With pristine reefs and dive resorts stretching from Barra Point in the north to Paindane in the south, the stretch of coast near the Mozambique city of Inhambane offers some of the best diving on the planet. Its friendly people, long empty beaches, range of activities and accommodation to suit all budgets combine to make it one of southern Africa’s most popular dive destinations.
Fiona McIntosh, author of Dive Sites of South Africa & Mozambique, lists five reasons you should add diving the Manta Coast to your bucket list.
To see manta rays
Named, you guessed it, because of the high chance of seeing manta rays, the Manta Coast is one of the few areas in the world where both species – the resident reef manta (Manta alfredi) and the giant manta (Manta biostris) – can be seen on the same reef on the same dive.
Top sites for manta spotting are Manta Reef and The Office. I’ll never forget my first dive on Manta Reef. The briefing had been thorough, but when the first manta swooped overhead I could not believe the size of it. It was as if someone had blocked out the sun. We watched in awe as the huge rays circled overhead then swooped down so close that we could see inside their gills. It was incredible; one of the most exciting wildlife encounters of my life.
Dr Andrea Marshall, director and founder of the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), explains that the cleaning stations are home to at least six different species of reef fish that each clean a different part of the manta. Mantas have been recorded spending up to eight hours per day being cleaned on a specific reef. And there’s a reason for that. Dr Marshall’s research has shown that the manta population on this stretch of coast has a far higher incidence of shark bites than elsewhere in the world, so regular cleaning is essential to avoid infection. Not surprisingly there’s a strict protocol when diving these sites so that divers don’t interfere with this process.
- To swim with the biggest fish in the sea
Whale sharks are occasionally spotted by divers, particularly on sites like Hard Rock and Paindane Reef, and are regularly seen on snorkelling tours. Various operators run ocean safaris to Whale Shark Alley, where juvenile whale sharks are found year round. If one is spotted you can slip into the water and swim with the biggest fish in the sea. As with all wildlife encounters nothing is guaranteed, but it’s not unusual to spy the ‘marine big five’: whales, whale sharks, dolphins, turtles and manta rays, all on one outing!
To check out the reef life
With such good sightings of the big guys, including mantas and other rays, turtles, white tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, leopard sharks, big brindle bass and whale sharks, it’s easy to overlook the smaller stuff. But the corals and the reef life of the Manta Coast are fantastic. In addition to the usual suspects, once you get your eye in you’ll see paper fish, longnose hawkfish, cleaner shrimps and scorpion fish aplenty, along with some specials like dragon sea moths.
To go muck diving
Diving the shallows around the Barra Estuary’s mangrove swamps is a treat that’s very different to diving the open ocean sites. The lagoon acts as a crèche for juvenile reef fish before they head out into the open sea, so you’ll usually be treated to rare sightings such as flying gernards, double end pipefish, juvenile paper fish and frogfish, dwarf lionfish, sea moths and cockatoo waspfish. But the cherry on the cake is finding the delicate sea horses that wrap themselves around the sea grasses.
If the tide is right this is a wonderful late afternoon dive. The shallow depth means plenty of bottom time so you can hang around until darkness falls and catch the nocturnal creatures coming out of their lairs.
- To enjoy Mozambique and its friendly people
When the diving is done there’s plenty of time to wander the golden beaches, mingle with the smiling locals, shop for arts and crafts or toast another hard day in Africa with an ice cold 2M beer!
Need to know
Getting there: LAM fly from to Inhambane from Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, www.lam.co.mz.
Dive conditions: The Manta Coast is a year-round dive destination, though the number of whale sharks and mantas sighted tends to be higher in the summer months (from October to March). Humpback whales cruise by between June and October and are heard often, and seen occasionally, by divers. Most rain falls in mid-summer (November to February).
Water temperatures range from 20-28 degrees C. Visibility is usually excellent, ranging from 10-30m. Launching takes place from the beach.
Recommended gear: Open-heeled fins and a 3mm shortie are fine during the summer months but a 5mm wetsuit is recommended for the rest of the year. The dive schools on the Manta Coast are very professional and well equipped so dive equipment hire is no problem.
Photos by Fiona McIntosh, Shaen Adey & Dylan Kotze.