Conservation through Research, Awareness and Education

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Chiara’s Manta Rescue in the Maldives

Earlier this year Chiara Fumagalli, a marine biologist at the Coco Palm Dhuni Kolhu resort in the Maldives, was able to rescue a manta ray she encountered that had become entangled in drifting fishing line. Chiara recounts the incredible experience…

The entangled manta swimming upside down, the line weighed down by coral cutting into his body.

On January 20th I was out at sea on a Manta Ray Snorkeling Excursion in southern Baa Atoll with 10 guests. We were having a fantastic time, observing and taking photo-ID pictures of a small group of reef manta rays feeding at the surface in shallow water.

However one particular individual captured our attention – a young male that was swimming slowly and often would brusquely turn itself upside down. We immediately noticed that the manta was badly entangled in a drifting fishing line. The line was wrapped several times around its body and draped across the manta from head to tail, preventing it from opening its mouth to feed. In addition, the lines had left deep cuts into its body and had entangled two blocks of coral, which now hung from its side, further restricting his ability to swim.

The line was tightly wrapped around the manta's body several times, note the cuts around the manta's mouth and the fact he is unable to open it.

Luckily I was well equipped with my freediving fins and a knife, allowing me to attempt a rescue. At first I tried to swim down to the manta as he hovered at a depth of 7-8 metres. I was able to cut a few lines, but my sudden appearance spooked him, causing him to quickly dive deeper and out of my reach.

Chiara with the line that entangled the manta.

Refusing to give up, I followed him from the surface for the next 5 minutes, waiting breathlessly for him to return to a shallower depth.  Fortunately he did return and my second attempt was far more successful! Swimming down to 4 metres I was able to cut all the lines from his back before swimming around his body from head to tail to make sure the line was completely removed. To my surprise, he didn’t move at all during what would certainly have been a painful experience. I couldn’t help but get the distinct feeling that he was conscious and aware of what was happening and that he knew I was trying to help!

Being a Marine Biologist I‘ve never pretended to see or feel any interaction between myself and a wild animal, especially with a fish! However during this experience, I clearly felt a kind of connection and mutual understanding between myself and the manta ray.

It has been by far the most intense underwater experience of my life.

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