Hello Cyclone family, we have another manta filled May for you with updates from our team in the Maldives.
Firstly, our Manta Trust researchers based in Six Senses Laamu in the Maldives take us out for the day and show us what their typical working schedule looks like. We then have a bittersweet story of Babaganoush. You may remember this manta from last year when we reported the sad news he had been struck by a speed boat. Scroll on down to see how he is getting on, and how his case fits into the wider conservation picture.
Thank you for being part of the The Cyclone family, and don’t forget you can order your discounted Cyclone hoodies and t-shirts here.
Digital Media and Communications Manager
WHATS IT LIKE TO WORK AT THE MALDIVIAN MANTA RAY PROJECT
Partnered with Six Senses Laamu, our manta team in the south of the Maldives is stationed just a ten-minute boat ride away from a year-round manta aggregation site. Since developing a partnership with the resort in 2014, we’ve never had a month without manta sightings making this an incredibly unique and valuable site in the Maldives. Although only a small population of mantas reside in Laamu, 126 at the moment, the residents here are frequent visitors to our cleaning stations. Every morning, we either head out for a research trip or join Six Senses guests on their dives to meet our favourite residents and help them become citizen scientists themselves.
Currently, our research is focused on measuring manta rays and investigating what they are up to when we aren’t around! As entertaining as it would be to see us measure manta rays with a tape measure, we are a bit reliant on technology and use a stereo video system. Since we see the same mantas regularly, we can measure them frequently and track their growth over time. Besides measuring mantas, we’re also using an RUV (Remote Underwater Video camera) to record the mantas when we aren’t around. Check out our “day in the life” video to see what the RUV captured that we missed while on our research dive!
While research is a large part of our role here, we’ve also been working as part of the Maldives Underwater Initiative team at the resort to foster relationships in the community. In February and March, we visited three local schools on the island of Gan and taught the children about marine megafauna and coral reefs. We then had the chance to take them snorkelling! Many kids on the local islands have never seen a coral reef and seeing their reactions to the underwater world for the first time is an unforgettable and heartwarming experience. We haven't told the kids yet, but we recently received a grant to buy 15 sets of snorkelling gear for each of the 13 schools in Laamu. This equipment will be incredibly valuable in the schools allowing teachers to take their students snorkelling throughout the year. We're planning to start distributing the snorkelling equipment in June.
Thank you for your support of our work with the Manta Trust! Hope you enjoy our day in Laamu video!
Video by: Andrew Ball - Maldives Underwater Initiative at Six Senses Laamu
MMRP Project Manager - Laamu Atoll
One of the Maldives best known and loved manta rays, Babaganoush, surprised and delighted Manta Trust researchers this week when he reappeared at Hanifaru Bay, six months after sustaining what were thought to be fatal injuries from a speedboat strike. Babaganoush was only the 33rd reef manta ray to be added to our Maldivian Manta Ray Project’s database, which now has over 5000 individuals in it. He was first spotted in 2005, the launch year of this project, and he has been sighted over 200 times since. Baba has always been very easy to recognise during encounters as he has a missing clasper and an old scar from a shark attack he survived.
Manta rays have few natural predators, only the oceans’ largest predatory sharks and orcas can kill a fully-grown manta. Plus, if a manta is unlucky enough to get attacked, it still has a good chance of surviving if it can get away after the initial bite. Predatory attacks usually come from behind, so most bites are taken out of the backs of pectoral fins, or near the base of the manta’s tail. If a bite isn’t large enough to reach the central body cavity, where a manta’s vital organs are located, it is unlikely to prove fatal. Manta rays can heal remarkably quickly. When injured, mantas spend significantly more time visiting cleaning stations to have their wounds cleaned; removing dead and infected flesh helps the injured area to heal faster. They will also regenerate with scar tissue to fill the missing portions of their wings over the years. Even if a manta ray loses a clasper in an attack, like Babaganoush, they may still be able reproduce again if their second clasper is intact. Natural predatory attacks are more frequent in some locations than others; for example, almost 100% of the adult reef manta population in Mozambique show some form of injury and scarring from predatory attacks, compared to less than 15% of the Maldives population.
The images (below) are of the same manta: left is immediately following a shark attack, right shows healing after seven months.
In November last year, our team were devastated to encounter and film Babaganoush in Hanifaru Bay suffering from horrific injuries caused by a speedboat strike. Manta rays are vulnerable to boat strikes in the Maldives whilst feeding or travelling at the ocean surface, especially outside of the few small protected areas that exist where boat speed restrictions are in place. Baba sustained some of the worst injuries our team have ever recorded on a living manta ray; the boat’s propeller had cut so deep into his body cavity that his internal organs were exposed.
Incredibly, on the 4th May, after six months without any sightings, Babaganoush made a triumphant return to Hanifaru Bay looking healthy and extremely well healed. Of course, we could not be happier that he has survived! These records illustrate the remarkable ability of manta rays to resist infection and heal, allowing them to survive (at least sometimes) injuries that we’d assumed would prove fatal. However, it also illustrates the negative indirect impacts which humans are increasingly having on these species globally, even in countries where they are lucky enough to receive national protections from fishing and other direct threats. Each year, as speedboat traffic significantly increases in the Maldives, where little-to-no speed limits are in place throughout much of the country, the nation’s marine life faces a serious threat from the unregulated impacts of rapid human development. Urgent actions are therefore needed by the Maldives government to implement effective management regulations, especially at key megafauna aggregation sites, and along migratory corridors.
Manta tourism provides many countries and governments throughout the range of manta rays with a strong economic incentive to protect these species and their habitats. However, this tourism also needs to be managed if it is to be sustainable. The Maldives, which is home to the world’s largest population of reef manta rays, where these species are protected nationally, has been taking some positive steps to conserve its native marine life and encourage responsible tourism. However, the pressures on the Maldives’ coral reefs and their inhabitants are rapidly increasing, and much greater efforts are required if this ecosystem is to not to become ‘loved to death’. Hanifaru Bay, a location known to seasonally attract huge aggregations of manta rays, was declared a marine protected area (MPA) in 2009. In 2010, regulations at this site were put in place to minimise the impacts of tourism on the aggregating manta rays. These measures include restrictions on visitor numbers, a ban on SCUBA diving and fishing, with strict enforcement by on-site rangers. As a result, this site has become a model example of how well-managed tourism can, and should, benefit both marine life and the local economy. However, outside of this small MPA, the rapidly growing pressures of development and climate breakdown upon the natural resources and the biodiversity of the Maldives should be a serious concern for a nation that’s economy is so heavily reliant on the health of its marine environment.
With the support of Cyclone Members, the Manta Trust continues to work with local communities, tourism operators, and the Maldives government to find tangible solutions to the issue of tourism development. If you have any plans this year to travel and see manta rays, don’t forget to check out How to Swim with Manta Rays. Here you’ll find clear guidelines on how divers and snorkelers should behave in the water to ensure their presence minimises disturbance to any encountered manta rays. Plus, tourism operators can download free resources to help run responsible manta trips and can register to be listed as a responsible operator.
Head of Fundraising & Communications