Conservation through Research, Awareness and Education

UK Registered Charity Number: 1145387

A sickle-fin mobula ray (Mobula tarapacana) caught using a baited line from a Malaysian near-shore fishing boat

Project Goals:

The Malaysian Mobulid Ray Project will investigate both the fisheries and living populations of Manta and Mobula rays in the province of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Working together with key dive operators, local communities and the Malaysian Government, the introduction and implementation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) will be recommended in order to help ensure long-term sustainable fishing and the controlled development of eco-tourism.

Why is this important:

Located within the coral triangle, Malaysian Borneo is home to highly abundant and diverse marine life. In fact, locations such as Sipadan are considered by many to be among the world’s top dive destinations. However, this region is also facing increasing fishing pressures and each morning large numbers of mobulid rays are landed at local markets around the country primarily to supply the increasing international demand for mobulid gill plates in the Chinese Medicinal Trade. All mobulid rays have conservative life history strategies making them highly vulnerable to commercial fishing. It is therefore important to learn more about these species in order to make informed management decisions.

The dried gill plates of sickle-fin mobula rays (Mobula tarapacana) sold as a Chinese Medicine in Malaysian street mark

Malaysia has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ – the sea-zone over which a state has special rights for exploitation) that is 1.5 times larger than its land area. This large expanse of territorial water is home to multiple species of both Manta and Mobula rays, with the latter often seen in massive schools on the Barrier Reef of Sipadan. While neither Manta nor Mobula rays are protected under local legislation, their value is steadily increasing in the dive tourism sector. The demand for dried mobulid gill plates in Chinese Medicine is however also growing, making these previously unviable species increasingly valuable for local fishermen. The rays are mostly landed as bycatch in tuna gill-net fisheries, but even these landings can have devastating impacts on their populations due to their slow growth rates, late maturity, slow reproduction and lack of natural predators.

A bent-fin mobula ray (Mobula thurstoni) landed as targeted bycatch at Semporna fish market in Malaysia

The Manta Trust has partnered with Scuba Junkie – an eco-friendly dive resort based in Mabul – and Scubazoo – one of the world’s leading underwater filming and photography companies based in Borneo – to study both the fishery and populations of living mobulid rays in Malaysia. Both these partner organisations are committed to helping the environment by raising awareness of the threats faced and encouraging sustainable management policies.

Data and genetic samples collected from individuals encountered will help shed light into the biology and ecology of these understudied rays. Furthermore, large schools of mobula rays as recorded in Siamil (in the vicinity of Sipadan) are quite rare and this project aims to learn more about their movements and migration patterns via the utilisation of technology such as acoustic and satellite tagging. This research project will also engage local communities and organisations to help increase awareness of the importance of these species, the roles they play in the marine ecosystem and the fragile habitats they live in with the ultimate goal of establishing policies that will ensure the protection and management of Manta and Mobula rays, improve sustainable fishing techniques for local communities and help regulate the eco-tourism sector.

A school of bent-fin mobula rays (Mobula thurstoni) in Siamil, Malaysia

Main Objectives:

  1. Survey Borneo’s fish markets for manta and mobula landings.
  2. Identify key aggregation areas within the region and monitor migration patterns.
  3. Satellite tag mobula rays to gain insights into their movements and behavior.
  4. Raise local awareness and improve sustainable revenue sources such as eco-tourism through these species.
  5. Help pass and implement national policies to protect these species and create MPA’s.

Partners and Sponsors:

This project would not be possible without the generous support and sponsorship from the following organisations.




© 2017 Manta Trust