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Thursday, July 11, 2013

     "The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t." 

                         Christopher Paolini

     One of the absolute must-do trips on Uepi Island is an early-morning snorkelling trip to the nearby cleaning station and feeding area which is regularly visited by highly endangered Reef Manta Rays (Manta Alfredi). This well-known cleaning station lays within Marovo Lagoon about ten minutes by boat from the resort. Mantas arrive here each morning to spend a few hours in warm, shallow waters for the removal of their external parasites by cleaner fish who feed around their mouth and gill slits, or simply rest on manta's body surface. As well as other pelagics, mantas also seem to have an excellent cognitive map of their environment and visit these areas repeatedly. During the cleaning process they stay close to the surface and offer the visitors out-of-this-world experience by welcoming them into their world and allowing them to swim with them. The trip lasts about 45 minutes depending on how quickly the boat driver can find them, and will only cost you about AUD $25.

     There are two recognized species of manta rays: the larger species, Manta birostris, migrates across open oceans and reaches 7 m in width, while the smaller, Manta alfredi, reaches 5.5 m and tends to be resident and coastal. A third possible species, preliminarily called Manta sp. cf. birostris, reaches 6 m, and inhabits the tropical west Atlantic, including the Caribbean. Manta rays are filter feeders and eat large quantities of zooplankton, which they swallow with their open mouths as they swim.

     In 2011, mantas became strictly protected in international waters by The Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals, while The International Union for Conservation of Nature declared Mantas to be "vulnerable with an elevated risk of extinction". The greatest threat to manta rays remains overfishing. Although individual nations are protecting manta rays, they often migrate through unregulated waters, putting them at increased risk in these areas. Because mantas are not evenly distributed over the oceans but concentrated in areas that provide the food resources, and also because of their long lifespan and low reproductive rate, overfishing can severely reduce local populations. Manta rays are also subject to other anthropogenic threats such as pollution, plastic in the ocean, and entanglement in fishing nets. Because mantas must swim constantly to flush oxygen-rich water over their gills, they are vulnerable to entanglement and subsequent suffocation. 

     Ironically, the flavour of manta's flesh has always been quite unattractive compared to other fish. Demand for their gill rakers, the cartilaginous structures protecting the gills, has however recently entered Chinese medicine. As a health care practitioner I can confirm that shark or manta's cartilage has never been part of any tradition in the history of Natural Medicine, and it has no scientific background as there is absolutely nothing healthy or nutritionally beneficial in ingesting the cartilaginous structures of these animals. However to fill the growing demand in Asia for gill rakers, targeted fisheries have been established in Philippines, Indonesia, Mozambique, Madagascar, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Tanzania, and thousands of manta rays are killed purely for their gill rakers each year. Manta’s life span, reproductive ecology and migratory patterns still remain a mystery. No one has ever seen a manta to give birth in the wild. Let's hope they'll keep their secret safe before we'll take it away from them too soon.



  • Manta Matcher: After the success of the Ecocean whale shark database, Manta Matcher was specifically designed to enable researchers to upload and organize individually identified manta rays in their populations, and thus represents the first global manta ray database. 
  • Manta Ecology Project: This project was initiated in 2001 in Maldives to study the behavioural ecology of mantas from observations at their cleaning stations. In 2005 the project was formalised and a database was developed to store the burgeoning data on mantas identified. By 2010 there were nearly 2000 mantas recorded and the database continues to grow by about 200 new mantas each year. Research currently involves investigations on the differences in physical characteristics and markings patterns between mantas. Current research projects also include investigations into the social behaviours of individual mantas, agonistic behaviours between individuals to determine priority at cleaning stations and co-operative behaviour whilst feeding.    


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