Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP)
Guy Stevens – Chief Executive | Founder
Guy has always been fascinated by the natural world, and growing up on a farm in the South West of the UK surrounded by nature provided him with a seemingly limitless supply of weird and wonderful creatures to discover. He always knew he wanted to make a career from studying animals, but it wasn’t until he was given a tropical fish tank at the age of eleven that his passion for the underwater world began. From that moment forward when people asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up, he would say “I want to study fish!” So, true to his word he progressed through school and college with this in mind and in 2002 he graduated from the University of Plymouth with a degree in Marine Biology.
University opened his mind to the rest of the world and he was hungry to travel and explore as much of it as he could. Visiting and diving in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia he knew he wanted to work in one of these tropical destinations, so in 2003 when he saw a job advertising for a marine biologist to work in the Maldives he knew it was the job for him.
The Maldives is a marine biologist’s paradise and it was in the Maldives that Guy had his first underwater encounter with manta rays. He was enthralled by these amazingly graceful and inquisitive rays and from that moment forward he has been driven by a desire to learn as much about them as possible. In 2005 he founded the Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) with the aim of helping to conserve this country’s manta population through active research and education. His work with manta rays now takes him to other corners of the world, but the Maldives for him will always be the best place to see and study these amazing animals. Guy is now working towards the completion of his PhD on his manta research at the University of York in the United Kingdom.
Guy’s conservation efforts in the Maldives have led to the creation several Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) at key manta aggregation sites, most notably at Hanifaru Bay, where his work was featured in the National Geographic Magazine in July 2009. This amazing location, situated in Baa Atoll, was in 2011 also declared a core protected area within the newly designated UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that encompasses the entirety of Baa Atoll. Guy and his conservation efforts have also featured in over a dozen TV documentaries; including a BBC Natural World Special, National Geographic Worldwide & ABC’s “Project Manta”, ITV ‘s “Man to Manta”, Channel 4’s “Big Fish Fight”, 60 minutes Australia and the BBC’s “How Life Works”.
Thomas P. Peschak is a Fellow of the ILCP (International League of Conservation Photographers) and a contributing photographer to National Geographic Magazine. He leads a near nomadic existence and spends 300 days per year in the field on assignments around the world. He was recently named as one of the 40 most influential nature photographers in the world.
He trained as a marine biologist and specialised in kelp forest ecology, shark conservation and the impacts of illegal fishing. He retired from science to pursue a life dedicated to environmental photojournalism after realizing that he could have a bigger conservation impact with his photographs than statistics.
A dedicated conservation photographer he believes strongly that photographs are one of the most effective weapons in conservation today. His feature story on manta rays of the Maldives appeared in National Geographic magazine in 2009 and resulted in the proclamation of a marine reserve and protection for these rays. He is presently spearheading campaigns to make marine reserves more effective in Africa, stop unsustainable shark fisheries and raise awareness of manta ray conservation in Sri Lanka. In 2010 he was part of a small team of photojournalists that travelled to Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest to create a photographic legacy to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline from destroying this unique coastal wilderness forever.
Thomas believes that the combined force of photojournalists, conservation NGOs and local communities is very powerful. He has worked as the official photographer of WWF-SA (World Wide Fund for Nature) and for four years spearheaded the Conservation Photography Unit as Chief Photographer for the Save our Seas Foundation where is is now Director of Conservation. Thomas is a multiple winner in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards and in 2011 he received a World Press Photo Award for his work.
To learn more about Tom please check his website www.thomaspeschak.com
Born in Germany and raised in Africa, nature had always played an important part in Isabel’s life; however she fell in love with the ocean the minute she took her first breath underwater, during a SCUBA diving course in Central America. It was then that she knew she had discovered her passion. After graduating with a joint honours degree in Biology and Management in the UK, Isabel traveled to South East Asia to explore the fascinating underwater world and between 2007–2009 repeatedly returned to Indonesia to work as a PADI scuba diving instructor.
Her growing desire to protect the ocean meant that in 2010 Isabel left her job at a multinational company to work for the Save Our Seas Foundation. Based in London, she was responsible for marketing and coordinating projects ranging from Palau to Mozambique. A year later, Isabel moved to Australia to complete a M.Sc. in Marine Biology at James Cook University. With the Great Barrier Reef in her backyard she immediately felt at home and after graduating became the project leader for the Queensland swim-with minke whales ecotourism program.
Yet mantas secretly remained her favourites, and in 2013 Isabel came to the Maldives to meet the Maldivian Manta Ray Project team. Isabel has since developed a number of educational materials, organised and participated in a research expedition to West Africa and established a new Manta Trust liveaboard partnership in the Maldives.
In 2014 she took on the new, exciting role of Head of Conservation Strategy for the Manta Trust. Her primary focus will be to coordinate the Manta Trust Global Mobulid Programme, which includes workshops to implement CITES legislation, support for Mobula CMS and CITES listing and public engagement/outreach towards local communities to encourage the development of alternative livelihoods. In June 2014, Isabel participated in an IUCN workshop to develop a Global Devil and Manta Ray Conservation Strategy, which is already proving incredibly useful for aligning the Manta Trust objectives with the globally agreed vision to protect these beautiful, charismatic rays.
Josh Stewart – Associate Director
As a marine biologist and an underwater videographer, Josh has studied and filmed mantas around the world. For his degree in marine biology, Josh spent several years studying coral recruitment on historic shipwrecks in the Dominican Republic. It was during one of these projects that he saw his first manta ray, and was instantly taken by the beauty and grace of these amazing animals.
As a Rolex Scholar, Josh spent a year travelling the world, working with leading filmmakers, biologists and conservationists to gain a current, real-world perspective on the most pressing marine conservation issues of our day. Despite working with other charismatic megafauna such as great white sharks, Josh was drawn to mantas once again after his time in the Maldives, and is now dedicated to understanding and protecting these amazing creatures.
Josh has filmed for National Geographic and Animal Planet, as well as producing a number of independent documentaries and video shorts, one of which earned him the Australian Geographic Spirit of Adventure Award in 2010. He is currently a PhD student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and is being supported by a National Science Foundation Fellowship for his research on manta rays.
Daniel grew up in Sri Lanka before moving to Germany for his undergraduate degree in biomedical science and then on to the United Kingdom for his graduate studies. Upon completion of his M.Sc. in Marine Resources Management from the National Oceanography Centre in the UK, he returned to Sri Lanka, both for the warmer waters and to put his passion for conservation biology to good use.
Daniel first encountered manta rays in the Maldives where he learned to dive, but it was on a return trip to the Maldives in 2010 when he visited Hanifaru Bay that Daniel rediscovered these graceful giants and re-ignited his desire to learn more about these fascinating creatures. It was on this trip that Daniel first met Guy Stevens, who later while visiting the fish markets in Sri Lanka with Thomas Peschak, encouraged Daniel to get involved in manta research and conservation of the animals which are being fished in significant numbers in Sri Lankan waters.
Daniel’s work on the manta and mobula ray fisheries in Sri Lanka has revealed some important information on the scale and impact of this fishery. This work has been highlighted in the ITV documentary “Man to Manta” which starred Martin Clunes. Daniel has also worked on several other wildlife documentary initiatives in Sri Lanka and hopes his conservation efforts, through awareness and research will drive the protection of these amazing animals in his home country. He is currently a PhD student at Linnaeus University (Sweden) supported by a Fellowship for his research on the mobulid rays of South Asia.
Shawn Heinrichs – Associate Director
Shawn is a passionate cinematographer, scuba diver, and marine conservationist. An independent filmmaker and founder of Blue Sphere Media, a production company specializing in underwater, adventure and conservation films, he has acquired considerable first-hand knowledge of the oceans most important marine areas. He has worked with leading film and journalist teams including CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Yann Arthus Bertrand, and National Geographic and delivered projects for many of the top marine conservation organizations including WildAid, Shark Savers, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and Pew Environment Group. And teaming up with John Weller, the two are creating a global film series to raise awareness and support campaigns for marine conservation.
As an investigative conservation journalist, Shawn has gone undercover to expose stories in some of the most remote or challenging locations and his work has provided a rare view of the people and some of the more disturbing elements of the endangered species trade. His investigative footage and images have been used as centerpieces for documentaries and campaigns reaching hundreds of millions of people. In his drive to spread the word, Shawn has published numerous conservation articles and given presentations on marine conservation to audiences across the globe.
Key areas of Shawn’s conservation focus include ending shark finning, protecting manta and mobula rays, and establishing marine protected areas. He is a key member of team that has been creating marine protected areas in Raja Ampat, the heart of the Coral Triangle. As part of a special coalition, he is working to establish shark sanctuaries and shark fin legislation across the Pacific. Recent wins in Hawaii, Saipan and Guam attest to the importance of this endeavor. And as Project Lead for Manta Ray of Hope, the team has launched a global study, campaign, and documentary to address severe and escalating threat to manta and mobula rays. Shawn is an international board member of WildAid and a board member of Shark Savers.
Mary O’Malley – Associate Director
As a diver and photographer, Mary has dove with mantas and over thirty different species of sharks throughout the world and has always been fascinated by these incredible animals. When she learned that sharks and mantas were being devastated by overfishing, she decided to dedicate herself to marine conservation efforts with a primary focus on manta rays and sharks.
Mary’s professional experience – working for various companies and as a business owner – has ranged from Market Analysis, Systems Design, Project Management, Large Enterprise Sales to International Sales Management with responsibility for building and managing worldwide distribution networks. She has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration and a graduate degree in International Business Studies.
Mary is Project Manager for Manta Ray of Hope, a collaborative initiative to address the severe and escalating threat to manta and mobula rays, and is also active in a number of shark conservation projects. She serves on the Board of Directors of Shark Savers.
Paul Hilton – Associate Director
Paul Hilton is a photojournalist, who focuses on global environmental and conservation issues. Presently, Paul is working on a manta and mobula ray project, ‘Manta Ray of Hope’, documenting the plight of the great rays and investigating and the use of gill rakers in traditional Chinese medicine in Hong Kong and Southern China.
Six years ago,Paul started working for Greenpeace International, focusing on a variety of marine issues, from bluefin tuna to satellite tagging of humpback whales in the Pacific. Late in 2012, he was sent to the Maldives to document one of the only true sustainable pole-and-line tuna fisheries in the world.
Paul has received numerous awards for his conservation photography, including awards in the Asian Geographic Best of the Decade series, for conservation photography and photojournalism. He also won the Ark Trust Award for exposing bear bile farming in China, for Animals Asia Foundation. Hilton’s photos were published in the book, Black Market, which deals with the wildlife trade in Asia, and included investigative photojournalism in the wild-animal markets and theme parks of China.
In 2009, Paul became a member of the prestigious International League of Conservation Photographers, and in 2010 launched his first book, highlighting the global shark-finning industry, Man & Shark.
In 2012 he won a World Press Photo award for his body of work on the Shark Fin issue and also the Veolia Wildlife photographer of the year for the Photo ‘End of Sharks’.
Paul has played a key role in bringing the plight of mantas and the issue of manta ray fisheries to light with his images. He also conducted the first ever markets survey and DNA analyses of the gill raker trade in Hong Kong, China and Macau working together with the Guy Harvey Institute.
Sarah Lewis – Project Leader (Indonesia)
With a life-long fascination of the natural world, Sarah has always strived to make a career learning more about it, and ultimately helping to conserve it. With this aspiration in mind, Sarah went on to gain a first class honours degree in Ecology and Conservation.
Despite nature’s many wonders Sarah has always been drawn to the marine rather than terrestrial environment and her decision to follow this career path was confirmed while studying for a year in Australia, where she spent most of her time diving and exploring Australia’s diversity of marine life. It was during this year, on a marine biology field trip, that Sarah encountered her first manta ray and was immediately captivated. But it wasn’t until a few years later when she started working as a research assistant for the Maldivian Manta Ray Project that she got the chance to study these incredible rays.
Realising the urgent need for manta research and conservation in Indonesia, Sarah founded the Indonesian Manta Project in 2010, and from her base in Bali she spends her time travelling throughout Indonesia with a mission to strengthen the understanding and protection of Indonesia’s manta populations.
Sarah has also worked for The British Antarctic Survey and the Zoological Society of London and has future plans to work towards a PhD on her research in Indonesia.
Emily Humble – Project Leader (Genetics)
Having loved the ocean from a young age, Emily has always been determined to spend as much time in it or studying it as possible and it was whilst learning to dive in Egypt that she got a feel first hand, for the diversity and possibilities the marine environment has to offer.
Emily graduated from the University of Sussex with a first class honours degree in Biology with specialism in molecular ecology. Her dissertation was a genetic analysis of the endangered Natterjack Toad populations in the UK and this opened her mind to the prospect of using genetics to better understand and conserve marine life.
Having only seen manta rays at the fish markets of Ecuador and on the television, after her degree, Emily travelled straight to the Maldives to work as a researcher for the Maldivian Manta Ray Project to experience mantas in the wild and to lend a hand in data collection. Truly inspired by the animals and the research there, she realised the opportunity to combine her two passions: genetics and conservation.
With so little known about the genetics of these magnificent animals, Emily is committed to using manta ray DNA to answer important questions about their behaviour, history and taxonomy. She is planning to begin a PhD on global manta ray genetics and hopes her DNA research will help the manta rays earn the environmental protection they need.
Mark Harding’s involvement with manta rays specifically is something that happened quite accidentally, during a life changing trip to Ecuador back in 2004/5. Mark is a photographer and writer and has enjoyed several publications of illustrated articles over the past decade, in a variety of subjects but mostly concerning the countryside or wildlife. Mark grew up in the beautiful Isle of Wight on the English south coast, and spent most of his childhood upside down on the edge of freshwater ponds learning about the miniature world that teemed before his eyes. Little did this young boy know he would one day get to swim with one of the ocean’s most giant life forms, and if he did have any notion back then, it probably would have caused him to have fallen in through shock and drowned.
Mark has been working on a group of mantas that he encountered back in 2005. Although locals knew of these mantas, no-one had previously recorded information about them, and Mark’s work led to the population being recognised as possibly one of the most significant incidences of manta birostris anywhere in the world, with a database currently standing at around 700 individuals.
Mark’s work continues, with a small team of loyal supporters assisting in his work, he is now concentrating on discovering the geographical limits of the population as they journey along their migratory route. His project is supported entirely by contributing volunteers, and small grant funding.
Growing up in the Western part of the United States, Julie had the Great Rocky Mountains as her childhood playground. This gave her an appreciation for nature and wildlife. Additional family trips to the ocean lead Julie to find her passion and love for the marine environment. Julie obtained her degree in Zoology from Brigham Young University and was a research diver and teaching assistant for their marine biology program. She also spent spring semesters diving and tide pooling in Monterey, California. Julie supplemented her education by taking classes from Stanford University, Hopkins Marine Station and completed several internships at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Water Quality, Visitor Presentations, and Tuna Research Center.
Julie and her family moved to the Island of Guam in 2007. Quickly she fell in love with the people and cultures of The Marianas and Micronesian Islands. Before beginning her masters program, she wanted to be certain of what area to direct her research. This focus became clear while diving on the island of Yap, a Micronesian island, where divers have close up encounters with manta rays. The experience with these unique animals sparked a curiosity and desire in Julie to know more. Julie became aware that manta rays were also found in the waters surrounding Guam, but little was known about this population. This solidified her desire and determination to study these majestic fish.
During the fall of 2011 Julie had a chance to visit and study with the Manta Trust team in the Maldives. With their help and guidance on returning to school, she was able to learn and identify new behaviors from the manta ray population around Guam. Julie is delighted to be a part of Manta Trust and feels strongly about their mission to researching, protecting, and bring awareness to mantas. She hopes that people see the importance and value of studying different populations of manta rays, no mater what group size. Currently Julie is finishing up her Masters Degree at the University of Guam with hopes of continuing into a PhD. Program.
Mark Deakos was fortunate to experience living in various countries around the globe during his early years. A common thread in his life has always been water. At one time a competitive swimmer and water polo player, Mark now spends much of his time in saltwater as an avid scuba diver, free diver, kayaker, and mariner. His chosen career working in wildlife biology and marine research is an extension of his passion for the natural world and his marvel of the ocean environment. Mark obtained his biology degree from the University of Waterloo in Canada where he began pursuing his interest in wildlife biology.
After working with several avian and reptile species, his focus turned to the ocean and marine mammals, leading him to Hawaii in 1996. At the University of Hawaii, he completed his master’s degree studying humpback whale behavior, and his doctoral degree focusing on manta ray ecology. In 2004, Mark founded The Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research (HAMER), a not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 corporation with the mission of better understanding and protecting Hawaii’s marine resources. Aside from his continued involvement to learn more about and protect manta rays in Hawaii, Mark works collectively with federal and state agencies, NGOs, and local communities to restore Maui’s reefs and fish, and reconnect Hawaii’s children with their natural, underwater world.
Being a keen swimmer for the majority of his life it seemed only natural that this love of water would extend to the oceans. While trying to decide what to do at university Steve was told he should do what he enjoys and so a course based in the water seemed like the only logical step. With this enthusiasm he gained a first class honours degree in Zoology with Marine Zoology from Bangor University in Wales. During the final year of his degree he did a module based on Elasmobranchs where he learnt about the fascinating lives of these creatures and also the relative lack of knowledge on them.
With this new direction he volunteered for 6 months in the Bahamas with Bimini Biological Field Station where his love for sharks and rays increased dramatically. While there he caught the briefest glimpse of a manta ray from a boat and so began the search to see one of these amazing creatures in the water. However this moment wasn’t had for another two years while he worked as an educational guide at London Aquarium, until he got the chance to volunteer with the Maldivian Manta Ray Project and help in their research. Like many of the staff of the Manta Trust, Steve spent the next three months taking as many pictures as possible of mantas and having some special encounters. Luckily as his time was ending in the Maldives there were discussions about a new project in Fiji. In September 2012 Steve headed out to Fiji where he has begin to help protect manta rays in this area while adding to the existing knowledge of their life histories.
Nick-named “The Manta Man” Bill Acker is legendary throughout the scuba diving community as the pioneer of dive industry in Yap and for identifying one of the first manta dive spots in the waters of this island. For thirty years now Bill has been diving with the Yap mantas and knows most of the individuals by sight!
Originally from Texas, Bill grew up fascinated with the South Pacific and after graduating from The University of Texas with a degree in Marketing he joined the Peace Corps and found himself volunteering on the Island of Yap… the rest as they say is history!
Bill’s personal observations of the manta population of Yap over three decades are vital to scientists and as year round tourist destination and an ideal place for scuba diving photographers, Yap is a perfect location for a long-term manta photo ID project. In addition Yap, with the endorsement of Governor Sebastian Anefal have created an MPA for manta rays that extends across 8,234 square miles and covers 16 islands and 145 atolls and islets. The Island of Yap and the insights of Bill Acker are central to improving knowledge if manta rays and implementing effective conservation in the South Pacific.
Shannon grew up in a land of lakes and rivers slowly making her way to the ocean, and after her first dive, on which she was lucky enough to see a leopard shark, an eagle ray, and a sea snake with beautiful afternoon sun streaming through the water and zero other people around except her instructor, there was no turning back. The magical world under the waves had her captured.
Years of working in environmental education, living in Asia, and diving combined with being a lifelong social and environmental justice campaigner, finally led to a return to school to make it more official and a switch to a career focused on coastal livelihoods and marine conservation. Shannon completed a Masters of Environmental Studies and a Graduate Diploma in Asian Studies from York University in Toronto with a focus on coastal communities in the Philippines, the seaweed farming industry, and the economics of global marine trade. For the past four years, Shannon coordinated the marine conservation program at the Ecology Action Centre based in Halifax, Canada and was especially focused on shark conservation work, creating Hector a world-traveling blue spokeshark who met the Manta Trust team online.
At the same time after a few year of remotely collaborating together on shark conservation campaigns, Shannon finally met with The Manta Trust’s Mary O’Malley sharing some amazing diving and some unforgettable manta encounters. This has led to Shannon taking up a position with The Manta Trust herself and she’s very happy to be contributing to the global effort to protect these amazing creatures leading a project to collect data on ray distribution, fisheries, and trade in the Philippines.
Since 2012 Dr Pelayo Salinas de León has been a senior marine scientist for the Charles Darwin Foundation. Prior to fulfilling his childhood dream of conducting research on the Galapagos Islands, Pelayo conducted post-doctoral research with the University of Havana, Cuba. Over the last 6 years, Pelayo has been involved in numerous research and conservation projects globally, including Spain, UK, New Zealand, Indonesia, Cuba, Colombia and now the Galapagos. He presently manages a portfolio of 4 major research themes for the CDF, which include Sharks and Mantas ecology and conservation; Fisheries Management; Marine Ecosystem Services Evaluation & The Galapagos Google Street View Project. Pelayo is also the coordinator of the science network of the Eastern Tropical Pacific marine corridor, a regional initiative between Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama to promote regional conservation actions; and an Adjunct Research Associate with the School of Biological Sciences, at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.
Pelayo was awarded a BSc. (Hons) in Marine and Freshwater Biology in 2005 and in 2007 he obtained a MSc. in Environmental management, both from the University of Wales, UK. In 2007 he moved to New Zealand to start his PhD thesis studying patterns of connectivity in marine populations and in 2010 he was awarded his doctorate.
Karen Fuentes has been fascinated by nature since early childhood, and after completing her studies in Tourism Management she began to work as a Naturalist Guide in the Riviera Maya. Over the last eight years she has extensively explored the beauty of this precious area, and through working as a guide for the whale sharks excursions she fell in love with the ocean and its inhabitants. She became particularly fond of the manta rays encountered in this area, and in 2014 decided to establish her own NGO dedicated towards the research and conservation of these animals.
The Mexican Caribbean Manta Ray Project is an affiliated Manta Trust project. In recent months Karen has worked closely with Manta Trust scientist to establish and expand her research and education initiatives in the Yucatan area.
Born and raised in Thailand with most of her life growing up in the city, it is difficult to explain where Jamie’s connection with the ocean came from. During years of traveling, no matter where she is in the world all she needed was to be close to the ocean to feel at home.
With her passion for marine conservation and SCUBA diving Jamie joined Miss Scuba International competition in Bali in 2012, where she took home the titles of Miss Marine Conservation and Miss Scuba International2012/13. It was also during this competition, where Jamie first found out about manta ray fisheries and how they are facing the threat of becoming extinct. She then swore to herself to do whatever she could to protect these majestic species before it is too late.
In 2013 Jamie became involved with many marine conservation projects both in Thailand and Indonesia. One of the proudest moments for her was when she gave a speech at Manta Ray Reception during CITES Convention in Bangkok, where both species of mantas were put into protection under CITES Appendix II. In 2014 Jamie’s dream came true when she got an opportunity to volunteer for Maldivian Manta Ray Project, where she got to spend 3 months learning, researching and working closely with her beloved marine animals.
After returning home, Jamie left her life in the city to work as a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor. She then realized how little information people have and know about manta populations in Thailand. Seeing the opportunity to use what she had learned from Maldives, Jamie decided to start Thailand Manta Project. The project aims to spread awareness on manta research and conservation to the local community and businesses, and to one day increase conservation status of manta rays in Thailand.
Growing up in a rural area of Western Australia, Lauren has always been surrounded by wildlife and cannot remember a time when she wasn’t in awe of the natural world. Her passion for the ocean and its marine life was sparked at the age of 5 when she visited the Ningaloo Reef for the first time, and this fascination drove her to complete her undergraduate degree at the University of Western Australia majoring in Zoology and Chemistry in 2011.
It was during the completion of her Honours research into the visual system of the Port Jackson Shark in 2012 that Lauren discovered her love for all things elasmobranch and realised that she wanted to make a career out of studying these misunderstood animals and promoting their conservation through education. After completing her Honours year, Lauren moved to South Africa for two years to volunteer for a marine research organisation as a Field Specialist and Internship Manager where she was privileged enough to work with a wide range of marine mega-fauna including dolphins, whales, and white sharks to collect data for a variety of research projects.
Lauren has now returned back to Perth to commence her PhD at the University of Western Australia and her research aims to examine the movement patterns, trophic role and ecology of the reef manta ray (Manta alfredi) within the D’Arros Marine Protected Area in the Seychelles. This work will be completed in collaboration with the Manta Trust and the Save Our Seas Foundation, and Lauren hopes to use the results of her study to not only better understand the biology of these charismatic animals, but to assist in the development of effective conservation and management strategies for manta rays in the Seychelles and across the Indian Ocean.
Originally from the Netherlands, Mandy started diving in the North Sea when she was 16, and became a PADI Open Water Instructor at 18 while living in the Philippines. She started working as the first PADI dive instructor on Palau when the Palau Pacific Resort opened in 1985, and still finds herself in Palau to this day helping her husband Shallum manage Neco Marine, one of the largest tour & dive operators on the island. In addition she is also the Honorary Consul of France to the Republic of Palau, and curator and co-founder of the non-profit Etpison Museum, which showcases Palauan culture, history and nature to the public.
Mandy is at the forefront of conservation efforts in Palau. In 2010, the Etpison Museum started an awareness campaign with local and foreign partners to educate people about Palau’s most threatened marine species, the dugong sea cow, which is still hunted and eaten locally. In 2010, Mandy also started the Palau Manta ray photo ID project (www.mantaIDpalau.org) and in just two years she has been able to able to identify over 200 mantas in Palau. Mandy has been fascinated with the behaviour of the resident manta rays around divers and snorkelers, and would like to learn more about these amazing animals to be able to protect them from increased tourism pressure at the Palau dive sites.
Dr Robert Rubin – Project Leader (Mexico) | Scientific Advisor
Robert Rubin received his Ph.D. in Comparative Physiology and Marine Ecology from the University of California at Irvine. Dr. Rubin presently is a faculty member in the Department of Biology at Santa Rosa Community College, where he teaches courses in Marine Biology and The Biology of Marine Mammals. In addition, he has taught at the University of California Irvine and Santa Cruz, University of Maryland, Sonoma State University and The Huntsman Marine Laboratory in New Brunswick, Canada.
Dr. Rubin has conducted field and laboratory research on several species of marine mammals, including: hooded and harp seals in the Arctic, elephant seals in California, harbor seals in the Atlantic, Alaska and California, and sea otters in California and in Russia at the invitation of the Russian government and the Russian Academy of Sciences. Dr. Rubin’s research interests in the Gulf of California have spanned over three decades and have included field and/laboratory studies of the physiology of salt and water metabolism in fish-eating bats at Isla Partida and the population ecology of sea birds at Isla Raza. Beginning in 1990, he has been conducting field research on the population and community ecology of manta rays in the Revillagigedos Islands.
Dr. Rubin has served as an educational program consultant to the US Department of Energy, The National Science Foundation and to the California of Education. He has been awarded several faculty and teaching awards, including but not limited to: Distinguished Teaching Award from University of California, Irvine, Alumni Professor of the Year from Santa Rosa Community College, Excellence in Education Recognition from the California State Senate and Special Congressional Recognition for Educational Excellence from the United States Congress.
Niv has been passionate about nature for as long as he can remember, his dream has always been living in close contact to the wilderness and try to understand its fascinating mysteries.
After graduating summa cum laude in Natural Sciences at the University of Milan, Niv completed a Masters degree in Environmental Management focusing primarily on animal behaviour and evolution.
In 2008 Niv moved to New Zealand for 2 years to work as researcher at Victoria University of Wellington studying human evolution and sexual dimorphism. In 2010 he started working as a marine biologist in the Maldives, an experience that brought him closer to marine life and developed his passion for the underwater domain. Building on his professional swimming background he quickly became a proficient free diver and qualified as a Dive Master.
The complex and still poorly understood behaviour of manta rays particularly intrigued him from his first encounter with these creatures. It was the desire to better understand their biology and help the conservation effort of these animals that introduced Niv to Manta Trust. For the past year and half he has worked on a resort island and helped the Trust’s cause by collecting as many ID photographs of manta rays as possible. In addition, Niv was also involved in Whale Shark conservation projects and spent the past two years contributing to the better understanding of these gentle giants’ ecology.
Born and raised in the concrete jungle city of Male’, as far away from nature as one can be in a natural wonder such as the Maldives. Lirar was introduced properly to its natural beauty and magnificence relatively late at 19 years, when he started working at resorts.
Eventually Lirar became a SCUBA diver, snorkel guide, body boarder, environmentalist, community organizer and builder. In his fascination with the marine world, he spent most of his free time in the water or on the surface. As the connection deepened, he realized we are in a critical situation in the Maldives. Much of its underwater wealth is yet to be studied, human development and implication of tourism industry are at crossroads with nature’s balance.
Lirar first met the Manta Trust team when he joined Four Seasons Landaa Giraavaru in 2011. A lot was happening then, Baa Atoll got declared as a UNSECO Biosphere Reserve and Hanifaru Bay a MPA, first of its kind in the Maldives and Manta Trust was at the helm of it. Soon, he found himself working alongside Manta Trust in various community projects and events. Lirar is not only passionate about the environment, but also the anthropological relationship with nature, the implication of tourism and development and the sustainability of natural resources in a fragile ecosystem such as the Maldives.
After 7 years, working in the hospitality industry, Lirar finally admitted that his heart and passion lies with conservation and nature. Lirar joined Manta Trust March 2015, bringing with him, intimate knowledge of the Maldives tourism industry and local communities. Lirar will be interfacing marine education and local knowledge with marine conservation while empowering school students and instilling the importance of conservation in the minds of future generation.
Lirar goal is to bring local scientists, environment activists and passionate young locals to work along side and within the Manta Trust team and to claim the stewardship of MMRP to its rightful owners, the Maldivian people.
Adam was born on one of the teeny tiny islands in the north of Maldives called H.Dh Vaikaradhoo. Since he was a kid has been fascinated with the natural environment here. The surrounding waters have always been mesmerizing to him. Back in school, Adam was vice president of the Environment Club and always wanted to conserve the natural beauty of the Maldives and the marine environment that we should all be very proud of. He is keen to raise awareness of issues facing marine life in the Maldives with local communities and bring people out in to the environment to experience its beauty properly.
In 2010, Adam started working in North Ari atoll as a watersports instructor where he became windsurfer, catamaran skipper and SCUBA diver. Guiding tours to the beautiful underwater world and sharing what the Maldives has always makes him proud.
In 2013 he started working in Kuramathi Eco Centre in North Ari atoll, aiming to conserve the environment that he fell in love with. Conducting marine workshops with locals and students to raise awareness and help protect the marine environment was a very important part of his job.
His very first manta encounter was during a night snorkel the age of 13. It was the biggest living thing he had ever seen at that time and Adam is not afraid to admit that he was very scared. Although mantas are of course harmless, he jumped back on the boat as it swam towards him. It was only later that he discovered his close encounter was due to the manta being attracted to the powerful light used for bait fishing. His fear soon turned into fascination, which was nurtured in North Ari atoll, during sightings of manta rays feeding and cleaning.
Adam now joins the Maldivian Manta Ray Project, as Assistant Project Manager in Laamu Atoll – here he dives everyday to collect data on the Laamu manta ray population – as well as fulfilling his enthusiasm for local outreach and education. Adam also aims to continue his study of the marine environment to better protect it – especially the areas around where he was born – keeping the paradise as it is for future generations.
Ever since she can remember, Maeesha has always been fascinated about the breathtaking beauty of the seas and has always been yearning to be diving underwater. Despite being a marine fanatic, at the beginning Maeesha was not very keen to take up an environmentally-oriented career path. Nevertheless, pure curiosity to discover new things and determination to make a difference led her to become who she is today. Maeesha completed her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Management in 2014 at the Maldives National University. During the second year of the degree programme Maeesha did her internship with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) and that was when she motivated to set a future career up in marine conservation.
Soon after the internship with MWSRP, Maeesha was thrilled to find out about the marine biology apprenticeship offered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at the remote Thaa Atoll. Maeesha followed her instincts and applied for the position and was successfully selected for the 6 months marine biology training at Maalifushi by COMO. This coincided with the time when Beth from the Manta Trust was piloting a project at Thaa. Inspired from her endless enthusiasm Maeesha fell in love with the work of the Manta Trust. Luckily, just after the completion of her apprenticeship in June 2015, Maeesha got the opportunity to officially get involved with the Manta Trust in exploring the unique Thaa Atoll.
Since dedicating herself to environmental conservation, one of the most important things Maeesha has realized is how little Maldivians value the immense natural beauty of the country that everyone else would die for. Maeesha believes it is time that the citizens of the Maldives start to change their attitude towards the environment, change the mentality of taking the ecosystem for granted and take an initiative to sustainably deliver the tranquility of their nature to the next generations.
For as long as she can remember, Nicola had a passion for wildlife, both above and below water, which led her to study for a degree in Zoology at Newcastle University. However, after choosing as many marine-related modules as possible and taking part in marine research programmes during vacations it soon became clear that her real interest was life below the waves; more specifically, the link between conservation and the socio-economic impacts on local communities which rely on the ocean environment.
Nicola studied for a Masters degree in Marine Environmental Management at the University of York where she was given the opportunity to work with Manta Trust’s Maldivian Manta Ray Project to complete her dissertation on ‘the value of diver knowledge for manta ray conservation in the Maldives’. It was between interviews for her data collection that Nicola had her first manta ray encounter and experienced swimming with over 150 mantas in the Hanifaru Bay Marine Protected Area. These outstanding opportunities reinforced her commitment to continue working with the Manta Trust and contribute further to the conservation of these wonderful animals.
After graduating with a degree in Contemporary Furniture Design in 2000 Kanina went on the obligatory gap year travelling and working her way around Australia. From long before her first experience snorkelling with manta rays in Western Australia she has been fascinated with what lay beneath. This experience further encouraged an Open Water course on the Ningaloo Reef where she was the only student ascending from the deep excited and asking questions about what was below.
Working for eight years in the Interior Design and Events industry she thought that rare trips to exotic places would quench her thirst for the underwater world. Three months volunteering in the Seychelles put paid to that and she decided that she wanted to become dedicated to the interesting things in the ocean and could not limit it to only holidays. Completing her Divemaster training in the lakes of Southern England in 2013 which, they say, prepares you for almost anything.
Previously volunteering in Peru she worked with one of our partners, Planeta Océano, on numerous marine conservation projects on the vast coast. One of the Maldivian Manta Ray Project volunteers she has returned to Peru for Manta Trust to collaborate on the initial stages of this project. Gathering information about the mantas in the area and educating local communities and children about why they are so important. By encouraging ecotourism the local fishermen are also showing an interest in the project and trying to protect their ocean.
Our aim is to gain protection for manta rays in this area as they are thought to come from Ecuador to the north where they are already protected.
Jane grew up in a town in the centre of the UK, miles away from the ocean. But, growing up as a keen swimmer, she quickly took to the seas around the UK, learning to dive aged 15, in January, without a drysuit. It was freezing. Undeterred, Jane continued diving and eventually ended up exploring the tropical reefs of Northern Madagascar.
Whilst studying for an undergraduate degree in Zoology at the University of Sheffield, Jane was introduced to the importance of genetics when considering conservation and management strategies for wildlife populations, and decided that research in this area was something she was passionate about pursuing. She then went on to complete an MRes in Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of Leeds where she completed a research project on the phylogenetics and phylogeography of Galapagos tortoise nematodes, and specialised in conservation genetics. It was whilst studying for her Masters that Jane was given the opportunity to study for a PhD which aims to develop novel genetic tools for the conservation and management of vulnerable Manta and Mobula rays, and grabbed it with both hands! Soon after, she met the Manta Trust team.
Jane now is well underway with her PhD at Bangor University, and is working on the creation of a global Mobulid Genetic ID kit, which can be used by enforcement officers and scientists alike to help combat the trade in gill plates. This work will be invaluable in supporting species listings on CITES and CMS, and ultimately in the conservation of Manta rays and devil rays.
Karey’s first memories of the ocean were of stepping on bits of jellyfish as a toddler in Texas. She loved watching the crabs & lobsters moving about at eye level in the tanks at the grocery store, that was almost as much fun as fishing with her Dad from the pier. Learning to swim and growing up in Southern California, bodysurfing, wanting so much to be a part of the world ocean, Karey read all the ocean adventure books she could get her hands on. Later in life Karey went to study biology at Sonoma State University and learned to dive, which was when she had her first magical encounter with a manta ray. Today she still loves the ocean as much as she did when she was a little girl, indeed she actually lives on her sailboat in Bodega Bay, California.
For the last twenty years Karey has been the Project Manager of the Mexico Pacific Manta Research Group (based in Santa Rosa, California), which was founded by Dr. Robert Rubin, the first scientist to begin studying these fascinating creatures globally. Working with Dr. Rubin, Karey developed the photo-ID database of oceanic manta rays (Manta birostris) from the Revillagigedo Archipelago. Her work has expanded into data management and analysis, as lengthy research trips to tag and track the mantas have accelerated in recent years at the main study sites in Mexico. For Karey there’s nothing quite as exciting as being on a Revillagigedos trip and discovering a resighted manta which hasn’t been seen for many years. Each image and every sighting is a tiny piece of the manta jigsaw puzzle, allowing us to slowly unlock the secret lives of these fascinating creatures.
Mohanraj has a Postgraduate research degree and is currently waiting to be awarded a Doctorate in Zoology. He started his research career working with sea turtles in collaboration with the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) on the Gulf of Mannar. He progressed to working with ATREE (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment) and CMFRI (Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute) in various research projects as a Senior Research Fellow. His passion is to conserve endangered marine species from over-exploitation through constructive research and management.
Meeting Daniel Fernando at Tuticorin whilst carrying out research he was encouraged to study and learn more about manta and mobula species; this made such an impact on Mohanraj that he now spends most days continuing this study. Deeply interested in elasmobranch species, Mohanraj is now interested in all aspects of fisheries biology, population dynamics and conservation science.
Annie has long had a keen interest in the marine world. After learning to dive whilst at university she flew out to Utila, the Bay Islands after graduating to complete her Divemaster training. Diving every day, she threw herself into learning as much as she could about the local reefs and here she had the opportunity to swim with whale sharks for the first time. Four years later she hadn’t left; having trained and worked as an Instructor she knew she wanted to learn more and work in the marine field. Keen to experience as much diving as possible she moved to work in Mozambique and here was where she first dived with manta rays. Having read so much about mantas she was excited to spend time in the water with them but they proved to make more of an impact on her than she realised. Her time spent here diving with mantas made her realise she wanted to know more and work with these animals so she moved back to the UK and enrolled in the Marine Environmental Management MSc course at the University of York.
As part of her summer placement module, Annie volunteered at the Maldivian Manta Ray Project, researching the social behaviour of mantas. Working in the field and studying the mantas in Baa atoll further instilled the need to conserve these animals and Annie hopes to continue researching the population whilst working at the Manta Trust.
Although Beth grew up far from the sea, her grandparents lived in Cornwall, making Falmouth and all its glorious beaches her second home. It was there that she learnt to dive aged 12 and it was after seeing her first ever shark in the freezing Cornish waters that she knew life was far more interesting under the waves than above them…
During her BSc in Marine Geography at Cardiff University, she took an industrial placement year in Greece working for an NGO focusing on underwater visual census surveys (UVC), fisheries management, marine mammal protection, community engagement and conservation policy. After graduating, she worked on various environmental management projects and stakeholder outreach events with The Environment Agency (Wales), Cardiff University and The Marine Management Organisation.
After a year and a half working in an office, she was itching to get back into practical learning and fieldwork, so she began a Masters degree in Marine Environmental Management at the University of York.
Beth completed the degree with Distinction at the end of 2013, with her final thesis focusing on the abundance, diversity and distribution of elasmobranchs in the Cayman Islands. Practical data collection was extensive and included SCUBA surveys, BRUVS development and deployment as well as passive and active (acoustic telemetry) tagging. The work was conducted with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, Marine Conservation International and the Save Our Seas Foundation – with the aim of aiding in future marine regulations and management measures.
In January 2014, Beth returned to the Caribbean, this time to the British Virgin Islands, to work on the largest ever Caribbean-wide coral reef project, where she conducted socio-economic research relating to coral reef health in the face of climate change. From there she moved to the Maldives, continuing her coral experience as lab manager of a small, remote research station. Beth found herself continuously distracted from the corals by the ‘resident’ elasmobranchs around her island – and it was here that she saw her first ever manta! Immediately in love, she soon moved to The Manta Trust as Project Manager of their brand new Laamu Atoll project with Six Senses resort. Here she works collecting manta IDs, monitoring the population, conducting educational outreach on local islands and raising awareness through guest activities and presentations.
Abbie grew up on the south coast of England spending every moment possible outdoors, on boats and being fascinated by wildlife. There was never a doubt that a career in conservation would ensue and having learnt to dive on the Great Barrier Reef during her gap year it was without question going to be a future in marine conservation.
Abbie is a marine educator, with over 14 years’ experience of educating people of all ages and abilities and many more years submerged and passionately embracing everything marine related. Abbie has worked in various countries on coral reef research expeditions; coordinating volunteers, surveys and science training, and liaising with in-country partners and providing advice on coastal management issues. Over the years Abbie has worked on a number of different marine conservation and educational projects including plenty of manta ray research.
After years teaching volunteers to identify and survey vulnerable reefs, Abbie became fascinated by marine education being used as a way to manage people’s behaviour to reduce damage to coral reefs. Undertaking a MSc in Tropical Coastal Management enabled her to look deeper into this subject.
In 2007 Abbie started working as a marine biologist and environmental advisor for luxury resorts in Maldives, including working on coral propagation projects. These projects visibly showed that not only did the reef’s health increase, but also acted as an extensive source of education for the guests, local schools, and as a tool to spread awareness. While in Maldives happily being surrounded by and identifying multiple mantas Abbie met Save our Seas Foundation (SOSF) and headed off to Saudi Arabia to set up a reef restoration and education project for the Foundation. The education element of this project expanded and in 2010 moved to Seychelles where Abbie established a marine awareness project, a project that continues today with Abbie as Project Advisor.
In 2011 Abbie founded WiseOceans, a marine education and conservation company, a concept she’d been mulling over for many years.
Possibly most importantly, Maldives in 2007 was where Abbie first worked with the Maldivian Manta Ray Project and the Manta Trust, a connection that has always remain over the years. In 2014 Abbie was thrilled to take on the exciting role of Operations Manager for the Trust.
Since an early age, Danny has loved learning about the life that can be found both around and beyond the shores of his home in North Wales, but in particular he has been fascinated by the bizarre and alien world lying beneath the waves.
After his first scuba diving experience in a harbour in Malta, he quickly fell in love with the sport that would allow him to experience life in our oceans. In 2010 he completed his first diving qualification in Turkey, before embarking on an expedition around Ecuador later that year. Toward the end of this trip, Danny was fortunate enough to spend a week touring the islands of the Galapagos archipelago, where he snorkelled with various endemic species including sea lions, penguins and marine iguanas. After experiencing such an incredible example of marine biodiversity, Danny quickly realised that a career in the underwater world was the path for him. In 2011 he qualified as a PADI Divemaster in Thailand, and after a brief encounter with a whale shark in Mexico, he developed a new found fondness for marine megafauna.
During the summer of 2012, Danny travelled to the Maldives where he first met the Manta Trust team. He subsequently spent the next three months helping to collect photo ID data on reef mantas with the Maldivian Manta Ray Project, including spending time in the world-renowned Hanifaru MPA. Danny remained involved with the Trust as a voluntary Event and Social Media Manager. In addition, he spent the holidays between semesters working alongside manta ray/whale shark scientists and marine conservationists, in Indonesia, Tanzania and South Africa, before completing his Zoology BSc at the University of Sheffield in 2014.
Danny now works as the Manta Trust’s Media Manager, organising awareness events and campaigns, developing the charity’s online/media presence including its website and social media channels, in addition to working as an adhoc graphic designer and operations manager.
As far back as Tam can remember she has always had a passion for nature and all things water-bound. Growing up along the Eastern Cape Coast of South Africa, Tam was lucky to have been exposed to the natural beauties along this untouched coastline. Fulfilling the lifetime ambition to conserve this environment and the wildlife therein, she pursued a BSc Honours degree in Zoology at Rhodes University in South Africa. Setting solid foundations, her university education gave way to fantastic opportunities providing her with first-hand experience as a scientific research assistant abroad the Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, A Norwegian Research Vessel monitoring fish stocks along the West Coast of Africa. Her exposure inspired her to broaden her horizons and, with the aim of furthering her education and practical knowledge in the field, she set off to South East Asia where she worked to build up the necessary financial needs to travel and continue her studies.
Eighteen months later, now equipped with an advanced diving certification and backed by a greater understanding of the devastation that wrack the worlds’ oceans internationally, Tam was drawn to York University in the UK where she cemented her education in the field of marine conservation by pursuing a Master’s Degree in Marine Environmental Management. This provided her with the opportunity to fulfil a research placement in the Maldives with the Manta Trust in 2014, answering to a childhood dream of one day swimming amongst some of the most exquisite megafauna that grace the worlds’ oceans. It is here that she was first acquainted with the majestic manta rays. Her utter amazement and appreciation for these great creatures has led her on a fast track path to pursue a career focussed on the conservation of these endangered species. Tam’s position as the database manager provides her with the ideal environment to develop her knowledge on manta ray populations both locally, in the Maldives, and on a broader scale by corresponding with manta ray project bases worldwide. Encouraged by the enthusiasm and determination amongst the Manta Trust team to protect manta rays, Tam is excited about the opportunities that lie ahead for the project and is motivated to strive for the common goal of conserving these wild beauties.
Madeline holds a degree in visual communications from Indiana University. Over the last several years, she has worked on design projects for numerous environmental, conservation and social nonprofit organisations, creating cohesive identities, outreach materials and awareness campaigns. One of Madeline’s passions is developing novel approaches to making complex data and information easily digestible for the general public, specifically using informational graphics.
Conny Paul – Expeditions Manager
Always fascinated by the underwater environment, Conny started diving as a teenager. Instead of following her passion for marine biology Conny studied economics and worked in various positions in a German development aid company. Due to her job she had the chance to visit many countries all over the world, which reinforced her thirst for travelling and exploring the planet. On her journeys, whenever possible Conny jumped into the ocean to dive or snorkel.
After her first visit to the Maldives Conny was hooked by the incredible underwater world and made the decision to become a dive instructor and work in the Maldives. Being based on Landaa Giraavaru the same island as the Manta Trust Conny had the chance to get involved with the Maldives Manta Research Project and the amazing mantas. Fascinated by these incredible animals, she joined several Manta Trust Expeditions and helped with manta data collection as she was based as a dive instructor in South Air Atoll. For Conny every manta encounter is unique and exciting and motivates her to learn and understand more of these majestic rays.
Now, back in Germany, Conny is combining her passion for diving, travelling and mantas with her professional backgrounds as she joins the Manta Trust team as our Manta Trust Expeditions Manager.