Have you ever had the privilege of swimming with a manta ray?
They are some of the most beautiful, majestic creatures I have ever
encountered (in my humble opinion). Manta rays (Manta birostris or Manta alfredi) are filter feeders from the eagle ray family Mobulidae. They are usually found in the open ocean, though Manta alfredi
can be commonly found along the coast. Since Guam is pretty much all
coast, you have a pretty good chance of seeing one during certain times
of the year. This time of year (late February to early May) is actually a really good time to see them on Guam around dawn or dusk. Just the possibility of seeing ONE is enough of an impetus to get me
up in the morning! Living on Guam,I’ve had the opportunity to see these
creatures up close on several occasions over the past couple years.
Guam, not much is known about our resident population of manta rays, so
Julie Hartup, a graduate student at the University of Guam Marine Lab,
has started studying them, finding out where they commonly aggregate,
and what they like to feed on. She just recently published an article in
the journal Coral Reefs describing feeding habits, which had previously
been undocumented, of Manta alfredi on Guam (article available here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00338-013-1022-4/fulltext.html).
Julie is not only making great strides in research, but is also
actively engaged with manta conservation. She is the project leader in
the Marianas for a group called Manta Trust (http://www.mantatrust.org/),
an organization devoted to the conservation of manta rays and their
habitat through science and research while also providing education to
the public and community stakeholders.Through their actions, as well as the actions of many other
scientists, educators and conservationists, both species of mantas were
recently approved for protection under Appendix II of CITES. This means
there is now regulation to the trade of these species, which is a vital
step towards their conservation.
I could go on and on about manta
rays, but I think showing you some pictures from my recent encounters
just may be enough to make you want to know more.
Roxanne Myers-Miller is a marine biologist at Guam Coastal Management Program.