Missing mantas due to COVID-19 lockdowns and dive restrictions, Jason Fondis and a group of friends in Nusa Penida, Indonesia, who either own or work at local dive centers decided to visit a site called Manta Point.
Early on in the dive, Fondis noticed one of the divers swimming toward a manta with her knife extended. He figured it might have a fishing line hanging off of it and swam over to help. “I managed to get behind the manta and I see this long trailing piece of line,” Fondis says. “I had my scissors out on approach, but I missed.”
The manta swam away and, while the group kept an eye out for her, she didn’t reappear until the end of the dive. That time, they were able to approach her.
“She seemed to know we were there to help, so she slowed down — really slowed down — to let us help,” Fondis says. “You could see the trailing piece of line from her rear clearly, but it wasn't until I was right up close and had cut it that I realized there was lots, lots more.”
Fondis recalls the line wrapping around the right side of the manta’s body so tight that her skin started growing over it.
“It must have been really painful,” he says. “When we removed some bits, it was like removing stitches, as I had clipped the line above and below and we just gently pulled it out. It was incredible and sad all at once.”
When he initially noticed that the manta was wrapped up, Fondis says natural instinct kicked in. His team had come across mantas and other animals with hooks or line caught around them, and he’d cut line off of them before.
About 10 years ago, he was working in Borneo and came across a turtle trailing a sizeable amount of line and a hook in its flipper. When he tried to cut the line, he realized the sawing motion of the knife — even when done carefully — caused discomfort to the wound and made the turtle swim off without being freed of the line.
“From that day on I bought a pair of regular stainless steel scissors and had them in my BCD pocket so I could snip away anything without causing undue harm,” Fondis says.
And on dives like this recent manta encounter, that tool has made all the difference.
“It was an amazingly beautiful, rewarding, memorable experience that I’ll never forget,” Fondis says. “But was also profoundly sad that we had to get involved.”