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Reef manta ray recorded for first time in Eastern Pacific

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Chance sighting suggests ‘coastal manta’ may venture out further offshore than previously thought

A pregnant reef manta ray was encountered for the first time at the remote Cocos Island in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, challenging our current understanding of this threatened species, which is usually known to roam coastal waters. An international team of marine biologists has published their report this week.

Reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi), which grow up to 5 m, tend to be residential and are often found in shallow habitats where they are cleaned by reef fish or mate. Giant manta rays (Mobula birostris), on the other hand, have been recorded traveling vast distances and diving over 1000 m deep. It still remains a mystery how manta rays navigate the open ocean and what motives their long-distance movements.

The new study was authored by scientists and environmentalists from the Marine Megafauna Foundation, Fins Attached (both US), Pelagios Kakunjá in Mexico, and CREMA in Costa Rica (Centro Rescate Especies Marinas Amenazadas).

The 3.5 m reef manta reported in this study was seen in the waters off Cocos Island (Costa Rica), nearly 6000 km east from the nearest confirmed sighting location in the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia and would represent the longest recorded straight-line distance traveled by any species of manta ray. It is also the first confirmed sighting of reef manta on either side of the American continent.

Randall Arauz of Fins Attached said: “Reef mantas may travel several hundred kilometers, although they tend not to travel too far offshore. It is unclear how this individual could have steered so far off course, leading us to assume it was not intentional.”

“The manta was close to the bottom swimming slowly against the current with its cephalic lobes fully extended, although it was not feeding at the time. When I saw her markings and pigmentation patterns, I knew that this manta was different from the ones we usually encounter in the region”, added Dr Mauricio Hoyos, who filmed the manta during a scientific dive in the national park.

The marine biologists uploaded photographs of the ray’s unique belly spot pattern to Manta Matcher, a global online database which includes contributions from ‘citizen scientists’, and compared them to more than 2800 registers from the Pacific.

Dr Andrea Marshall, co-founder and principal scientist at the Marine Megafauna Foundation said about the discovery: “I have been studying mantas for 16 years and they still constantly surprise me. This extraordinary sighting challenges everything we currently know about the migratory behavior of this species and its ability to undertake long-distance movements across open ocean environments.”

Interestingly, the reef manta was pregnant when observed in September 2018. Manta rays give birth to a single pup every 2-5 years, making them one of the slowest reproducing shark and ray species in the world. To date, no one has ever witnessed a manta ray give birth in the wild.

“If it hasn’t already happened, there is a possibility that this manta will give birth in Cocos Island”, Arauz commented.

The team fitted the manta with an acoustic tag, which can stay on for months, even years, logging the animals’ presence every time it comes past one of the listening stations placed around the island. Initial data revealed she has remained in the area.  Listening stations deployed around other Eastern Tropical Pacific Islands, like Malpelo Colombia, or the Galapagos, Ecuador, will alert the researchers if she travels to either of these sites.

Marshall concluded: “It will be interesting to monitor her over the coming months and see how she uses this new, unfamiliar habitat. If she adjusts well to the conditions, it begs the question: why do reef mantas not ordinarily live in this part of the ocean? While unlikely, we also cannot ignore the possibility that small populations of reef mantas may in fact exist in the Eastern Pacific and have just gone undetected.”

“Perhaps most importantly, this research also provides tantalizing clues to how reef mantas may have so prolifically colonized the remote islands and archipelagos of the Indian Ocean and South Pacific.”

The scientific expeditions to Cocos Island were supported by the Whitley Fund for Nature, Conservation International, Sandler Foundation, and Friends of Cocos Island National Park.

The study by Randall Arauz et al., titled ‘First record of the reef manta ray, Mobula alfredi, from the eastern Pacific’ is published in the journal Marine Biodiversity Records on 20 March 2019 and will be available here.

Gear News

SCUBAPRO CARES – Step by step for the protection of our oceans

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For over 50 years Scubapro has been committed to diving and marine conservation. From optimising materials and manufacturing techniques to sponsoring conservation organisations and the work of the Deep Elite Ambassadors, Scubapro is committed to helping preserve the oceans.

The goal is to create awareness for the oceans and encourage divers to get involved in environmental protection. Scubapro has partnerships with Mission Blue, Galapagos National Parks, Conservation International, WWF, Antinea Foundation, San Diego Oceans Foundation, REEF, National Marine Life Center, Sharkproject, SOS Sea Turtles, Ozeankind, Yaqu Pacha and many more.

SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS

Scubapro divewear is the greenest – or bluest – in the industry. In 2012, Scubapro was the first manufacturer to use X-Foam neoprene. In 2017, again as the first manufacturer, the solvent-free Aqua Alpha glue followed in Everflex suits. Today, all Scubapro dry suits, wetsuits, shortys, hoods and gloves thicker than 1.5 mm are made with this solvent-free glue. In addition, the standards for neoprene include the use of only environmentally beneficial doped-dyed yarns, carbon black components from recycled tyres and 100% petroleum-free limestone

“Scubapro was one of the first brands to stop using petroleum-based neoprene and to start using neoprene that was gained from Limestone instead. By developing the Everflex 3/2mm no zip, we have tried to produce a natural-based neoprene suit. We have also used solvent free glue for the fabric production and suit assembly which complies to REACH regulations for pollutant free production processes. Having had the chance to spend time with the workers on the production chain, I can tell that this is a serious milestone for ensuring their health and developing an eco-friendlier level of neoprene.”

– Nicolas Vincent, Scubapro product manager Dive Wear & Bags 

RESPONSIBLE PACKAGING

As part of its Responsible Packaging program, Scubapro is gradually reducing the use of plastic packaging. Some measures that have already been implemented: 

  • Recycled cardboard boxes or protective containers for masks that can be used sustainably for transport and storage of accessories.
  • Boots in fabric bags that can be used for transport and storage as well as a wash or shoe bag.
  • Headbands, neoprene mask straps, gloves and other accessories are delivered on recycled label cards as packaging.
  • Regulators, computers, and regulator maintenance kits are shipped in cardboard packaging without plastic.
  • Fins in recycled cardboard boxes or in mesh bags that can be used for transport and storage or as bags for marine debris when diving.

The complete elimination of plastic and the reduction of total packaging are the goals of the Responsible Packaging program. Innovative packaging solutions for more products will be introduced
in the near future.

Further information: www.scubapro.eu/scubapro-cares

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Marine Life & Conservation

The IMPERFECT Conservationist, Episode #4: Think Like an IMPERFECT Conservationist – Why ‘imperfect’ is important (Watch Video)

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Why does “Imperfect” matter when it comes to conservation? In this video I explain how being imperfect is important especially when it comes to conservation. This is a view into the mindset of being an Imperfect Conservationist.

This is “The IMPERFECT Conservationist” – Episode #4, a between the scenes Special Edition. In this series I take the big concepts of conservation and break them down into easily digestible bite-size pieces that can be applied to everyday busy life. In each video you will get your dose of “Conservation Empowerment” with ways to THINK like an IMPERFECT Conservationist and EASY – AFFORDABLE – IMPACTFUL conservation action that fits into your life. We can’t do it all, or do it perfectly but when it comes to being part of the solution, we can always do something! Be inspired, inspire others, do something good. Don’t forget to hit that subscribe button, and the bell so you know when my new videos post! More on my website and social channels too.

Subscribe HERE for weekly episodes of The Imperfect Conservationist!


Find out more at www.mehganheaneygrier.com

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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