Oceanic Giant Manta Rays or Rayas Mantas (Manta Birostris) are the world's largest ray, reaching sizes of more than 20ft from wingtip to wingtip. Despite their size are one of the ocean’s most graceful and peaceful creatures, subsisting on a diet primarily of zooplankton like shrimp, krill, and planktonic crabs, and are known for their docility and curiosity around divers.
With a circumglobal territory that covers tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters, these creatures can be found from Jakarta to Guanacaste to Cape Town to Rio de Janeiro and are known for long oceanic migrations. However, they tend to gravitate to certain areas on their routes for longer term stays in areas with readily abundant food, including the area from the Bahía de Potrero to the Catalinas Islands, and the bay around Las Catalinas.
Manta Rays have a range that covers much of the world's oceans ranging from tropical to temperate | PC: Commons
Manta Rays can be seen throughout the year in the waters around Las Catalinas, but are at their most prominent during the period between late November to early May, when individuals and groups frequently make their way through the area to feed in the protected waters off of town.
On rare occasions it is possible to see them while paddle boarding or while snorkeling in the area, and the best chance to see these creatures is on a dive with ConnectOcean, where not only can you see manta rays in their natural habitat, but also contribute to restoring and preserving their habitats.
Giant oceanic manta rays range across a wide variety of different undersea environments ranging from open ocean to close coastal waters, and have been tracked along a range of thousands of miles.
Manta rays can travel thousands of miles during their migrations, but tend to remain in certain areas for long periods of time | PC: Commons
Manta rays have few natural predators due to their size (namely orca whales and great white sharks), but are listed as a threatened species due to over fishing, both of their natural food sources and of the rays themselves, which are desired in alternative medicine for their two front gill rakers. Due to their method of swimming, they’re also unable to swim backwards, which makes them susceptible to being caught in nets or trailing lines.
However, many parts of the world have begun wholesale efforts to protect these rays, which is doubly valuable. Not only is the health and diversity of the overall ecosystem preserved, but research shows that protecting manta rays is economically beneficial as well, with estimates that each ray is worth more than $1,000,000 of manta ray tourism each year, compared to a maximum of about $500 when caught.
For both of these reasons, there have been conservation efforts put into place in dozens of countries to protect these gentle giants, including the work being done by ConnectOcean.
As part of their cornerstone goals, ConnectOcean are working to provide data for the drafting and creation of a Community Managed Marine Protected Area in a large area around the Catalinas Islands.
Data is always an important part of conversation efforts, and can be vital for policy makers to make informed decisions about protecting areas. For example, for a Community Managed Marine Protected Area, extensive work must be done to survey fish species and populations at a wide variety of dive sites, which is fundamental to informing the eventual size and area of the protected area.
Manta Rays tracked at the Catalinas Islands
Among its many purposes, a marine reserve would provide manta rays a protected feeding ground and a safe stop for them on their oceanic migrations.
ConnectOcean is also going a step further in the conservation of manta rays with their citizen science manta ray tracking database. Each manta ray has a distinct set of ventral markings, which means that different individuals can be tracked and cataloged. With the help of divers around Costa Rica taking photos of individual manta rays, it’s possible to put together a database to understand exactly where different manta rays are, and when.
This is where ConnectOcean’s Citizen Science dives come in. Every manta spotted and tracked on these dives helps contribute to this data base, as well as the protection and recovery of all manta rays in Costa Rican waters.
In places like Raja Ampat, Indonesia, the implementation of marine protected areas has led to an incredible recovery of the ecosystem | PC: Commons
Diving with ConnectOcean is a way to blend the exploration of nature with conservation, an activity that benefits not only future generations, but also future dives. The effects of conservation and marine protected areas can begin to have a tangible effect immediately, and make it such that the same ecosystem is more vibrant for the next visit. Over the course of years, an entire environment can change for the better.
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