Manta Ray Research Programme

 

The team at Barefoot Conservation are running a manta ray monitoring program in Raja Ampat. Volunteers joining a Barefoot expedition are highly unlikely not to see manta rays while diving in the area. A common cleaning station for Manta Rays is a short boat trip away, dubbed “Manta Sandy” this is one of the observation sites for the monitoring program.

Volunteers wishing to participate in the program are trained to recognize key characteristics, markings and behaviors of the gentle giants as well as their ecology, biology and conservation. Mantas are commonly sighted while out on other dives and have even been know to sneak up on unsuspecting project scientists! The manta in the picture below was estimated to have a wing span of 4 to 5 meters and kept volunteers and staff company on their safety stop on a Saturday fun dive at “Blue Magic” (not bad company!)

Mantas Rays, being the largest species of all Rays, are threatened with Extinction. With slow reproductive rates and large number of threats, including the Gill Raker Industry, Direct Fishing, Fishing Bycatch and Boat Strikes, their populations have plummeted over the last 15 years. This increasing threat represented in the up-listing of Manta Rays conservation status from ‘Near Threatened’ to ‘Vulnerable to Extinction’ by the IUCN and a proliferation of protection measures globally to ensure their long-term survival. It is essential that information is gathered on these spectacular creatures to support development of effective conservation measures. Expeditions such as these gathering information on Manta Rays can help shed light on movement patterns of individuals and vital habitats that they use.

Since 2014 all of Indonesia’s territorial waters have essentially been designated as a protected area for Manta Rays, when national legislation was passed making it illegal to capture these beautiful creatures. This positive move by the Indonesian government has created the largest no take zone for Manta Rays in the world. Even earlier, since 2012 the 8 MPAs in Raja Ampat were designed as a special sanctuary for Rays and Sharks and the habitats they depend on, including the spectacular coral reefs found here. These coral reefs are fortunately still relatively untouched by coral bleaching, which has devastated much of the coral reefs around the world. Yet another sad knock on effect of humans impacts on our climate. Raja Ampats reefs seem to be particularly resilient to temperature changes which has buffered some of the effects. We hope to see this continue as the level of biodiversity and life these reefs hold is breathtaking. Because of these unique conditions we have a good chance of seeing Mantas on this expedition and studying the individuals we encounter. With both species of Manta Rays being present, the larger more secretive and much less observed Oceanic Mantas which can reach up to 7.5m width from wing tip to wing tip, to the smaller but no less spectacular Reef Mantas which can reach up to 5m

 

Manta Ray at Blue Magic dive site