Researchers Discover First Manta Ray Nursery in Southeast Asia

Written by on November 4, 2015 in Marine Life

An international team of scientists recently discovered the first manta ray nursery in Southeast Asia, which will be critical to improving conservation efforts in the area.

Misool Manta Project’s Calvin Beale tagging a manta ray. Photo © Shawn Heinrichs.

Misool Manta Project’s Calvin Beale tagging a manta ray. Photo © Shawn Heinrichs.

The discovery of the nursery, located in Raja Ampat, Indonesia, confirmed that manta rays from Bali migrate across known hunting grounds, which puts Indonesia’s manta tourism industry (worth US$15 million each year) at risk. Indonesia is home to the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary, which was established in 2014. The results of this study will help improve management of the sanctuary and of mantas in surrounding areas.

To learn more about manta rays and where they go, researchers tracked 33 individuals with custom-made satellite tags in four regions of Indonesia. Among the tracked mantas were eight pregnant females, which led researchers to aggregations of newborns and juveniles in Wayag Lagoon in Raja Ampat.

The study, conducted by Resorts World Sentosa’s S.E.A. Aquarium, Conservation International (CI), and the Indonesian government, was the largest satellite tagging project ever undertaken in the area.

Feeding mantas. Photo © Shawn Heinrichs.

Feeding mantas. Photo © Shawn Heinrichs.

“This project with S.E.A. Aquarium has allowed us to acquire extremely valuable data on the behaviour and ecology of Indonesian manta rays,” Dr. Mark Erdmann, Vice President of Asia Pacific Marine Programmes for Conservation International who led the effort, explained in a news release. “The data has now been shared with the Indonesian government to inform better management and conservation policy and provide even stronger justification to stop the unsustainable hunting – not only for the mantas but also for the benefit of the thousands of Indonesians who depend on manta ray tourism for livelihoods.”

Manta rays are hunted for their gill plates, which  — for no scientific or evidence-based reasons — are used in traditional Chinese medicine. They’re particularly vulnerable to overfishing because of their slow growth and reproduction. The results from this study will (hopefully) motivate the government to increase enforcement efforts to stop manta ray hunting, especially in these critical areas.

The researchers plan on expanding this work to other regions, while continuing to work with governments “to better manage and protect these economically-valuable populations,” added Dr. Erdmann.

To learn more:

Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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