Scientists target manta ray mysteries

May 01, 2007
Scientists target manta ray mysteries
Manta rays are one of the ocean's mysteries. Photo: Andrea Marshall

Manta rays are hard to miss —big, black and stretching up to seven metres wide, but scientists are still in the dark about the world's largest ray.

A team of UQ scientists is joining forces with industry and government partners to launch the most comprehensive study of manta rays yet.

Project Manta will detail manta ray populations, their behaviours, feeding patterns, movements, migrations using observations and satellite imagery and will identify individuals via DNA and photographic analysis.

One of the project's lead scientists, Dr Kathy Townsend, said little was known about manta rays, which were listed as vulnerable by the World Conservation Union.

“Manta rays are a big ecotourism drawcard, forming the basis of multimillion dollar industries around the globe,” Dr Townsend said.

“Our research focuses on the population of manta rays along the eastern seaboard of Australia and includes Moreton Bay and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

“Surprisingly, basic information about their population, lifespan, migrations and breeding information remains unknown.”

Dr Townsend said local divers and snorkellers, some with 20 years of diving photos, would be involved in creating an image database to identify manta rays.

“We specifically want the pictures of the underbelly of the manta ray because this can be used to identify individuals,” she said.

“The black and white pattern is as unique as a fingerprint.”

She said much of the research work would start in October when the manta rays returned to Moreton Bay Marine Park.

Fellow lead scientists,Associate Professor Mike Bennett and Dr Scarla Weeks said the project built on a four-year-study of the world's largest known manta ray population off the Mozambican coast by UQ PhD student Andrea Marshall.

“We are in a unique position of having over a decade's worth of data on Australian, African and Japanese manta ray populations which together with satellite imagery, will allow us to address many questions about the rays' biology,” Associate Professor Bennett said.

Project Manta will also address the broader issues of the effect of climate change on the marine environment.

“Understanding the manta ray's feeding activities, movements and migrations in relation to oceanic conditions will allow us to use this highly visible species as a biological indicator of ecosystem impacts resulting from climate change,” Dr Weeks said.

Dr Townsend said the project had support from Consolidated Rutile Limited (CRL), South East Queensland Catchment, Lady Elliott Eco Resort, Undersea Explorer and Bounty Divers from Norfolk Island.

“Manta rays are a key drawcard for divers and naturalists and generally all of those that use Moreton Bay and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park,” CRL Environment and Community Relations Manager Paul Smith said.

“By sponsoring research into this animal that lives right on our doorstep, we can assist not just manta rays, but the marine environment for future generations.”

Source: University of Queensland

Explore further: 221 new species described by the California Academy of Sciences in 2014

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Uphill battle to tackle Indonesian shark fishing

Dec 17, 2014

Sharks are hauled ashore every day at a busy market on the central Indonesian island of Lombok, the hub of a booming trade that provides a livelihood for local fishermen but is increasingly alarming environmentalists.

A case study of manta rays and lagoons

Jul 02, 2014

Douglas McCauley, a new assistant professor in UC Santa Barbara's Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, does fieldwork in one of the most isolated places in the world—Palmyra Atoll. About ...

Recommended for you

Ninety-eight new beetle species discovered in Indonesia

2 hours ago

Ninety-eight new species of the beetle genus Trigonopterus have been described from Java, Bali and other Indonesian islands. Museum scientists from Germany and their local counterparts used an innovative approa ...

Bacteria are wishing you a Merry Xmas

3 hours ago

A bacterium has been used to wish people a Merry Xmas. Grown by Dr Munehiro Asally, an Assistant Professor at the University of Warwick, the letters used to spell MERRY XMAS are made of Bacillus subtilis, ...

Pragmatic approach to saving what can be saved

3 hours ago

How can biodiversity be preserved in a world in which traditional ecosystems are increasingly being displaced by "man-made nature"? Biologists at the TU Darmstadt and ETH Zurich have developed a new concept ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.