Conservation through Research, Awareness and Education
Emdad Rahman: I recently caught up with the team at the London International Dive Show and was intrigued by the work that takes place through the contribution of project officers and volunteers.
Manta rays are fascinating and captivating creatures. They are among the most charismatic creatures that inhabit our oceans Giants of their kind, they range throughout the tropical and sub-tropical oceans of the world. Born into a life of perpetual motion, they must keep swimming to survive. Driven forwards by powerful beats of their wing-like pectoral fins they search the ocean currents for concentrated patches of the tiny planktonic food upon which they feed.
With the largest brain of all fish their intelligence and curiosity make encounters with these creatures a truly amazing experience. The word ‘Manta’ comes from the Spanish for cloak or shawl and in the Maldivian language mantas are known as En Madi, which in English means ‘small fish eating ray’. Both of these terms are very descriptive of the manta rays, but what do we really know and just as importantly what do we still have to learn about these giant fish?
Research would indicate that mantas probably live to at least 50 and possibly up to 100 years. However, until scientists have been studying these animals for another 20 years we are unlikely to be able to answer this question more accurately.
Oceanic mantas (M.birostris) are the bigger of the two manta species; reaching a wing span (that’s wing tip to wing tip) of up to 7 metres (23ft)! A large oceanic manta might weigh in at up to 2 tonnes (4,440 lbs), making them a real ocean giant!
Although smaller than the oceanic mantas, the reef mantas (M.alfredi) are still pretty big fishes, growing to an average wing span of 3-3.5 metres (9-11.5ft) and a possible maximum of 4.5 metres (15ft), reaching weights of up to 1.4 tonnes (3,100 lbs). In both species the wing span is roughly 2.2 times the length of the body.
However, despite their popularity with divers and snorkelers many aspects of these creatures lives remain a mystery, with only snippets of their life history understood.
The Manta Trust was formed in 2011 to co-ordinate global research and conservation efforts for these amazing animals, their close relatives and their habitat.
As charismatic megafauna manta rays act as flagship species, helping to promote and engage the general public in the wider message of marine ecosystem conservation. Through this top down approach to conservation the manta ray becomes the catalyst for change, engaging and motivating the general public, governments and local communities alike. A UK Registered Charity, the Trust brings together a number of projects from around the globe, both new and long-standing, including the Republic of Maldives, Sri Lanka, Mexico and Indonesia. By conducting long-term, robust studies into manta populations in these locations the trust aims to build the solid foundations upon which Governments, NGO’s and conservationists can make informed and effective decisions to ensure the long term survival of these animals and their habitat.
Good conservation requires a holistic approach. The Manta Trust researchers and volunteers work closely with tourists, local communities, businesses and governments to ensure the preservation of these amazing animals through good science, education, community based initiatives and government legislation. As the scope of the Trust’s work continues to grow the goal is to expand these efforts globally.
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species is widely recognised as ‘the most comprehensive global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species’. By measuring a species against a number of criteria such as species range, habitat, population and population trends, threats and conservation actions, the IUCN’s Red List assessment process is able to provide a consistent measure of how threatened a species is compared to all other species, as well as, upon re-evaluation, providing a measure of change in population trends. The genus Manta was re-assessed for the IUCN Red List in 2011 to take into account the species reclassification within the genus which took place in 2009. Upon revaluation, both species of manta rays have now been listed as ‘Vulnerable’, an upgrading from ‘Near Threatened’.
Every year volunteers from around the world participate in field research projects with the Manta Trust to collect scientific data and promote the conservation of manta rays through educational awareness campaigns.
If you want to work with the trust as a field volunteer you need to be 21 years or older, fit, a strong swimmer and an advanced open water diver, enthusiastic, computer literate, organised, willing to work long hours and passionate about marine conservation.
Send your CV, along with a covering letter stating why you would like to pursue a volunteer position, what skills you can bring and which projects you are interested in to firstname.lastname@example.org.