A new collaborative scientific study led by the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE) and in cooperation with partners and the public has compiled a national population database for manta rays and has identified four hotspots for the species in the Philippines.
Sightings from dedicated in-water research efforts by LAMAVE and partners as well as citizen science contributions from dive centers, digital submissions on platforms like mantamatcher.org as well as online searches on social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have enabled the creation of the database. The study reports the presence of both Reef Mantas (Mobula alfredi) and Oceanic Mantas (Mobula birostris) in the country.
A total of 2,659 manta ray sightings were analysed by the team and from those, 499 individual manta rays were identified using photo-identification methods, which use the unique spot pattern on the ventral side (belly) of the manta ray. These individuals were encountered in 22 different sites across the Philippines, 11 of which both reef manta and oceanic mantas were observed.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and Ticao-Burias Pass Protected Seascape identified as
hotspots Of these 22 sites, the study identified four hotspots where manta rays aggregate:
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Cagayancillo, San Jacinto in the Ticao-Burias Pass Protected Seascape, Puerto Princesa City and TayTay in Palawan. Three of these hotspots are in the waters of Palawan. These four sites accounted for 89% of all the individual manta rays and specific behaviours were observed including cleaning, courtship and feeding.
In reference to the Tico-Burias Pass Protected Seascape Nonie P. Enolva, Senior Fishing Regulations Officer/Chief, Fisheries Resource Management Section, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources – Region 5 had this to say – “Ticao Pass is one of the Bicol Region’s marine key biodiversity areas known to be home of filter-feeding megafauna like whale sharks, megamouth sharks and mobulas. The area has been known to be rich in plankton and other primary producers at the trophic level. The preponderance of visits of these megafaunas is greatly attributed to how rich the Ticao Pass is in terms of the primary food source that has been provided for them. Thus, the protection of this important fishing ground would also mean the protection of the many marine species that are dependent on it. The implementation of the Fisheries Management Area 7 which covers Ticao Pass would also warrant an Ecosystems Approach to Fisheries Management by providing policies that include protection of important marine species.”
Oceanic mantas keep coming back to the same areas Oceanic Mantas accounted for 107 individuals in the national catalog and resights of this species gave an insight into their movements. One female manta first sighted in Daanbantayan, Cebu in 2009, became the first recorded movement of an oceanic manta between sites in the Philippines when she was resighted in San Jacinto in 2014 and then back again in Daanbantayan in 2017. Another individual made a similar journey in 2017, covering ~150 km (straight-line movement) in five days.
Other records from Daanbantayan also revealed the longest resighting interval with two individual manta rays seen again in the area after an 8-year interval. Six other individuals were sighted in the area in at least two different years suggesting that the area is important for the species as they keep coming back. Ticao, Masbate and Palawan were identified as hotspots for reef mantas As for reef mantas, 392 individuals were identified from sighting records over 16 years between 2004-2020. Over 90% of these individuals were encountered in three sites: San Jacinto (Ticao-Burias Pass Protected Seascape), Taytay in Northern Palawan and Cagayancillo (Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park) in Palawan. In these areas 66-80% of the mantas identified were seen more than once, most often at cleaning stations – small patches of coral that house cleaning fish. The fact that two of these hotspots are within protected areas (Ticao-Burias Pass Protected Area and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park) highlights the importance of these areas for the species and why the continued efforts to conserve them are crucial.
Both species are still under threat. The study highlights key threats continuing to face these species. A quarter of the animals identified in San Jacinto and Taytay showed fishery-related injuries, in the form of damaged or missing fins or severe cuts. Damage to cleaning stations is a further concern; the cleaning sites in San Jacinto are characterised by an abundance of fishing gear entangled in the reef resulting in damage or destruction of this sensitive habitat.
Meanwhile, sightings of oceanic manta rays (M. birostris) in Daanbantayan dropped from 73 sightings between 2006-2012 to only 16 sightings between 2013-2019 despite the increased diving effort in the area. San Jacinto showed a similar trend with 15 sightings between 2013-2014 to only three between 2017-2019. This is an alarming 80% decline in sighting frequency and may be attributed to fishing activities in part of its assumed population range, such as in the Bohol Sea which saw at least 100 oceanic mantas landed per season in the Bohol Sea up until 2017. The species has a population recovery time of over 37 years so protecting the remaining individuals is fundamental if we are to help the species recover.
Conservation strategies such as marine protected areas and fishing gear regulations should be urgently adopted at these sensitive sites, especially in the identified hotspots which do not currently benefit from species-specific protection such as Taytay and Puerto Princesa City.
For more information visit: www.lamave.org
Header Image: LAMAVE research, San Jacinto, Philippines. Credit: Olivia Johnson (LAMAVE)
UK Shark Fin ban moves closer to becoming law
Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation’s relentless campaigns to make Britain shark fin-free reached a new milestone last week when a private member’s bill to ban the import and export of shark fins was voted through parliament with unanimous cross-party support.
The bill is now scheduled for three readings in the House of Lords and, if successful, it will then go to King Charles for Royal Ascent and become law.
Campaign director for Bite-Back, Graham Buckingham, said:
“Our goal of ending Britain’s ties with the global shark fin trade is within our reach. This country has a dark history of exporting around 20 tonnes of shark fins every year and it remains legal to bring up to 20kg of dried shark fins through Customs without needing to declare it. This bill could represent a significant blow to the multi-million-pound shark fin industry. It’s now down to the House of Lords to smooth its path to the palace.”
Since July 2022 the charity has been consulting the Labour MP Christina Rees who put forward the private member’s bill after the government failed to bring its Animal Welfare Bill, that promised to ban the import and export of shark fins, into law last year.
To help improve support for the bill, Bite-Back also created a briefing document on the issues for all MPs to reference. During the bill’s final reading in the House of Commons MPs from different parties wholeheartedly endorsed the ban on the import and export of shark fins.
In her closing statement Christina Rees MP said that she hoped this bill would ‘drive up the standards of global shark conservation’.
Bite-Back will now turn its attention to educating and inspiring members of the House of Lords to vote in favour of a ban.
Follow the bill’s progress at www.bite-back.com and learn how you can get involved in supporting shark conservation initiatives in the UK.
Header image: Finned sharks underwater- Copyright – Scubazoo.
Shark Trust calls for global shark citizen scientists
The Shark Trust has launched a new smartphone app that makes it simple for everyone to get involved in shark science and conservation. The new app brings together five citizen science projects into one place, allowing users to report: shark sightings, eggcase finds, Basking Shark observations, angling catches, and incidents of shark entanglement with marine litter.
Through these projects, anyone with an interest in sharks, skates and rays can contribute to important research and have a lot of fun along the way. The findings can be submitted from anywhere in the world and will help scientists by providing a range of vital data from some of the 1200+ species of sharks, skates and rays that swim in our ocean.
As users submit their findings across the five citizen science projects, they will build a logbook of their research contributions. These are saved in their profile and shared with the wider community, so users can see what other people have recently been discovering.
Alongside this important citizen science aspect, there are also 50 collectible shark cards to unlock: 30 bronze cards, 15 silver cards, and five gold cards. Submitting to any of the projects unlocks a card at random, so you never know what you’re going to find!
The Shark Trust’s flagship citizen science project, the Great Eggcase Hunt, which encourages the public to find the empty eggcases (or mermaid’s purses) of sharks and skate on the beach or submit those seen developing in situ, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
Senior Conservation Officer Cat Gordon says “We’re really excited to be celebrating the Great Eggcase Hunt’s 20th anniversary this year! As part of the celebrations, we’re releasing this brand-new citizen science app, hosting a public evening event, and planning a special edition of the Trust’s membership magazine Shark Focus. The project has grown substantially since 2003, when we received just 128 records in the first year, to having a staggering 50,212 individual eggcases recorded in 2022 alone! In total, we’ve received over 370,000 eggcases since the project began, and we hope the app inspires even more people to get out and about in search of mermaid’s purses!”
The Great Eggcase Hunt element of the app features eggcases from species which can be found in the Northeast Atlantic, as well as those in Australia (working in partnership with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation). In time we will add identification materials from more regions, but until then, records can still be submitted from outside these areas. This app replaces the previous Great Eggcase Hunt app which was launched in 2014 – so if you previously used that then please delete it and download the new version!
If you are interested in sharks, skates and rays and want to help contribute towards research and conservation, the Shark Trust citizen science app is for you. Everyone from the occasional beachgoer to seasoned divers and anglers can get involved.
Paul Cox, Shark Trust CEO, says “For a while we’ve wanted to make it easier and more fun for people to identify and record their sightings. Thanks to a generous donation from Animal Friends Pet Insurance, we’ve been able to create this great tool with local gamification specialists, Kazow Games. We’re really excited to get this app out into the world and start to see more recorders getting involved with our projects.”
Search for ‘Shark Trust’ in the relevant app store, download the app today, and start recording your findings. We are already working on some exciting updates and are still welcoming feedback, so if you have opportunity to try it out, please let us know what you think!
Let’s build a global community of citizen scientists who can help protect these incredible animals together!
Find out more on the Shark Trust website.
Header image: James Harris
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