The Gili Islands were buzzing recently! Day after day, diver after diver returned to land buzzing after seeing a group of Devil Rays cruising around at Sunset Point/Sunset Reef/Manta Point (depending on which Dive Centre you use). There were regular sightings of these elusive creatures off the south coast of Gili Trawangan for over two months which had divers walking around with huge smiles on their faces. If you were a non-diver visiting the Gilis, you may have wondered why on earth there were so many people grinning like Cheshire cats; well, let me explain why!
The Devil Rays, or Mobula Rays to give them their true name, were first sited around October last year. To begin with, if anyone saw a group which ranged in numbers from between 8 – 40 at any one time, other divers thought this was pure luck and you were one of the chosen few. Everyone believed they would disappear never to be seen again, but this wasn’t to be the case. A group of Devil Rays were also spotted at Meno Slope off the coast of Gili Meno and continued to hang around Gili Trawangan for quite some time. This gave everyone the opportunity to actively search for the Devils. And not just divers; snorkelers out and about on a boat were reported to have seen them. As Devil Rays are filter feeders, they can sometimes be found just a few metres below the surface, although recent research has shown that they can dive to 2,000 metres which makes them some of the ocean’s deepest and fastest divers- no wonder they are so difficult to find!
So, was everyone lucky enough to see them? Nope! This is nature after all and nothing is guaranteed, and that is what makes diving (and snorkelling) so thrilling … you never know what you will see. Each dive is completely different.
I was one of the many divers that heard about the Devil Rays and I was determined to find them. During the boat journey on my first devil ray dive search I was filled with high hopes but; alas, after 55 minutes underwater between depths of 8 – 25 metres where they had been reported, sadly it was time to surface with no sighting. There was a disappointed silence on the boat as other groups searched but to no avail … that is; until we picked up the last group of the day who were all paired with smiles from ear to ear. Darn, the Devil Rays were still around and I had just been unlucky! If a 10-year old boy on his first ever dive was lucky enough to see them at 12 metres, then surely I would have a chance? I was gutted I had missed out and shamelessly sulked for a small while.
I won’t lie, I was in a miserable mood for the rest of the day! Unperturbed, I booked another dive a couple of days later and, with renewed excitement, off I went to search for them. The dive site is beautiful and as turtles, octopus, puffer fish, cuttlefish, titan triggerfish, giant moray eels, schools of blue snappers, big eye trevally and yellow snappers were pointed out to me, I had zero care factor … I wanted to see the Devil Rays (I know, I know, shame on me for being so shallow!).
Photo credit – #photobyJJ
Once again, I was to be disappointed. They say the sun shines on the righteous and clearly that wasn’t me. This time, I was in an even worse mood. I couldn’t shake the frustration and the sting of disappointment was worse second time around. As a diver, I know that nothing is certain, nothing is guaranteed and everything you see is a blessing, but I am not one of the world’s most natural divers and I do have stress issues (I often tell people that the “Stress and Rescue Course” was written about me!)
So, why do I do it? Why do I put myself through this stress when I dive? It’s simple. It’s the beauty in what I see as I glide through that endless deep blue ocean; and I know for a fact that I am not alone in this feeling of awe.
# Photo credit – Polii Da Raffi
Third time lucky then? I gave myself one final shot of seeing them! I have seen the majestic manta rays in other parts of Indonesia and Devils are their smaller, less famous cousins, so might ask why I desired to see them so much? Well, it’s because they were there and seeing Devil Rays around the Gili Islands is NOT the norm. In fact, no one on the island has reported ever seeing them here. This wasn’t just a rare occurrence for this area but possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity. This was special; really special, and I had never seen Devil Rays before.
As I boarded the boat knowing I was going to call it quits after this third attempt, I tried to be realistic and, as I entered the water and descended, I tried to appreciate the beauty of the dive site. I took a chill pill (metaphorically speaking!) and relaxed, able to truly appreciate the paradise conditions of warm, crystal aquamarine waters and the abundance of marine life which surround the Gili Islands.
Ting ting ting ting …!!!!!
That’s the sound of someone using their tank banger! I turned to look where the noise was coming from and I SAW THEM! The Devil Rays! A small group of around 10 cruised on by at 19 metres and I was transfixed. It was a fleeting visit but that was enough for me. Happy was an understatement. Now I could absolutely relax and enjoy the rest of the dive, but not before doing a few summersaults and flapping my arms like a majestic sea-flap-flap (although less of the majestic).
# Photo credit – Polii Da Raffi
There was more to come … Out of nowhere the group of 10 had joined another group of 20 which were all heading straight for me. Oh wow! This time, at 10 metres, it wasn’t a fleeting visit, I watched in awe as they swam around in an arrow-like formation while I followed from a respectable distance. They swim with such ease even in to the current, with their perfectly built form. I could see their eyes turning and looking; they were aware that I was there. They are naturally shy creatures which has made it difficult for scientists to study them, unlike their cousins the Manta Rays. Mantas will come close to patient divers out of curiosity and have been known to swim in divers’ bubbles … nothing shy about Mantas.
As I watched the Devil Rays, every now and then one would break from the formation and swim upwards, do a somersault then join the group at the back. Why did they do this? Was it for fun, was it a form of communication or was it because they just want to be at the back like a naughty school child at the back of a bus? With their wing-like pectoral fins, they can swoop through water and have been seen from the surface launching themselves into the air as high as two metres like a bird, hence their nickname “flying rays”. Of course, I may never know what causes this behaviour, and scientists are also perplexed.
On this dive I spent about 20 minutes watching, observing and following them. If my only breathing source wasn’t the regulator in my mouth, I would have been swimming along with my mouth wide open. The boat journey back to shore was full of excited divers sharing their stories and photographs; everyone was elated … especially me! If only I could bottle this emotion and bring it out in times of need, but otherwise: Mission: Complete!
A month after seeing the amazing Devil Rays, a group of divers saw a Whale Shark!! But that’s a story for another time.
Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno are easily reached from Bali, or from nearby Lombok international airport. However, you don’t have to stay on one island, island hopping between the Gilis is easy.
All Dive Centres visit the three islands so all you have to do is choose where you want to stay and who you want to dive with – simples! If you need advice on where to stay and who to dive with, we can help with your Accommodation and our list of Dive Centres around the Gilis can be your guide!
credit cover photo – #photobyJJ