Every living organism requires the simple act of being cleaned. Apes pick fleas off each other; birds take dust baths and felines lick their way to a shiny coat. There is a creature which graces the waters of Papua New Guinea that requires the help of another species all together. To ensure its cleanliness and health, the magnificent Manta Ray takes a trip to a special cleaning station just off Gona Bara Bara Island for some parasitic pampering.
So what is a cleaning station exactly? Images of a Manta Ray like carwash may come to mind, but it’s a lot more interesting than that. Mantas suffer from parasites which are tiny organisms that live parasitically on their hosts. If they are not removed the Rays can become infested, and organ failure can occur. The Mantas are unable to remove the parasites themselves so they head to a local cleaning station, a special part of the reef, where there is a large rock or a ‘bommie’. A bommie is a natural spire covered in coral that rises from the sea floor. Living around the bommie are cleaning fish such as Wrasse. Cleaning stations are a bit like Switzerland; they are neutral ground where a peace treaty is adhered to between usual prey and predators. The Mantas glide into the cleaning station like birds of the ocean and enter a trance-like state around the bommie. This signals the Wrasse to get to work by eating up all of the parasites in the Rays mouths and around their bodies. The Rays get clean, and the Wrasse get a tasty meal without the fear of being eaten. This whole process is called mutualism which means that organisms from different species exist in mutually beneficial relationships with larger creatures.
Diving with the Rays at Gona Bara Bara is a unique experience. The Manta Rays here have come to love the tickle of bubbles from diver’s scuba gear and due to their non-aggressive nature they even like a stroke from your hand across their bellies. The Rays like to be approached in a slow and gentle way. They must feel safe and respected otherwise, they will swim away at lightning speed, and you will miss the opportunity to watch the fascinating way they are cleaned.The cleaning station at Gona Bara Bara Island is one of the best places on earth to watch these highly intelligent and majestic creatures. The Rays love it here because it’s located near the China Strait which means lots of strong currents are flowing in bringing in a banquet of plankton for the Mantas to feast on. In 2002, Craig De Wit, skipper of the liveaboard MV Golden Dawn, discovered the cleaning station when one of his workers started telling him about all the Rays that hung out near his Island home of Gona Bara Bara. He aptly named the station Giants @ Home and has been hosting dive tours ever since.
Gudmundur (Gummi) Fridriksson, is the CEO of Paga Hill Development Company (PNG) Ltd, overseeing the development of Paga Hill Estate, a world-class, master planned estate located in the heart of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. Gudmundur first arrived in Papua New Guinea over 20 years ago and is passionate about sharing PNG’s natural beauty and diverse cultures with the world. Find out more about Gudmundur Fridriksson on his website: http://www.gummifridriksson.com/ and about the Paga Hill Estate development at http://www.pagahillestate.com