Yap has been on my dive travel bucket list since I got certified to scuba dive over 25 years ago. I’m happy to report I finally made it there. Since we’re currently living in Guam, it was a quick flight over to Yap in the Federated States of Micronesia. Yap is a small island, and there’s not much else to do there other than dive. We made the most of our time there by diving the first three days and doing a tour on the last day.
The coral reefs around Yap are gorgeous, but not quite on the realm of Palau. We noticed some coral bleaching and some anemone bleaching, but not quite as bad as what we’re experiencing here in Guam right now. The main draw of Yap is primarily the manta rays. There are shallow water “cleaning stations” where the local manta population likes to hang out. Being open water and rather elusive creatures, swimming with manta rays is a rare experience. Even at the cleaning stations during the height of mating season, their weekly visits are unpredictable. We did three dives at Stammtisch cleaning station, and only saw one manta, an older female named “Notches,” do a couple of passes. To our delight, one of those passes was right over our heads, so close we had to duck.
We did see a couple of male mantas swim by at another dive site, Vertigo, which is also well known for its resident sharks. The minute the boat pulled up to Vertigo, we saw the mantas, and my entire family grabbed their masks and dove into the water to swim with them. At the same time, a few grey sharks and black tip reef sharks swam up to meet the boat. Several curious black tip reef sharks stayed with us for the entirety of our dive. I love that my 11-year-old and 14-year-old daughters appreciate that they’ve had the rare opportunity to dive with sharks multiple times. Seeing these large wild animals in their natural habitat is truly awe-inspiring. Our Manta Ray Bay Resort dive master, Frank, gathered a shark tooth off the reef for each of my girls. We intend to take them to the Chamorro Village here in Guam to have them made into necklaces or bracelets.
We had the pleasure of diving with Julie Hartup in Yap, one of the primary manta ray scientists for this region of the world. Julie is the founder of the Micronesian Conservation Coalition and is well known for her research and documentation of manta behavior.
Yap’s culture captured our interest during the Festival of Pacific Arts last year. They sent a large delegation of dancers and other artists. To this day, Yap’s people are still in-touch with their tribal roots. Very little of the island is touched by foreigners. A good percentage of the population still lives off the land, and the unique massively-sized stone money that was once the primary currency of Yap is still used today in some transactions.