Falling in love...
She may have dive records and started ocean conservation trusts, but these aren't the reasons why people dig her and they're not the reasons that allow her to do what she does. It's something much more unquantifiable than that, Hanli Prinsloo is all heart, everyday, 24hrs a day. Below is a little piece on her latest trip to the Maldives, she's fallen in love...
All photos taken by the gifted - Jean Marie Ghislain
Falling in love the Maldivian way
The water is a whole new shade of blue. A vivid clarity that moves turquoise onto a new level of inviting. I have never seen water like this. Whole schools of fish, blue, yellow, silvery slithery and pitch black cloud around us, unafraid, unaware. Fish are fun. But I want something else. Manta rays. The Maldives are famous for their manta ray population, and I am yet to experience this creature. Images, video and the stories of friends have captured my attention, and I want to see for myself.
We arrive at the Baa Atoll on our fifth day. This is the home of famous Hanifaru bay. A relatively shallow lagoon surrounded by coral. Winds and currents create a unique plankton extravaganza every year at this time, the mantas come in their hundreds to feed.
We anchor the diving boat in the late afternoon light and I slip on my monofin. The water here is just below 30°C so all I need is mask and fin. No wetsuit. Pure joy for a cold Cape local.
The water has an eerie milky quality to it, the blue leaning to green- the plankton softening the edges of the usually crystalline. I dive down, peering into the distance. Where are they? We have heard rumours of the decrease in numbers, the unreliability of the season. Just as my lungs start to beg for air I see her… a white shape moving slowly through the aquasphere. I relax a little more to stretch my oxygen, I want to stay here. The white shape enters my space and the wide open mouth of the manta becomes clear, then the gently undulating wings, the lobes around the mouth. I am mesmerised. The Manta doesn’t seem to notice me, or does and doesn’t mind, but she stays on course, heading straight to me. I float a little higher and she passes under me, to straighten out my arm would’ve been a touch. I watch her disappear and kick up to the surface, gasping and laughing, overwhelmed by beauty. I make my surface time as short as is still safe and go back down. Waiting. A wall of mantas appear from the dusk. Four, five, ten like a flock of large birds flying impossibly slow they surround me. Keeping still they pass by me like ghosts. Looking up I marvel at the soft white belly. Black markings on the white makes each manta unique, names etched into white skin. I feel my heartbeat slow down, surrounded by their peacefulness. Never before have I see something so large be so graceful, so elegant, so utterly self-contained… and enough.
Dive after dive breath after breath I get to know them. If I do this, how do they respond. If I join in a looping, arching acrobatic dive, are we dancing?
The sun sets and the lagoon gets dark. The other divers have left the water. Can I stay? Just one more dive, please. Plankton in my hair, salt in my eyes and mantas in my heart I leave this feasting playground to dream of white bellied angels flying in formation, only to do it all again tomorrow.