Conservation through Research, Awareness and Education

UK Registered Charity Number: 1145387


Project Goals:

The Galápagos Manta Ray Project was formed to characterise the population, distribution and movement of manta and mobula (mobulid) rays in the Galápagos. We aim to identify the areas where mobulid rays are encountered and assess the effectiveness of the Galápagos Marine Reserve for protecting these species from targeted and incidental fisheries. By establishing a long-term monitoring programme we hope to determine their seasonal abundance, habitat use, site fidelity, movement patterns and migratory routes.

Why this is important:

Mobulid ray populations globally are under increasing unsustainable fisheries pressure in response to growing demand for their dried gill plates used as a pseudo-remedy in Chinese medicine. There is increasing evidence suggesting that manta populations in regions with targeted fisheries are declining rapidly. Conversely, manta rays are hugely valuable to coastal communities through the revenue they generate in sustainable ecotourism. Growing, unsustainable fisheries for manta rays threaten both the survival of these iconic marine species and the valuable, sustainable income they provide to coastal communities, particularly in developing countries.

Project Overview:

The Galápagos Marine Reserve is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its high biodiversity, productivity and extraordinary oceanographic features that result in a great variety of habitats and a unique oceanic setting found nowhere else on earth. Numerous fish species within the marine reserve play essential ecological and socio-economic roles in ensuring the ecosystem services provided by the Galápagos Marine Reserve to the local community. Some species like groupers and tunas are critical resources for Galápagos artisanal fishermen while others, such as the oceanic manta rays and sharks are a major attraction to tourists and essential for the tourism industry. Three mobula ray species and one manta species have been recorded in the Galápagos Marine Reserve: Manta birostris, Mobula japanica, Mobula munkiana, and Mobula tarapacana.

The spatial ecology, movement and connectivity of oceanic manta ray populations is poorly understood, making it challenging to effectively manage the species. In order to develop conservation strategies at international, regional and local scales that will prevent ongoing declines in manta populations, we require a better understanding of where critical manta habitats exist, whether there are hotspots that can be targeted for spatial protection, and how manta populations will respond to increasing fisheries effort at local and regional scales. Perhaps most importantly from a management standpoint, we need to determine the effectiveness of current protection, such as assess whether the Galápagos Marine Reserve currently incorporates critical manta habitats and migratory pathways, and appropriate spatial scales at which to manage these giant manta populations and which jurisdiction management should fall under—local, national, or international.

Oceanic Manta Ray, Manta birostris , The Boiler, San Benedicto, Revillagigedos Archipelago, Mexico © Guy Stevens, Manta Trust 2015 (2)

The aim of the Galápagos Manta Ray Project is to collect baseline information, such as population characteristics, location of critical habitats and migratory pathways, of the oceanic manta and mobula ray populations in the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Through photo identification studies, we seek to establish a database and estimate the population size and sex composition of mobulid ray populations in the Galápagos, and compare our data with international databases, such as IDtheManta to determine overlap and connectivity. We are using two complementary satellite tagging methodologies (Wildlife Computers MiniPAT and SPOT tags) to study the movements and habitat use of oceanic manta rays in the Galápagos Marine Reserve, and between the Galápagos Islands and coastal Ecuador and Peru. Finally, the project is collecting biopsy samples of manta and mobula rays as part of the Global Genetics Project by The Manta Trust, and to further understand genetic relatedness among the populations in the Tropical Eastern Pacific (TEP).

The results and data from this project provide technical advice to the Galápagos National Park to evaluate the effectiveness of the Galápagos Marine Reserve in protecting manta rays from targeted fisheries and incidental bycatch, inform management decisions for the reserve and support the sustainability of manta tourism in the Galápagos Marine Reserve.

Main Objectives:

1: To determine population size and characteristics of manta and mobula rays in the Galápagos.

2: To identify critical habitats and potential migratory routes of manta and mobula rays in the Galápagos Marine Reserve.

3: To describe migratory patterns and connectivity of oceanic manta rays within and between the Galápagos Marine Reserve and the Tropical Eastern Pacific region.

4. To provide technical advice to the Galápagos National Park Directorate to inform sustainable management of these species.

Partners & Sponsors:

Without the generous support and sponsorship we receive we would not be able to achieve our work in the Galápagos. We are very grateful to these organisations for their support.  This project is a collaboration between the Charles Darwin Foundation and the Manta Trust with the collaboration of the Galapagos National Park Directorate in representation of the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment.  This project is funded by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Manta Trust.

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© 2017 Manta Trust