Our time at the Lady Musgrave Reef has been fantastic. We stayed there for 8 days exploring all around. It has been so enjoyable to take our time. We have been able to see things we would not have if we had just reef hopped as is our usual fashion. We have learnt from a few cruisers and shared our own knowledge with others too. It is nice to exchange information and have adventures with like-minded people!
Our exploration took us to all corners of the lagoon, as well as outside, along the reef wall. We even did a drift dive out through the entrance. We were swept out with the current, holding on to the dinghy rope so we could come back in later. With the tide running at 3 knots, there was no way we could have swam back. We followed the reef wall for a little way. The coral was quite healthy and more varied than inside the lagoon and we saw a few interesting fish. These two Velvet Surgeonfish were doing a mating dance, swimming around each other in a circle.
But the absolute highlight of our time at Lady Musgrave was swimming with the wild creatures – the Reef Manta Rays and the Green Sea Turtles. So we can’t resist focusing this week’s post on these beasties and sharing a few more pictures of them!
Reef Manta Rays
We had seen manta rays before, but from a distance, and most times from the boat. So swimming with these creatures was a breathtaking experience. We could not get enough of them, we kept going back for more each day! The second largest rays in the world, the Reef Manta Rays live in tropical and subtropical waters. “Manta” means blanket or cloak in Spanish, referring to the animal’s large flat, diamond-shaped body. They have triangular pectoral fins, a small dorsal fin and a long whip like tail. Manta rays also have two cephalic fins protruding from the front of their heads. In our photos, those fins are flared out to channel water into the mouth while feeding, but they can also be rolled up in a spiral when the ray is just travelling.
They are large, averaging about 5 meters across their wingspan. When they swim towards you, you feel rather dwarfed and have to remind yourself that they are filter feeders, not carnivores! They swim with their mouths wide open, drawing in zooplankton and krill which they sift through rows of tiny rakes that line their mouths called gill plates. Manta rays make regular visits to cleaning stations – spots on a coral reef where sea animals go to be cleaned by smaller fish. So when you know where that spot is, you are in luck, as they stay still for several minutes while cleaner fish remove parasites and dead skin. The cruising couple we met, Wendy and Alex from Gipsy, knew of a spot outside the reef wall, so we were keen to go with them. When we went there, initially we saw nothing… We were in deeper water, about 10 meters, at high water slack, to avoid being in swift current, and we were just treading water for a while, looking, looking! And then all of a sudden the show was on: 4 or 5 manta rays appeared from the deep. They were doing a circuit, following one another.
The rays we saw had a black dorsal (upper) surface. The ventral surface varied between animals, most white with black spots and blotches, but one was mainly black all over. The markings can be used to identify individual rays, like a unique finger print. The nearly all black ray was the most inquisitive of the group, hanging around quite close to us. Shall I touch it? No, better not!
We were on a huge high after those encounters!
Green Sea Turtles
Although much more frequently seen, the Green Sea Turtles are still really endearing. Their carapace may include shades of green, dark brown, olive, yellow and black. Some get covered with algae too as you can see in some of the photos. They are called “green” sea turtles for their layer of green fat that lies under their shell – the result of their vegetable diet.
When we snorkel, we see them sometimes resting in one spot, while the cleaner fish are at work on their shell. They can rest under water for hours at a time before coming up to breathe. However when feeding or travelling, they pop up to the surface every 3 to 4 minutes for a few seconds of air, before diving back down. If disturbed, they can accelerate very swiftly reaching speeds up to 35 km/h. But some are quite tame and let you come close.
Every dive is different. The area we survey, the wind and tide conditions, the light, the water clarity, all this makes for endlessly changing views. So even though we have stayed at this reef the longest we have ever done, we are thrilled by what we have experienced and the company we have kept. We have now moved on, visiting Hoskyn, Boult and Fitzroy Reefs. Stay tuned for more underwater wonders!