I did not have the heart to tell him that the season did not start for another few months, but indulged him as best I could. He returned a few months later and we spent countless hours with these gentle, graceful giants.
When you work as a professional diver and dive so much, you develop a fascination ( or obsession) with the minutiae of the reef. Nudibranchs, seahorses, shrimp, blennies, the list is endless.
But when you have a big encounter, everyone admits that there is a 10 year-old child inside each of us that is bouncing off the walls with sheer excitement!
Southern Thailand is a great place to see these majestic creatures and, with a little restraint and the right circumstances, a memory for a lifetime is created, whether diving or snorkeling.
Their eyes look through you (not at you) with intelligence as well as curiosity – not to be feared but to be enjoyed in max screen vision.
Research is difficult on these pelagic creatures whose territory spans thousands of miles of ocean. Man is their greatest threat, to the point where mantas especially are seriously endangered, with a global decline of up to 86 per cent in recent years.
Overfishing, market demands and the pursuit of profit have led to shocking fall in numbers.
Mantas are targeted by the Chinese medicinal trade, despite the lack of historical evidence of any “traditional” use: instead, marketing strategies are used to play on people’s ignorance.
The annual Manta gill trade is valued at US$5 million (B150 million) a year, while eco-tourism is worth US$140 million (B4.2 billion).
Whale sharks have become part of the shark fin market and one set of fins can earn US$60,000 (B1.8 million). Yet the fin is just five per cent of the shark and the rest is discarded.
Sharks’ and mantas’ value as a major part of eco-tourism has also grown over the years, and ignorance is being replaced by education, understanding, alternative forms of income and, importantly, to protection.
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) offers a legislative lifeline to threatened fauna & flora.
It is the only internationally binding treaty that requires member nations to sustainably manage and control the trade of products sourced from species protected under its listings.
Last week in Bangkok, manta rays were voted onto the protected list by 80 per cent of the 178 nations voting, including Thailand – very welcome news indeed.
Simone Allène worked for financial institutions but became a professional diver in 1998 and has now made more than 5200 dives. She now handles Marketing for Sea Bees Diving but still throws herself off the back of boats.