Swimming with Gentle Giants: The Island of Yap Celebrates MantaFest

A giant manta ray photographed during the MantaRay Festival on the island of Yap. Photo by Jim Deckers
A giant manta ray photographed during MantaFest on the island of Yap. Photo by Jim Decker

You know those underwater photos that show a split between what’s above the water and what’s below? Over/Under, or Split Images, is one of the many techniques that underwater photography enthusiasts learned during MantaFest, an annual photography festival held in Yap, Micronesia each year.

MantaFest on Yap

The popular event hosted by the Manta Ray Bay Resort and Yap Divers attracts divers to the small, remote island of Yap in Micronesia to capture images of the renowned resident population of manta rays and their underwater neighbors in and around the reef.

Cameras, lenses, lighting, f-stops, bracketing, to-zoom-or-not-to-zoom and the way color is absorbed the deeper you dive were among the many topics of conversation as visitors from the U.S., Germany, Taiwan, Korea and Canada shared their stories from the days’ dives during the two-week long event.

“We had a great mix of nationalities participating this year,” said Bill Acker, founder of the resort. “They were given exclusive dive areas in small groups with two guides and no bottom time limits to capture their images,” he added, “and they can dive up to four times per day.”

A black-tipped reef shark near the island of Yap in Micronesia. Photo by Jim Decker
A black-tipped reef shark near the island of Yap in Micronesia. Photo by Jim Decker

During the event, professional photographers work closely with the divers who use their choice of digital SLRs, compact cameras or video. Lessons focus on Lightroom work flow, brushes and filters, film editing, drone flying, histograms and shooting wide angle.

At the end of each day, everyone meets in the Crow’s Nest bar atop the Mnuw, an Indonesian schooner anchored next to the hotel that is popular with guests and locals alike, for a pint or two of Manta Ray’s own brewed-on-the-premises beer.

There they watch videos by well-known underwater photographers that are projected on the schooner’s large outdoor screen, review their day’s work, get one-on-one critiques from the pros, and begin to decide which shots they’ll enter in the final competition. More than $25,000 worth of prizes are awarded for the categories of Big Animals, Behavior, Land/Culture, Macro and Reef Scenic.

Diving in Yap

But there’s more than just diving among the 625 species of fish that were catalogued in 2007 around Yap and its Outer Islands. Known for its unique stone money and for being one of the best-preserved cultures in the Pacific region, an introduction to the Yapese way of life is included in the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Island and culture tours include traditional dance performances, visits to one of the world-famous Stone Money Banks where the massive stone discs lean against hand-built community houses, World War II memorials honoring the men who died during the yearlong battle to gain control of the island and more.

Next year’s MantaFest is scheduled for August 24 – September 8, 2019. Packages for 4, 7, 10- or 14-night stays range from $1,039 to $3,239 exclusive of airfare.

If You Visit Yap

Manta Fest

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Janna Graber

Janna Graber is an award-winning American travel journalist and current editor of Go World Travel Magazine. Since moving to Austria at age 19 for college, she's been in love with world travel, and has covered destinations around the globe for more than 55 newspapers, magazines and websites. She's the author of three travel anthology books, including "A Pink Suitecase: 22 Tales of Women's Travel".
Janna Graber
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