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Yap is most famous for its resident population of manta rays that come to cleaning stations in the channels between the shallow lagoon that surrounds the island and the open Pacific Ocean beyond. It is assumed that the mantas also use the shallow and protected inner lagoons and magroves to give birth to their live young, though this is still yet to be witnessed first hand.

But there is more to diving in Yap than manta rays. Being in the western section of Micronesia Yap has an abundance of coral reefs teeming with fish of every shape & size, and spectacularly deep walls that drop off into the ocean abyss.

But despite the reefs that abound in Yap, people ultimately want to see the 100 or so mantas that make Yap their home year round. In the winter, from December to April they live on the western side of the island, being groomed by cleaner wrasse at the cleaning stations in M’il Channel and mating their time away! In the summer they are usually found on the eastern side of the island, in Goofnow Channel and at the Valley of the Rays.

The mantas come to the cleaning stations to be tended to by cleaner wrasse and certain species of other reef fish pick parasites from their skin and in their cavernous mouths. The rays swoop in like giant stealth bombers to hang, suspended above the coral outcrops on the edge of the channels that are the cleaning stations. They hover for a few minutes before swooping round, letting someone else have a turn. If you are in the tight place you can quite literally look down the gaping maw of a 14ft manta ray and look out through their gills! During the winter mating season as many as 12 mantas can be seen flying in bomber formation through the channels.

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  • MI’L CHANNEL
    A channel that runs through the barrier reef on the western side of the Yap, this is perhaps the most famous dive site in Yap and, with Goofnow Channel on the other side of the island, is probably the best manta dive in the world. The channel varies from 50-100ft deep, though at the entrance on the seaward side the bottom slopes way into the depths of the Pacific. At the area where the cleaning stations are to be found the sand and rubble bottom is about 50 or 60ft deep, and the sides of the channel rise in a gentle slope to the shallows. The reef top is in only a few feet of water. On the northern side of the channel a series of small coral heads rise from the reef; these are the cleaning stations, and known as Manta Ridge, a ridge of coral that juts into the channel and thus accentuating the current that flows with the tide. For the photographer, the best place to be is leaning into the current, behind the coral heads that dot the ridge, keeping low and out of trouble until the mantas approach. The mantas will then come in to the stations and hover there while being cleaned. On an incoming tide it is possible to drift down the sides of the channel from the ocean and stop at Manta Ridge. You can, on occasion, see the mantas coming in along the channel at your side! The sides of the channel are an array of hard and soft corals, including great carpets of leather & purple soft corals. Beyond Manta Ridge the channel becomes wider and deeper, and the current, spread over a wider area, slackens off. At Manta Ray Bay, in about 60ft a large coral bommie acts as another cleaning station. Here you can kneel on the sandy bottom at watch the mantas come in to be cleaned. Unusually, butterflyfish & angelfish are also common cleaning species in this area.
  • VERTIGO
    Motor out of Mi’l Channel and hang a left down the reef and you will find Vertigo. Here the reef drops from about 20ft to over 300ft, and is the deepest and most spectacular of all the drop-offs. Here can be found the sheer drops so famous to coral reefs around the world, where grey reef sharks, whitetips and turtles can be seen cruising the open water. Due to its close proximity to Mi’l Channel you can often see mantas cruising by. The shallows are a series of coral gardens interspersed with large scattered coral bommies that offer protection for sweetlips, snapper and other fish. From about 80ft a profusion of black coral trees sprout from the reef, and are home to a variety of small reef fish and interesting macro critters.

  • YAP CAVERNS
    One of the most famous "non-manta" dives in Yap, these caverns and swim-throughs cut into the coral wall at the southern most point in Yap from between 10 and 60ft down the wall. The sunlight plays into these caverns giving them a tranquil quality as it flickers through the surface water and reflects off the sandy bottom. The fissures are covered in cup corals and hydroids, soft corals and algae and are home to a host of critters from nudibranchs to gobies. Whitetips are frequently seen resting on the sand that covers the canyon floors, and morays can be found in the numerous holes.. On the outside of the reef you can expect to see schooling barracuda, humpheaded parrotfish and occasionally tuna & rainbow runner. Grey reef sharks are another frequent visitor to the area.

  • YAP CORNER
    This is a recently discovered dive site, and is similar to its namesake in Palau, Blue Corner, but with a considerably less original name!!! A coral outcrop jutting out from the main wall that drops from 20ft to well beyond the reach of your average sport diver, Yap Corner’s 2 knot currents sweep a variety of grey reef sharks, large schools of snapper, jacks, barracuda and eagle rays along the wall. The faster the current the more action there is!

  • LIONFISH WALL
    The southern most point of Yap’s fringing reef, this wall juts out into the Pacific, allowing currents to wash over it in all directions. Coral growth is prolific, and as a consequence there is plenty of fish action also. A 130ft vertical drop to a 70ft slope and then a ledge at 200ft, then tips into the abyss. The entire reef is covered in daisy corals and multicolour feather stars., and the numerous holes in the reef are home to dozens of lionfish that feed on the numerous glassfish and other smaller fish species that frequent the reef. The upper reaches of the wall are resplendent with thousands of yellow fairy basslets and the eagle eyed may spy the odd leaf fish flopping this way and that in the gentle current. The deep water off the reef is home to numerous sharks, turtles, eagle rays, tuna, mantas and schooling fish such as jacks, barracuda, bass & snapper.

  • VALLEY OF THE RAYS
    Valley of the Rays is a section of Goofnow Channel, the eastern side of Yap’s answer to Mi’l Channel. It is here that the mantas can be found during the summer months of May – November. The sandy channel floor is about 50-70ft deep and numerous coral outcrops dotted across the seabed act as the manta cleaning stations. The largest is a monstrous lettuce coral formation called the Merry-Go-Round and is the largest single cleaning station in Yap. A similar, but smaller lettuce coral formation on the northern side of the channel is called the Carwash. A mere 60ft from Carwash is a large coral boomie that rises 40ft from the seabed to within 30ft of the surface; Manta Rock is a good place for divers to seek some shelter if the current is strong! The rim of the channel is covered in magnificent formations of plate & staghorn corals. Mantas come to the cleaning stations in the morning; when the current is running they hover motionless, nose into the current, as the cleaning fish go about their duty. If the current is slack they tend to move slowly (as slowly as possible for a 12ft manta is hard work!) about above the cleaning stations, allowing the fish to dart out for a few seconds before popping back to the safety of their homes.

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