Blue Safari Seychelles is leading the way in Manta Ray Conservation with its Acoustic Tagging Programme.
After three years of planning and collaboration with partners from around the world, and two and a half years of fundraising, the project is now coming to fruition. Prior to 2022 the project relied on photo-ID to identify these gliding giants but in a major new development in protecting the species the team are acoustically tagging twenty Mantas and taking genetic samples from twenty-five.
The acoustic tags are about the size of a cigar and sit outside the Manta. A tagging pole injects a skin anchor into the muscle tissue of the Manta and a strong thread connects that to the outside tag. The genetic samples have been collected using the same pole but instead of inserting a tag, the tip extracts a tiny piece of tissue. In all 23 different Mantas have been sampled and Blue Safari Seychelles has taken care not to sample and tag the same Manta in order to minimise stress.
Vital information will be gathered from sixty-eight underwater receivers situated around the outer reefs and inner lagoons which will detect the high-frequency pings emitted by the tags on the Mantas as they swim past. Goals of the Manta Acoustic Tagging project include learning how the Mantas are inhabiting the atolls and what factors influence their movements and residency times around the atolls at different stages of life in male and female Mantas and to contribute genetic samples to an Indian Ocean-wide genetic study looking at connectivity throughout the region.
This Acoustic Tagging Programme project sits within the national Seychelles Manta Ray Project (SMRP). Blue Safari are a key partner in this collaboration along with The Manta Trust, Save Our Seas Foundation and other partners around the Seychelles. The project has a planned three-year timeline after which all the data will be fully analysed, reports and papers compiled, and increased conservation management put in place. The results of the project will be highly valuable for the protection of poorly studied Manta populations in other small island states where pressures on these creatures may be higher. Globally Manta Rays are facing significant threats; at least 15,000 Mobulid Rays are caught by the global tuna fishery alone every year as by-catch and a further 150,000 are killed for their gills which are used in Chinese traditional medicine. Both species are listed on the IUCN Redlist and on the CITES appendices but there is still a considerable illegal trade in their gills.
As Mantas are incredibly slow to reproduce and their populations have decreased by more than 30% in the last 25 years, the need to protect these remote, untouched populations of beautiful Mantas has never been greater.
The new Manta Acoustic Tagging project has been 100 percent funded by guest donations, without which it would not have been possible. The next download of data from the receivers will be a preliminary analysis and will show which Mantas have stayed in the area and what they have been up to.
If you would like to contribute to the project and make a donation to the Alphonse Foundation please email: [email protected] OR [email protected]
|One of the most memorable experiences for guests to Alphonse Island is the opportunity to swim with Mantas. Blue Safari Seychelles is taking this unique signature snorkelling experience to a new level - all in the name of science!|
Guests are encouraged to be involved and learn all about the key conservation project from the on-site marine biologist. Blue Safari’s Conservation Team will offer guests an immersive experience learning how to identify Mantas through the unique spot patterns on their bellies and observe how they feed using their iconic horn-shaped fins before heading out for the unforgettable experience to swim with the world’s largest rays.
Sarah Bryans 18/04/2023