Mantas and Mola Mola in Nusa Penida

10 September 2009

After five months of straight shooting, we had to slow down and work on the thousands of images. The WWF Global Photo Network had been patiently waiting for their hi-resolution images but we could feel their itchy fingers wanting to get hold of the files! 🙂 So in beautiful Bali we holed ourselves up in our hotel room to work on images and captions. There was no better place on earth than here to do this work.

And yet we knew we were missing out on a great dive out of Bali. Nusa Penida is known to the world of film makers and photographers as well as ALL divers as one of the most reliable places to see the elusive ocean sunfish or mola mola. And we were right smack in the middle of peak season for molas. So with the generous offer to dive with them, we joined Bali Scuba when we had too much of staring at the computer for one day.  One of Bali Scuba’s owners/partners, David, gladly offered to be our dive guide and off we went on a Thursday morning. We had been warned of a rough crossing and cold 17° – 20°C waters. The upwelling cold waters are, after all, the reason why the molas come up from the deep. And of course, the cleaner fish that abound! But we had no worries with the fast speedboat of David. With 400HP engines, we left Sanur at 9 am and were in Nusa Penida by 9:45am  – no sweat at all and it was all too easy!

One of the fast speedboats of Bali Scuba named Chilli

Chilli – one of the fast speedboats of Bali Scuba

Well “too easy!” is the reason why the dive business in Bali is thriving. The months of August, September and October are peak season in Sanur – the nearest point from Bali to Nusa Penida. Everybody is here to wish on their lucky stars to see a mola. We have dived thousands of dives all over Australia and Asia, and Yogi the rest of the world, and never saw a mola mola once!  If these animals know what great ambassadors they are and what happy bubble makers they make, they might just start a union!

We have never seen so many divers underwater in one spot and yet the mantas came!

We have never seen so many divers underwater in one spot and yet the mantas came!

Our first dive was Manta Point. We were already forewarned that there would be lots of divers after seeing all the dive boats scattered all over one place. We thought, no way would there be any mantas. Well, guess what?  The mantas came not 5 minutes into the dive! I was flabbergasted! It was quite phenomenal that these beautiful ballerinas were unperturbed by bubbles the divers made and actually came quite close! In the one hour dive here, we saw a maximum of 6 or 7 mantas. I actually lost count!

And another manta!

And another manta!

Then also like bubbles, all the dive boats disappeared! Off to Crystal Bay everybody went and the main event was eagerly anticipated. Mola Molas! It was already cold in Manta Point so we were soaking up sun during the surface interval to warm up. The second dive was a test of patience. 23°C for one hour with only our hopes to keep us warm. Well, we saw many bannerfish at 28 meters waiting like street car-wash urchins with no business! I seriously did not think I would see one.

At 42 meters there it was, a mola mola with 7 hard working bannerfish and an angelfish!

At 42 meters there it was, a mola mola with five hard working &  two swimming cleaner bannerfish and one angelfish!

Then on the third and last dive, when we had accumulated so much nitrogen, we saw stationary divers at 40 meters! They must be there for a reason, unwilling to move! Then David pointed down . . . mola mola! The first set of divers had to move on as they were fast going into deco. Aaah, the lovely logic of TIME’s UP! We had the mola mola to ourselves for a good 4 minutes, until we soon reached our deco limit. Well 2 minutes of that Yogi went on a non-stop shooting frenzy. He actually didn’t see the huge animal. He only saw it through the camera’s finder, then looked at his computer after 2 minutes and went up!  He didn’t see the mola but he had pictures to prove he was there!

About the Author:

Stella was born in Manila, Philippines in 1965. She studied anthropology but ended up in advertising, producing radio and TV commercials for 7 years. After quitting advertising, she ventured into the freelance world in Manila producing video documentaries for a publishing house, government agencies, non govenmental organisations, and the academe. She moved on to producing books and had a stint at working with foreign production companies visiting Manila. Stella, now based in Cairns, produces photo stories with her husband Jürgen Freund.