Martin Clunes: Man to Mantas

Martin Clunes seeks to fulfil a burning ambition to swim with one of the sea’s most enormous and enigmatic creatures in ITV1’s new documentary Man to Mantas.

Already a qualified diver, Martin’s fascination for the underwater world has been fuelled by family holidays to the Maldives. Like many divers his quest has been to see a giant manta ray, one of the most iconic species on the planet.

In Man to Mantas, Martin sets off to realise his dream. The first port of call is the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean which was once the favourite haunt of manta rays but now sightings are extremely rare.

It has now dubbed ‘stingray city’ and Martin’s introduction to the exotic underwater world comes when he gets to kiss a stingray. Stingrays can be lethal, but here in this tourist spot they have become used to human contact.

His search takes him onto the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta in the USA, which cost $300m to build and covers an area of 20 acres, giving the creatures proper space to live in, and one of only three places in the world able to keep mantas.

The film follows Martin as he plunges into the giant tank, the size of an American football pitch, to swim with mantas, whale sharks, sting rays, hammerheads and giant groupers.

He meets Nandi, a manta which was rescued after getting trapped and injured in nets off the coast of South Africa, and slowly nursed back to health.

Martin travels to Ecuador to meet the world’s foremost expert on
manta ray biology, Dr Andrea Marshall and British diving instructor, Mark Harding who established that there are over 300 mantas living in these waters.

They are trying to unravel the mystery of where the manta rays go, by attaching satellite tags. His next port of call is Sri Lanka where mantas are being hunted by fisherman because their gills are now a valuable ingredient in Chinese medicine. He also visits a turtle hatchery, and helps to release baby turtles back into the ocean.

Martin’s dream finally comes true on the last leg of his journey, travelling across the Indian Ocean to the Maldives. In the crystal clear waters of Hanifaru lagoon Martin takes the plunge to swim with 40 feeding mantas.

Thursday, 6 January 2011, 9:00PM – 10:00PM ITV1