Manta Rays are a Researcher’s Muse in the Maldives

When it comes to being photographed, manta rays in the Maldives may rival some of Hollywood’s favourite celebrities.  But instead of paparazzi following the animals, it’s scientists from Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru.  Every season from May to December, researchers snap more than 10,000 photographs of the species for the Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP).

The project, based out of the Resort, was founded in 2005 by the Resort’s senior marine biologist, Guy Stevens with the support of Four Seasons and Save Our Seas Foundation, and is the only full-time manta ray project in the country.  With 2,000 animals documented as of February 2011, it boasts the largest number of manta rays on record anywhere in the world.

                    

Although the species is protected in the Maldives, worldwide manta ray populations are declining.  In fact, they are listed as near threatened species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  Many are caught in drift nets and lines while others are targeted by fisheries.

Little is known about the migratory patterns and reproductive behaviours of manta rays. The research team at MMRP is now using tracking devices to study the movements of identified manta rays in hopes of uncovering some of this information.  Scientists are particularly interested in learning about what influences the animals’ migratory patterns between feeding and cleaning grounds, when manta rays visit specific reefs to have parasites and dead tissue removed from their bodies by small cleaner fish. This information is necessary to accurately assess the species and to build appropriate protection measures.

Thankfully, the team’s hard work is paying off.  In 2007, MMRP became the first organization to map out the entire reproductive cycle of the Maldivian manta rays.  The project has also uncovered information surrounding the animals’ social groupings, feeding behaviours and population numbers.

Learn more about MMRP and other ocean conservation activities on property at the Resort's Marine Discovery Centre.