Coral Bay is a tiny little speck on the coast on Western Australia roughly 14 hours drive north of Perth. It is blessed by the fact that the crystal blue waters offshore are abundant with the spectacular marine life of the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park, with around 270 species of coral to 500 species of fish, dugongs, turtles, dolphins, sharks and much more.
With so much to experience under the sea, I took to the water with Coral Bay Eco Tours. This company are 100% carbon neutral and offer various day trips from exploring the reef on glass bottom boats to snorkelling trips with various sea creatures.
Coral Bay is one of the only places in the world where you can swim with manta rays all year round.
I joined a group that sailed out on Coral Bay Eco Tour’s boat Kurni-Ku. After getting kitted out in a wetsuit, flippers and a mask I entered the water from the back of the boat. The first swim we did was around the reef so that we could get accustomed to the mask and snorkel.
Almost immediately a turtle floated serenely past me. If I could have gasped I would have, but with the snorkel in my mouth I contented myself with more of a mental squeak of excitement. This was already turning out to be an incredible day and I’d only been in the water five minutes!
Following our guide I swam to where a number of reef sharks were gathering at a cleaning station. Can anyone remember the animated movie Shark Tale with Will Smith? Remember how they danced to the Car Wash song by Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliot as they cleaned larger sea creatures? Well, this actually happens. A cleaning station is where the sharks allow themselves to be cleaned by tiny little fish who pick the debris off their bodies and even from inside their mouths. I saw one reef shark hanging out in the water, mouth open showing off his sharp teeth, whilst a little fish darted in and around his jaws giving them a quick polish. Phenomenal.
Back on board I was buzzing with excitement. The skipper pointed the boat towards an area of the ocean called the turtle sanctuary, where turtles feed on the sea grass that grows in abundance in the shallow water. As the skipper cut the engine and we floated there, we were treated to many turtles popping up to the surface to catch a breath of air before disappearing down below.
Suddenly, we were treated to a pod of Indo Pacific Bottlenose dolphins swimming past us. They even had a tiny baby with them.
After a delicious lunch it was time to find us a manta ray.
The skipper and crew explained how they can recognise the manta rays through their patterns and markings found on their ventral side (their belly). They told us that we would be swimming behind the manta ray so as not to distress it. Their eyes are behind their horn-shaped cephalic fins located on either side of their mouth.
Back into the water I followed the guide to where a manta ray was cruising along the sea bed. I was amazed at the size of the manta; its span was roughly 4 to 5 metres across.
The second manta ray I swam with the crew recognised as one called Whoopi, who was a distinctive all-black. Here, in the shallow water, we could follow on behind Whoopi as she slowly made her way along. Gaining in confidence with my snorkelling, and with the OK of the guide, I dived down behind the manta ray to get a closer look.
I could have swum along with her for hours as she gracefully moved with just the simplest flick of her wing-like pectoral fins. Her peaceful swimming was graceful to watch and I felt like I had lost the rest of the group as I focused on her slow, steady movements.
Whoopi was very obliging and showed me her best side as she cruised along the ocean floor.
With the beautiful coral of the Ningaloo Reef everywhere I looked and such a vast array of sea life to explore I wish I could have stayed longer exploring Coral Bay. Swimming with manta rays has definitely been a highlight on my Western Australian adventure.
Have you ever swum with manta rays or have any other fantastic snorkelling or scuba diving spots you can recommend?
All pictures credited to the staff at Coral Bay Eco Tours who managed to capture some stunning shots from our dives.