Welcome to our latest Members Update!
Happy New Year everyone! We hope your 2019 has kicked off right, and any resolutions are holding strong now that we’re already three weeks into January (crazy how quickly time flies!).
In this Members’ Update, we’re starting the year off with an exciting behind-the-scenes video from the Maldives. In recent months one of our Research Officers, Simon Hilbourne, has been trialling out the new camera systems being deployed on cleaning stations around Baa Atoll, as part of the ‘Eyes on the Reef’ project. This is our current Featured Research Project on The Cyclone, and our first major update on its progress since it was successfully crowdfunded by many of the generous supporters that are part of this community. We’re stoked to share some updates with you!
Finally, we have a new edition of our on-going feature, ‘Meet the Team’. This time we’re bringing you over to Indonesia to meet Betty Laglbauer, who heads up the The Mobula Project Indonesia. Not all of the work being done within the Manta Trust network involves glamorously swimming with manta rays to conduct research. An incredibly important area of our conservation work is monitoring and quantifying the threats facing these animals - and no threat is more striking and immediate than that posed by targeted and bycatch fisheries.
Betty heads up an incredible team that heavily focuses on monitoring the fisheries in Indonesia, as well as working with governments and communities to implement innovative and practical solutions to reduce by-catch. The work they do is demanding and at times hard to watch, but it serves as a timely reminder as to the harsh reality these charismatic animals face, and the need to push ahead with our collective efforts if we are to truly conserve them.
That’s why the monthly donations you make through your membership to The Cyclone are so important. You are directly responsible for making much of our work possible.
But don’t just take my word for it…let me hand the reigns over to Betty in the video below.
We hope you enjoy this month’s update!
Media & Communications Manager
EYES ON THE REEF - TESTING THE WATER
Simon Hilbourne, one of our Research Officers working in the Maldives, is leading the charge with ‘Eyes on the Reef’ - our Featured Research that aims to better understand what manta rays get up to on cleaning stations when snorkelers, divers (and researchers!) aren’t around.
In this latest update, Simon talks us through the finished camera rigs he’s been able to build through this crowdfunded project, and takes it out to a popular cleaning station in Baa Atoll to test it and showcase some of the initial video data it’s bringing to the surface.
MEET THE TEAM - BETTY LAGLBAUER
We want to introduce you to the passionate people around the world that make up the Manta Team. For our latest edition, we interviewed Betty Laglbauer, who heads-up the The Mobula Project Indonesia.
Tell us about your first manta ray encounter.
“I was hooked on Christmas day of 2012 off the coast of Peru, where I was the lucky to have my first encounter with an oceanic manta ray. That morning I jumped into the unusually clear water close to an oil rig, wearing my monofin, from the boat of a protesting fisherman. ‘Don’t jump, stay on the boat, the manta will hurt you!’ he was shouting, whilst I attempted to assure him ‘don’t worry I’ll be fine - they don’t hurt or sting!’ This whole thing was followed by the three fishermen onboard frantically taking photos and calling their friends, all because a crazy gringa was in the water with what they saw as a dangerous manta. Before that day I had spent a month living at a fishing terminal close to Chiclayo where tons of mobulid rays were sold every day, so this magical encounter was bitter-sweet for me. I remember mentally saying to the manta staring back at me intently, ‘I am going to help you guys, I promise’.”
What was your journey that led you to set-up 'The Mobula Project Indonesia’?
“That trip to Peru was a trigger. Before, I wanted to study manta rays but I pictured contributing to conservation through studying populations with research methods like photo-ID. However, after witnessing the extensive landings of mobulids, in particular devil rays, for days on end, and since only a few people in the world had focused their efforts on these smaller relatives of mantas, I decided that is what I would do. In my eyes, it was what was needed. Since a project was already starting in Peru, another large fishery for devil rays was taking place in Indonesia, where organisations were doing tremendous work for the conservation of manta rays. Hence, I contacted Indonesian marine scientists and international experts such as the Manta Trust’s Founder, Dr. Guy Stevens, for advice. I set-up a project to assess the ‘impacts, alternative solutions and awareness of mobula ray fisheries in Indonesia’, alongside young Indonesian scientists, and after a challenging journey of planning, funding applications and bureaucracy, things took off.”
What is the most surprising thing you have learnt about manta and devil rays?
“What’s mind-blowing to me was the discovery of extreme deep-diving in the Chilean devil ray, Mobula tarapacana, through a satellite-tagging study in the Azores that came out while I was interning at the local laboratory on Faial island in 2014. These rays can dive to over 1,800 m depth and ascend at tremendous speed. I wondered what was driving them to such depths, and if they were diving to feed, how were they able to detect prey, or remain in schools, in the deep dark-sea? This led me to become interested in the sensory biology of mobulids. A year later, interviews with fishermen in Indonesia and later, observations of devil ray fisheries in the Philippines, revealed that gill-net boats deliberately avoided using lights to catch devil rays at night, suggesting that their visual capacities may help deter them from nets.”
What is the most challenging part of your work?
“One of the most challenging things is continuing to see mobulid rays landed on the docks. What triggers me especially is when these are pregnant females with their unborn foetuses - a sight that is unfortunately quite common where the Mobula Project Indonesia is based in Eastern Java.
Another challenging aspect is when I am told that we need to compromise on devil ray conservation because they do not bring as much ecotourism value as manta rays, despite their common vulnerabilities to fishing. I still have trouble accepting that a species’ right to survive depends on its monetary value, although ultimately, I very much understand that it is an important consideration, and that attaching an economic value to these rays may ultimately help convince stakeholders to protect them. Importantly, since mobulid rays are not the preferred target of gill-net fishermen, finding incentives to value more sustainable fisheries for target fishes may help improve the livelihoods of local communities, whilst also reducing the impact on the mobulid populations that are severely overexploited.”
What legacy would you like to leave in your field of research/conservation?
“I would like to help reduce the target & bycatch of mobulid rays, as well as other threatened elasmobranch species, as well as motivate young Indonesian scientists to conserve the tremendous biodiversity in their country. In an ideal world, we would switch to less destructive fishing methods such as ‘pole & line’, instead of non-selective fisheries like gill-nets, which cause a tremendous amount of bycatch. Until then, I am studying the sensory systems, foraging ecology, and movement of mobulid rays to identify ways to reduce this bycatch. I want to identify (a) critical habitats and seasons where fishing should be avoided, and (b) differences between their sensory capacities and those of target fishes such as tuna to understand how to repel manta & devil rays from nets. To reduce target fisheries, I am working alongside various collaborators towards bringing forth better protection for devil rays in Indonesian waters.”
If you could ask people to do one thing to help - what would it be?
“Actually, there are many things one can do to help. First, to trust that every single one of our actions, however small it may seem, has a domino effect on our ecosystem in which everything is connected. Being mindful of using less plastic, choosing sustainable food choices (such as refusing fish from fisheries with high levels of bycatch), and sustainable travel destinations which support local communities - it all helps! Second, come to Indonesia to dive with devil rays, for example in North Maluku or in South Lombok! You can have incredible encounters with these animals, and by doing so you will help increase their ecotourism value which ultimately may provide incentives for their protection.
And finally, thank you for your support to The Cyclone. Please spread the word - it is thanks to your help that our conservation work can go on and grow.”