Save The Mantas

What’s it like to be an arm’s length away as a 15-foot-wide manta ray roils the water around you? Divers in the Pacific share some incredible images of an encounter that’s becoming more and more rare.

1. Manta Cleaning Station

New England Aquarium Global Explorers Blog / Via explorers.neaq.org

A team of divers from the New England Aquarium and Monterey Bay Aquarium are exploring a coral reef in Fiji when they look up and see this. A 15-foot-wide manta ray passing over the peak of the reef to attract cleaner fish. Turns out it’s not an unusual sight in the Namena Marine Reserve.

2. Repeat Manta Experience

New England Aquarium Global Explorers Blog / Via explorers.neaq.org

Something similar happened in 2010 when the same group of divers were exploring a different part of Fiji called Gau. During this dive at least half a dozen large mantas rocketed around the divers.

3. Manta Macro

New England Aquarium Global Explorers Blog / Via explorers.neaq.org

During this 2010 frenzy, the divers didn’t have time to switch their camera lenses for wide shots, but they did get some macro images of what these incredible animals look like up close.

4. Protecting Rays

New England Aquarium Global Explorers Blog / Via explorers.neaq.org

Unfortunately large rays like mantas and these spotted eagle rays are being increasingly targeted by fishing operations. In addition to fishing them for food, there is an unscientific belief that manta gills have a medicinal effect. Seeing these species for sale here was shocking to the dive team because eagle rays are totem animals on some of the islands. There is currently an effort to increase shark awareness in the Fijian Islands, and a group called the shark defenders. If the effort resulted in a protected area in the islands, these species could be protected.

5. Manta Market

Manta Trust / Via mantatrust.org

Something needs to be done, and not just in Fiji. On any given day, this fishmarket in Sri Lanka is filled with sharks and rays, including mantas. This photograph was taken by Daniel Fernardo of the Manta Trust.

6. Disappearing Inspiration

New England Aquarium Global Explorers Blog / Via explorers.neaq.org

This isn’t a new problem. Author Peter Benchley was famous for his book Jaws, but he spent most of his life working for ocean conservation efforts, including protecting sharks and rays. He wrote this novel The Girl of the Sea of Cortez in 1983. It’s about a young girl’s efforts to stop her fishing village on the Baja Peninsula from killing the manta rays. Peter was inspired to write the story after a real life encounter with rays in the Sea of Cortez. He recalls one giving him a ride during a dive there. In 2008, Peter’s widow, Wendy, returned to the Sea of Cortez with a research expedition. She was hoping to catch a glimpse of some of Peter’s favorite animals, sharks and rays. She was shocked to see there were none there.

7. Manta Come Back

New England Aquarium Global Explorers Blog / Via explorers.neaq.org

If reports from the field are anything to go by, these giant filter feeders are an incredible sight to behold. Marine protected areas and sanctuaries have a chance at protecting these species so future divers to Fiji and elsewhere around the world can see them up close.

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