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maldivian Manta RAY Project

Established 2005

For the Manta Trust, the Maldives is where it all started.

Founded by Dr. Guy Stevens, the Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) is the charity's flagship research project. After more than a decade of research across this island nation, the MMRP has evolved into one of the largest and longest-standing manta conservation groups in the world. 

 
Reef Manta Rays, Manta alfredi, Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll, Maldives © Guy Stevens, Manta Trust 2017 (2).JPG
 

the mmrp at a glance

Formed in 2005, the Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) is the founding project of the Manta Trust. It consists of a country-wide network of dive instructors, biologists, communities and tourism operators, with roughly a dozen MMRP staff based across several atolls.

The MMRP collects data around the country's manta population, its movements, and how the environment and tourism / human interactions affect them. Since its inception, the project has identified over 4,300 different individual reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi), from more than 50,000 photo-ID sightings - many of which submitted by members of the public via IDtheManta. This makes the Maldivian reef manta population the largest, and one of the most intensively studied populations in the world. 

The long-term and nationwide data collected by the MMRP has allowed researchers to record and identify key patterns within this population over time. Not only does this invaluable information improve our understanding of these animals, but it informs their on-going management and protection. Research driven by the MMRP has been directly responsible for protecting mantas and their most critical habitats within the Maldives, but has also played a significant role in gaining protection for populations in other corners of our ocean. 

 
 
Reef Manta Ray Mass Feeding Event 5, Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll, Maldives © Guy Stevens, Manta Trust (E).jpg

mantas and the maldives

The Republic of Maldives has a massive population of reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi).

After 12 years of data collection, we estimate that the total population for this small nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean numbers around 5,000 individuals - making it the largest known population of reef mantas in the world (by a large margin too!).

The Maldivian reef mantas are year round residents, migrating across the country’s 26 atolls in tandem with the changing monsoons and the resulting shifts in zooplankton abundance and distribution. These nutrient-rich waters support huge quantities of marine life, and it’s not uncommon to find several dozen manta rays feeding in the shallow surface waters in and around the atolls. At the right time of year, some key sites such as Hanifaru Bay, play host to feeding aggregations of >150 mantas - sometimes with a whale shark or two joining in on the feast.

These spectacular underwater events, coupled with the diversity of marine life in the Maldives, makes it one of the best dive and snorkel destinations in the world. Every year the number of tourists travelling to the Maldives specifically to swim with charismatic marine megafauna has increased. These animals are therefore highly valued as a tourism resource in the Maldives, generating an estimated US$8.1 million annually in direct revenue for manta ray tourism alone. This type of tourism clearly has significant benefits to the Maldivian economy and for the wider-scale conservation of mantas and the ocean - but as is the case with many natural resources, they continue to be stretched in this developing nation. The negative associated impacts of this tourism are increasingly affecting the manta population and their habitat.

 
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PROJECT GOALs

The Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) was founded with the goal of learning more about the life cycle, population dynamics and habitat usage of the Maldivian manta population, whilst also working with the government, tourists, local communities and tour operators to create greater appreciation and protection for these ocean giants and their habitat.

 
 

learning more about mantas

To achieve this goal, the MMRP works to meet the following research objectives:

(1) Continue monitoring the numbers and identities of individually recognisable reef and oceanic manta rays in the Maldives.

(2) Assess and compare the apparent range of movement patterns exhibited by the individually recognised reef manta rays.

(3) Record any signs of reproductive activity among reef mantas at key study areas, or any other site in the Maldives, including any indications of courtship or mating behaviour and the appearance of pregnancy or mating scars in female mantas.

(4) Evaluate social dynamics and behaviour of an unfished population of reef mantas in the Maldives.

(5) Estimate the growth rates of juvenile and sub-adult mantas, coupled with data from Research Objective (3), to ascertain the age at maturity of the Maldivian mantas.

(6) Work to better understand the genetic underpinnings of the Maldivian manta rays.

(7) Further our understanding of reef manta rays’ dietary preferences, as well as assess the relative importance of Baa Atoll and Hanifaru Bay MPA as a foraging ground for the Maldivian manta ray population.

 

increasing appreciation & protection

To achieve this goal, the MMRP works to meet the following conservation objectives:

(1) Continuously assess any threats to the reef manta population and their habitat, by monitoring tourism activities at key aggregation sites and recording incidences of targeted or accidental injury.

(2) Continue to record the extent to which tourists appear to alter the behaviour of the mantas, or impact their welfare and the extent to which guidelines for wildlife tourism are being observed or neglected.

(3) Push for the implementation of national protective legislation for manta rays and their key aggregation sites within the Maldives.

(4) Marine Education Programme - Continue raising awareness and educating the local population about the marine environment, and the pertinence for conserving this important resource and protecting the marine species therein.

 
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Key Achievements

 
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Identified over 4,300 individual reef mantas from >50,000 sightings, thereby identifying the world's largest reef manta population (as of 2018).

 
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Drove the designation of two Marine Protected Areas in the Maldives; Hanifaru Bay and Anga Faru (2009).

 
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Drove the designation of Baa Atoll as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve (2011).

 
 
 
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Assisted government with development & implementation of a Management Plan for Hanifaru Bay MPA (2011), to minimise impact of tourism to the site.

 
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Spear-headed the additional of all ray species, include manta & devil rays, to the Maldivian National Protected Species List (2014). 

 
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Created a research-backed Tourism Code of Conduct to minimise the negative impacts of manta dive and snorkel tourism. Created a multi-media initiative (How to Swim with Manta Rays) to deliver this CoC effectively to tourists and operators (2017). 

 

meet the team

 
 
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TAM SAWERS

Project Leader (Baa Atoll)

 

 
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SIMON HILBOURNE

Research & Admin Officer (Baa Atoll)

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EMMA HEDLEY

Project Manager (Ari Atoll) 
Vilamendhoo

 
 
 
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BETH FAULKNER

Project Manager (Laamu Atoll)

 
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KIRSTY BALLARD

Project Manager (Lhaviyani Atoll)

 
 
 
Hanifaru Bay Aerial, Baa Atoll, Maldives © Guy Stevens, Manta Trust 2015.JPG

partners in the maldives


Four Seasons Resorts Maldives have supported the Manta Trust since the inception of the Maldivian Manta Ray Project in 2005. Working alongside the Four Seasons the MMRP has been able to share the experience of snorkeling with mantas with thousands of guests as well as providing educational talks and activities. The Four Seasons Resort at Landaa Giraavaru is the main base for the MMRP, and during the manta season the resort is home to MMRP and annual interns as they go about their research. Four Seasons Resorts, Maldives are committed to sustainable tourism practices, and were instrumental in the designation of Baa Atoll as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

 
 

 
 

Six Senses Laamu is one of the MMRP's longest partners. Fully committed to the environment and developing sustainable, marine-related guest activities, Six Senses has contributed to the MMRP’s research since 2012. The Six Senses now extends it’s conservation opportunities to it’s guests by hosting MMRP staff on-site throughout the year.

 
 

 
 
 
 

Hurawalhi Resort is situated in Lhaviyani Atoll, a prime destination for manta ray sightings. Hurawalhi Resort together with Pro Divers have launched a new programme of interest which incorporates our team of specialists at MMRP. This is the first of its kind within the atoll and is aimed at developing our knowledge of the manta ray population in this area, as well as encouraging further understanding into the other marine fauna located in this atoll. 

Our partnership is also aimed at improving relations with the local community, and is geared towards educating guests on conservation and eco-friendly activities practiced both locally and internationally, and the protocols that need to be implemented to ensure the protection and preservation of these natural resources. 

 
 
 

 

OUR LATEST PARTNERS

 

Photos from the field

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in the media

 
 
 
 
Reef Manta Ray & Videographer, Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll, Maldives © Guy Stevens, Manta Trust 2010.jpg