Text & Photos Roberto Fabbri
This story of the birth of the manta ray goes back to 1967. I was 26, young, strong and experienced as a scuba diver, looking for an adventure.
I discovered scuba in 1959. It happened on the small island of Panarea, in the Aeolian archipelago, just north of Sicily. Each summer, I used to spend a couple of months spearfishing and free diving. My partner had just purchased a single air tank – there was no compressor on the island then – just to use it time to time to recover large groupers we could not get out from the den. One day, I used it and I got immediately addicted.
After a couple of years of scuba spear fishing, a legal and common practice during those times, I got tired of doing the same thing over and over again. So I purchased a Rolleimarin, the underwater housing for the then popular Rolleiflex, a 6×6 medium format camera. A new underwater experience began!
In 1967, a close friend was organising an ambitious expedition to the Red Sea, just off the coast of Port Sudan. I joined this small group of Roman divers, excited for a new adventure.
It was only free diving – yes, there were no air compressors in Sudan during those days as well – but instead, there were a lot of “Migs”, aircraft fighters from the friendly USSR. You see, we were in the middle of the Cold War.
I knew it would be impossible to take underwater images free diving, so I carried with me my Cressi oxygen rebreather. I was able to get my tank refilled at the hospital in Port Sudan; oxygen rebreathers allow you a maximum depth of 16 metres (53 feet). Below this, you can easily experience hyperoxia, also known as oxygen toxicity syndrome, a medical condition resulting from the harmful effects of breathing molecular oxygen (O2) at elevated partial pressures.
We knew manta rays were common encounters in the Red Sea. We also knew they could weigh in excess of 1,200 kilograms with six metres of wingspan; we never saw one before, expectations were high, mixed in with a bit of fear.
One day, while taking macro on the reef, the light above was suddenly clouded by an enormous shadow drifting overhead. I looked up, expecting to see the underside of our fishing boat. Instead, a gigantic pair of undulating wings sent a downward current that rolled and rotated me in my tracks. The underbelly gleamed white a couple of metres above me.
Moments later, it passed over me and I swam after the gigantic bat wing creature, which was disappearing fast. Suddenly, it started toward the surface and with several movements of its enormously powerful wings; it disappeared in a welter of bubbles and foam above the surface. This was my first encounter with a manta ray.
The 25th anniversary of the largest and longest running dive show, Asia Dive Expo (ADEX) is set to occur on the 11-14th April 2019 in Singapore. Centred on the theme – Plastic free Future, ADEX is more than just a dive show with its commitment to the environment. Among an exciting lineup of programs, attendees can look forward to a Future Forward Series of Panel Discussion on the Single-Use Plastic Conundrum in Asia, on 13th April.
So join us at the event, get inspired and for all you know, you might just liberate the inner diver in you! More details of the event here.