Conservation International, S.E.A.A. join forces in manta tagging

With Southeast Asia’s largest manta tagging project fully underway, the S.E.A. Aquarium and Conservation International (CI) are now venturing to Raja Ampat.

The year-long manta tagging project started in September 2014 where the CI team successfully tagged 5 mantas around Bali. The plan is to tag 30 manta rays in the Indonesian waters in the region of Bali, Raja Ampat, Berau, and the Lesser Sunda Islands.

The teams is now ready to venture to more remote locations to deploy 10 more tags in Raja Ampat.

Conservation International team tagging manta. (Photo credit: Conservational International)
Conservation International team tagging manta. (Photo credit: Conservational International © Shawn Heinrichs)

Importance of manta tagging

By tagging the mantas, the team is able to collect information on the animals’ movements and migrations. These will help conservationists understand the movement of mantas and locate the habitats that need to be protected in order for mantas to survive.

To illustrate further, if mantas protected in one location have to migrate through dangerous fishing grounds in less protected areas then clearly efforts of protection in the initial location will serve little use.

Through CI, the information gathered will be shared with the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, to help the Indonesian government better develop conservation policies for manta rays.

Tagging mantas with high tech GPS

The tags use the “Fastloc GPS technology” which allows rapid, highly accurate GPS locations every time the manta rays get close to the surface.

This is the first time the technology is used in manta ray satellite tagging. With the technology, the mantas’ location can be tracked in near real-time.

The tags will record depth and time for the entire period the tag is on the manta. We can see how deep the mantas dive and how long they spend at depth, which provides insight into the manta’s movements below the surface.

Each time the manta comes to the surface this information is sent to the satellites, along with GPS coordinates. This is a vast improvement from the conventional archival tags where data is retrieved only after the tag releases from the animal after potentially months of deployment.

Importance of Raja Ampat in marine biodiversity

Raja Ampat is an archipelago of over 1,500 small islands in Western Papua, Indonesia.

These islands are the global epi-centre for marine biodiversity with over 600 species of coral and 1700 species of fish. By protecting Raja Ampat, we can protect 75 percent of the known coral species, something that we can’t do from anywhere else in the world.

Apart from manta rays, the area is also home to other impressive marine life such as leatherback turtles, sperm whales and numerous dolphin species. Our partner, CI, have been working in Raja Ampat for over 10 years, ensuring that its beauty is protected for generations to come.

Indonesia has world’s largest manta sanctuary

A manta in Indonesian waters. (Photo credit: Conservation International. © Shawn Heinrichs)
A manta in Indonesian waters. (Photo credit: Conservation International. © Shawn Heinrichs)

The manta tagging project is an extension of Conservation International’s works in Indonesia. In February 2014, the Indonesian Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries passed a regulation for full protection for both species of manta rays–reef manta (Manta alfredi) and the oceanic manta (Manta birostris).

This means that the harvesting and trade of manta rays is not allowed in Indonesian waters. Currently, manta rays are hunted for the gill-raker trade, which is driven by the use in Chinese medicine, even though the gill rakers are not scientifically proven to be beneficial to health.

With the regulation in place, Indonesia is the world’s largest manta sanctuary at nearly 6 million square kilometres in size.

In addition, on 14 September 2014, both species of manta ray were listed for international protection under CITES Appendix II which means that trade of mantas is being controlled to ensure their long-term survival.

The S.E.A. Aquarium team will be heading to Raja Ampat where they will spend six days tagging mantas with Conservation International.

Stay tuned to the blog where we’ll bring you updates from the manta-tagging trip.

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