species in the world. It reaches 334 inches from one fin to the other. Contrary to the common belief, the manta ray is completely harmless because it doesn’t have a poisonous sting as the stingrays and it feeds on zooplankton.
And it is it’s harmless nature that makes it a good attractive for ecotourism and diving tourism. In Ecuador you may find them in Ayangue (Santa Elena), Puerto López (Manabí) and Bajo Cope (Santa Elena). The key is to keep in balance the ecosystem and a responsible tourism.