Andy and Allison Vitsky Sallmon in Yap

Article By Andy Sallmon and Allison Vitsky Sallmon
Spoiled for choice in the mantas’ realm

Exhilarated and starving, we pulled off our gear as the divemaster began the roll call. With all passengers accounted for, the boat captain started the motor and headed toward the resort, where lunch awaited our group of hungry divers. We boisterously compared notes on the morning’s incredible manta interactions. At least a dozen of the graceful rays had closely circled us, mugging for our cameras like supermodels.

The boat suddenly slowed. The divemaster was pointing at a disturbance on the water’s surface. Seconds later, the surface was pierced by a tall, straight dorsal fin. This was no porpoise. Seconds later, shouts rang out. Read more…

“Orcas?”

“Yeah! Orcas!”

Incredibly, we had stumbled across a pod of four orcas. After some initial hesitation about getting in the water (“Is this safe? They’re called ‘killer whales,’ right?”), lunch was forgotten, and we scrambled to don masks, fins and snorkels.

The captain maneuvered the boat to allow us to slip into the path of the orcas again and again, but despite our efforts we never got close enough to the whales to take any unforgettable images.

Dolefully, we headed back toward the ladder, only to notice a large, shiny disc lying flat on the water’s surface. We slowly approached it, ultimately recognizing the bizarre creature as a massive Pacific sunfish.

This was getting a little ridiculous. I sputtered to the surface, spit out my snorkel and started yelling.

“Mola!”

Unlike the pod of orcas, the surprised mola stayed nearby for a few precious minutes, providing all of us some prime photo opportunities before it swam away.

Back on the boat, eight pairs of eyes carefully surveyed the ocean for any other unusual marine life. (I had my hopes pinned on a basking shark.) However, the hushed concentration was loudly interrupted by someone’s stomach growling in angry protest at the prolonged snorkeling session. Evidently, it was now truly time for lunch. We headed home at last, delighted with our fantastic luck.

While the events recounted above are absolutely true, that day was admittedly quite exceptional. We’ve heard of people seeing all manner of large marine life here, though. And remarkably, the manta interaction described at the outset of our tale is extremely typical of a dive day in Yap.

Yap Island is one of the best places in the world to view manta rays, which is evidenced by the large number of divers who travel here year after year. Mantas are protected throughout the region, inhabiting a sanctuary that encompasses more than 8,200 square miles. It’s no wonder there are more than 100 unique mantas here, and new animals are identified each year.

Yap’s thriving manta ray population is not a recent development, but it was not always so warmly received. Yapese fishermen were once wary of the creatures they called “devilfish,” using tales of the fearsome animals to discourage their children from misbehaving.

This was the prevalent mindset as recently as 1976, when Peace Corps volunteer Bill Acker was sent to Yap for a two-year assignment. Acker quickly became enamored of scuba diving, noting the large, inquisitive rays that aggregated in some of the current-swept channels. They were so common, in fact, that Acker assumed mantas were rather an ordinary sight everywhere. When he decided to relocate to the islands permanently to establish Yap’s first scuba operation, Yap Divers, he therefore downplayed the mantas to visitors. Acker preferred to take clients to the more remote outer reefs, where the currents were milder and the visibility was better.

This changed in 1986, when the publisher of Skin Diver Magazine, Paul Tzimoulis, visited Yap. Tzimoulis’ trip coincided with ghastly weather that made a visit to the outer reefs impossible. His consolation dive (imagine that) was the now-famous Mi’L Channel, where he found himself face-to-face with Yap’s legendary devilfish. Shortly thereafter, the magazine classified the site as one of the best in the world. We’re guessing the resulting influx of manta-mad scuba divers did wonders to improve the local reputation of the rays.

The cleaning stations located in Mi’L Channel and Goofnuw Channel are best known for thrilling manta interactions, but eagle rays, reef sharks, turtles and barracudas can be spotted there, too. At first glance these sites can be a bit of a letdown, but don’t be fooled. Divers often descend in a brisk current and grope their way to a pile of unremarkable rubble where they hold on for dear life. Then they wait, staring into the blue, willing the rays to appear. And mantas nearly always do appear, circling patiently while waiting to be cleaned by small groups of skilled wrasses. In a single moment, an uninspiring dive site can be transformed as divers experience close passes by manta after manta. Photographers may find themselves having to back up to fit the entire ray in the frame — they approach that closely.

On the rare days that manta numbers are disappointing, don’t despair: The channels are not all rubble and sand. They also contain lovely hard-coral outcroppings swarmed by anthias and glassfish, and inspection of the walls may reveal hunting octopuses, leaf scorpionfish and branches of purple soft coral. While these channels are the sites most often visited for manta viewing, the large indigenous population of the creatures means they are a common spectacle at any of Yap’s dive sites.

More Than Mantas
The manta encounters are Yap’s most publicized underwater feature, a fact that has been both a blessing and a curse. Many divers visit, but once they have seen the rays, they believe they have seen all the destination has to offer. As a result, Yap welcomes a constant flow of visitors “stopping over” for a few days en route to other Pacific destinations. The injustice of this practice becomes glaringly clear to those who settle in for a longer stay.

One group of less-promoted residents has distracted us from mantas repeatedly: sharks. Vertigo is an exceptional shark dive that eclipses the individual encounters commonly experienced at other sites. The site consists of a pretty hard-coral wall laden with crinoids and small sponges, but the introduction of a simple PVC tube filled with bait amplifies the thrill value significantly. Minutes after the bait is submerged, the site swarms with dozens of bold gray reef sharks and an occasional blacktip thrown in for variety. This is already the most adrenaline-charged dive in Yap, and if current efforts to ban shark fishing throughout Micronesia succeed, it will only intensify.

After giant manta rays and a writhing mass of reef sharks, what more could two photographers ask for? Certainly, we’d be perfectly satisfied to alternate mantas and sharks, day in and day out for weeks on end. However, with local diving pioneer Bill Acker himself repeatedly extolling the loveliness of Yap’s other dive sites, we finally decided to forego the big-animal experiences for a day. A single day blurred into many as we became acquainted with Yap’s lovely and diverse reefs. One standout was Cabbage Patch, a series of undulating, steeply sloping walls richly encrusted with delicate lettuce coral. The reef is inhabited by anemones, crinoids and tube worms, and large turtles are often found feeding along the top of the reef in this area.

Our hands-down favorite reef is Yap Caverns. Located at the extreme southwestern tip of Yap Island, this site is composed of a series of hard-coral pinnacles that enclose a maze of caverns and swim-throughs. Within the main cavern, a school of resident glassfish sweeps back and forth while stingrays and white-tip reef sharks tuck into the corners to nap. Peering back toward the cavern entrance may yield the most incredible vista of all: We’ve seen whale sharks, mantas and eagle rays pass by the pinnacles. In fact, we’ve heard that just about anything can be seen at this part of the island, including pilot whales and the occasional pod of dolphins. Divers who prefer looking for small creatures will also enjoy this site; we have photographed leaf scorpionfish, nudibranchs, shrimp and crabs hidden among the reef’s gorgonians and whip corals.

Given Yap’s renowned manta population, there are not many divers who travel here dreaming of nudibranchs. However, gusty afternoon winds make manta, shark and outer-reef dives uncommon post-lunch events, so keen divers are often taken to the protected inner reefs. One good option is Slow ‘n Easy, a gentle sand slope punctuated by hard-coral bommies. Sandy areas hold an abundance of pipefish, garden eels and symbiotic shrimp/goby pairs, as well as occasional mantis shrimp and stonefish. Inspection of the reef structure reveals nudibranchs, blennies, leaf scorpionfish and whip coral shrimp. Shore dives also yield unexpected finds: The murky waters near the resort docks are great places to look for nudibranchs and small jellyfish.

As sunset approaches, we always find ourselves eager to dive again. That’s because Yap offers one of the best mandarinfish dives we’ve experienced anywhere. Rainbow Reef, a large clump of mucky staghorn coral surrounded by a sand patch, is located mere minutes from resort docks. Divers gather here at dusk to view the colorful fish courting and (we hope) pairing off to rise gracefully into the water column in a fascinating, photogenic mating ritual. Even if the mandarinfish are not feeling amorous, this site harbors other interesting creatures, such as cuttlefish, pipefish, eels and scorpionfish.

As our most recent visit drew to an end, we sat at the end of the dock comparing mandarinfish images while the moon rose over the mangroves. Another couple passed by us, discussing strategies to extend their stay, and we looked at one another knowingly. Destinations everywhere become notorious for a single exceptional feature and are promptly pigeonholed accordingly, and in Yap’s case, the manta rays are that exceptional attribute. However, after several visits to this Micronesian paradise, we have learned firsthand that these giant rays are only a small part of what Yap has to offer.

Yap has been nicknamed “the land of stone money,” a moniker that references its carved rock currency. Ancient Yapese traveled approximately 300 miles to neighboring Palau to mine the stone from which the money was carved. The coins, called rai, could be up to 14 feet in diameter, so canoe transport back to Yap was an extremely hazardous proposition.

The value of the currency depended on many factors, including size and shape, quality and — most important — danger faced during acquisition. While the coins are still used in certain transactions, such as real estate purchases and bridal dowries, their size means they are not commonly moved, even when ownership changes. Rather, rai is generally kept in village “banks,” where it is easily viewable by visitors.

The continued custom of rai exchange provides a glimpse into the local mindset; the Yapese have maintained many rich traditions that remain minimally influenced by the outside world. Village visits offer a glimpse into a culture that seems to be pulled directly from a motion picture. Bare-breasted women clad only in flower necklaces and grass skirts practice weaving and dance, while men demonstrate their prowess at fishing and betelnut harvest.

Diving Yap
Yap Island is the hub of Yap State, a cluster of more than 100 islands and atolls within the Federated States of Micronesia. The capital city, Colonia, is located here, as is the international airport. Yap Island is the primary destination for divers and nondivers alike. The primary language is English, and the currency is the U.S. dollar.

The diving here is excellent year-round, though the winds are calmest from June through October (which may permit access to a wider array of sites). Nearly all diving is done by boat, since the channels and outer reefs are not accessible from shore. Water temperature averages 82°F. There is a recompression chamber on Yap Island.


Original Article on Alert Diver.com

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Tait Brimacombe
Tait Brimacombe
04:31 18 Oct 19
Stayed at Manta Ray Bay as part of work travel to Yap. Excellent rooms and very friendly and helpful staff who were happy to go out of their way to assist guests and ensure they had a pleasant stay. Would highly recommend and look forward to staying again in the future.read more
John Yosh
John Yosh
11:27 18 Sep 19
My experience at the Manta RayBay Resort was once in a life time. We did not dive because we were in Yap for military purposes but if I had to choose a location in which to dive it would be in Yap and I would stay at the Manta Ray Bay Resort again. Bill and his family are just wonderful and made our experience on Yap such a memorable one. I hope to come back to Yap again and if I am so privileged I would visit with my adopted family and stay at the Manta Ray Bay Resort again.read more
Yann Faure
Yann Faure
11:08 15 Jul 19
All the staff from Manta bay resort will treat you like family and make you feel at home The room was very spacious and decorated with taste The dives were very nice , especially Vertigo obviously ! Do not hesitate , just book your trip to Yap and Manta bay resort will do the rest and there will not be any bad surprise I highly recommend a stay with Bill's Acker great resort !read more
Bruce Tanner
Bruce Tanner
16:13 27 Jun 19
Completed my 7th trip to Yap this past April and it is still one of the best dive destinations and operations around. Have led groups there for those 7 years and had several repeat customers go back with me. Great staff, dive operation and beautiful hotel. And the diving is diverse and just awesome. Many of the staff have become friends and it always a treat to be greeted by name upon arrival and around the hotel. Since diving is the premier attraction the island is a paradise of relaxation and laid back attitude. If you haven't been to this area of the world you should really consider it. Bill Acker, owner and all around good guy, can help you make travel plans for visiting Yap and other great destinations in Micronesia.read more
Jendrik Schroeder
Jendrik Schroeder
15:18 15 Jun 19
It´s an excellent diving and a wonderfull cultural experience to visit Yap. The Manta Ray Bay resort provides you with friendly and skilled staff both in diving and in the hotel department. The underwater world is extremely beautifull and the island culture very interesting to explore! I enjoyed both the diving and the cultural experience to the maximum !!!!!read more
Chris Mars
Chris Mars
18:28 26 Mar 19
This is my home island.. Iam just giving it 5 star review cuz i miss home.. Feels like forever since I Last visitedread more
stacey blake
stacey blake
16:26 20 Mar 19
Beautiful resort and location, small and quaint with very attentive service from wonderful staff who were extremely friendly and helpful, and knew everyone's name (travelled with a group of 20 people) within the first day. Yap Divers staff were amazing, we were even offered hot tea during our surface intervals with some delicious snacks, and they ensured we had the best possible dive experience on each dive. I would return to this gorgeous island and absolutely stay at Manta Bay Resort again, it's well worth the trip!read more
Shaun Suliol
Shaun Suliol
11:48 12 Mar 19
The staff made sure our every needs were met! They were accommodating to my groups weird requests. We felt spoiled. They even remember our names. No where else but in Yap at the Manta Ray!read more
Doreen Korbl
Doreen Korbl
19:09 10 Mar 19
incredible service, special thanks to Ruud the resort manager
Michael Fusco
Michael Fusco
04:49 22 Jan 19
MantaRayBay Resort, is THE dive resort. It is so obvious that this place was designed for divers, BY divers. The concept that all of the guests are part of the resort family seems to be the cornerstone of MRB Resort. The dive service is top notch; the wait staff spot-on, the resort staff super friendly and attentive. The dive sites are great, especially the southern walls, and of course the cleaning stations visited so often by the Manta Rays. I have gone scuba diving all over western Asia and the Caribbean, and MRB Resort is at the top!read more
Deb Roy-Stothart
Deb Roy-Stothart
13:55 06 Dec 18
The highest level of dive service ever experienced! Fabulous dive operation from crew, boats, snacks, hot tea and water, warm towels etc. etc. and of course the Manta Rays!! Thank you for making my 100th dive so memorable. Accommodations 5 star! Food was fabulous! Can't say enough about this beautiful Island and it's people. Loved Yap! Deb & Glenn, London, Ontarioread more
Jan Toman
Jan Toman
22:14 02 Nov 18
Great! GREAT! GREAT! Lovely place, lovely staff, great location for divers!
Ms. Malinda
Ms. Malinda
13:52 14 Oct 18
Great place to stay while visiting the island. Lots of activities to do with places to see & people to meet.read more
Rene Sten
Rene Sten
04:06 12 Oct 18
Bill and his family run a great dive resort, rooms are spacious and comfortable. Restaurant and bar provide good range of food and drink. Bill and his dive guides know the reef intimately and the diving is spectacular. Bill and his family make for a very friendly and rewarding experience in Yap.read more
Jonathan Gapith
Jonathan Gapith
10:31 19 Sep 18
Best dive resort around, amazingly friendly staff and great food on the mnuw
Daniel Granzer
Daniel Granzer
11:40 23 Aug 18
We were from 11.08 to 18.08 at the Manta Ray Bay resort and had unforgettable days there 😍In total we made 12 dives with wonderful encounters. Highlights were, of course, the manta rays in the Goofnuw Channel and many white tip reef sharks in the Shark City 🦈 But also we saw eagle rays, turtles 🐢 and buffalo head parrotfish. The hotel is beautiful and the whole team does a great job there. The food on the ship Mnuw, as well as the home-brewed beer are excellent. Thank you again to the whole team of Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers 👏🏼We also did a one-day land tour to explore the many beautiful places of this unique island. The beach is like in paradise🏝, stone money and relics from the second world war very worth to see! You find there also culturally typical houses with different meaning and use! It would be nice if more visitors would come to this great island and appreciate the great work that is done there! Anyway, we really enjoyed it and would come back anytime 🙏🏻✌🏼read more
Emily Caquelin
Emily Caquelin
04:10 02 Aug 18
Manta Ray Bay Resort is a great dive resort with extremely hospitable staff.
William Myers
William Myers
21:01 21 Jul 18
Great hotel. Have stayed twice.
Jim Reilly
Jim Reilly
11:27 21 Mar 18
We stayed at the hotel and dove with Manta Ray divers in early December 2017. The hotel is very comfortable, well run and staffed with wonderful employees. During our visit my wife came down with an illness and the consideration and support from the hotel and dive staff could not have been better.read more
Sandy Stinson
Sandy Stinson
16:03 03 Mar 18
The staff couldn't be more friendly and accommodating. Food is good, (worth upgrading to include all meals). Diving is good too.read more
Alex Divinsky
Alex Divinsky
17:24 01 Jan 18
The best place to stay in Yap. The resort is really nice and clean, the scuba diving is great, and the docked ship that houses the bar, restaurant, and movie screen is very cool. I really enjoyed my stay here.read more
ASALI
ASALI
10:44 01 Jan 18
Offers one of the best accommodation service. It also has a uniquely designed restaurant.
Yi-Hsin Lin
Yi-Hsin Lin
00:53 21 Feb 17
The whole place centers around the scuba diving operation. Probably better to find somewhere else if you're not a diver. The dive operation was generally good, but a little too laid back - schedules weren't always clear, and sometimes would change without any notice. Sometimes it was hard to tell if this was really because of changing tides/weather or because of the island pace of life. Pizza is a surprisingly good option at the restaurant.read more
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