Manta Champions are all passionate about manta conservation, but Elitza Germanov stands out from the crowd. In 2012 she reported a huge 78 manta encounters in Komodo National Park, earning the title of Manta Champion of the Year. We caught up with Elitza to chat about diving with mantas and why they are such special creatures.
Elitza’s approach to manta monitoring in Komodo is simple. “I love the mantas here and I try to help out. Community monitoring of manta rays is the only way because funds and resources are not available for scientists to monitor them all the time.”
As a frequent user of MantaTrax, Elitza says, “I like MantaWatch’s manta tracking system. It shows you exactly when you’ve uploaded your photo and it shows you who else has participated. You don’t feel that you’re alone in doing this, you feel like there are other people who are also contributing.”
Talking about her most memorable manta encounter causes Elitza to laugh. “I had arrived in Komodo at a time of the year when all the mantas were hanging around the surface feeding. There were so many I didn’t know where to focus my camera. Maybe I got a little too close to one of them because it kind of slapped me on the face! I surfaced and asked if my nose was bleeding and my buddy said ‘no, why?’. I replied ‘I just got punched by a manta!’ Serves me right for getting so close. I’ll never forget it.”
Elitza has many more stories of close encounters. “When I give a dive briefing, I always tell my divers to never touch the mantas. During one dive I was with this guy who didn’t have much hair. He was sitting just behind a manta, and the manta drifted back a little way, until its tail was poking him right in the forehead. I thought: this manta didn’t get the briefing!”
“They’re the most graceful creatures I’ve ever encountered. And to me the most intelligent and playful wild animals I’ve ever had the chance to encounter. They’re very inquisitive. It seems like they actually enjoy, on some level, the presence of divers. I’ve had some approach very close, and look me straight in the eyes. To me they seem very, very smart and intelligent.”
“They’re also a valuable species, because they’re normally associated with healthy ecosystems. When you have manta rays you know you also have a healthy ecosystem.” This is why Elitza supports protecting mantas through CITES, and the development of sustainable alternatives to unregulated manta ray fishing and trade.
“I think CITES should protect them because they’re one of the most beautiful creatures on the planet. All future generations, including local generations, should be able to see them with their own eyes, not just from their grandparent’s stories.”
“To divers I would definitely say put this one on the top of your wish list. I think mantas help widen people’s eyes about the beauty of nature and why we should preserve it. Every time I take somebody diving with mantas they say it was the best experience they’ve ever had with an animal.”