Jun 18

Manta ray photoWhile the oceans of our planet cover more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, we still know so little about what goes on beneath the waves.  There are vast areas, great depths and even hundreds or perhaps thousands of species that we still barely understand.  Manta rays can certainly be classed as one such species that we know little about and that is why in January 2012, The Manta Trust came into being; a UK registered charity aiming to improve our understanding of these animals and promote their long-term conservation.

What is the Manta Trust?

Manta Trust LogoThe Manta Trust is a growing group of scientists, photographers, film-makers, conservations and advocacy experts who have joined forces to co-ordinate global research and conservation efforts for both manta rays and their close cousin’s, the mobula rays.

Manta ray photoThese rays are among the most charismatic creatures that inhabit our oceans. With the largest brain of all fish, their intelligence and curiosity is often compared to that of a large mammal, making encounters with them a truly unforgettable experience.

However, despite their popularity with divers and snorkelers many aspects of these creature’s lives remain a mystery, with only snippets of their life history currently understood. More worryingly, in recent years a targeted fishery for these animals has developed, causing devastating declines in global manta ray populations.

The Manta Trust brings together a number of research projects from around the globe. By conducting long-term, robust studies into manta populations in these varying locations, we aim to build the solid foundations upon which governments, NGOs and conservationists can make informed and effective decisions to ensure the long term survival of these animals and their habitat. By coupling this research with educational programmes and raising awareness, we hope to be able to make a lasting difference to the future of our oceans.

What are manta rays?

Manta and mobula rays are cartilaginous elasmobranch fishes. Like other rays this means they are a close relative of the shark. However, unlike most rays which spend at least a portion of their lives hugging the seabed, mobulids live pelagic existences – meaning they spend their time swimming in open water.

They’re also completely harmless to humans, feeding on zooplankton, the often microscopic animals which live in the water column and are the base of many ocean food chains.  This food source means that these amazing rays are at the mercy of the oceans, often migrating thousands of kilometres to track down their next meal!

Manta ray photo

Manta rays are also the largest rays in the world.  There are two species of manta, the reef mantas and the larger oceanic mantas that grow to over 7m diameter from wingtip to wingtip.

We believe manta rays to be incredibly long lived, probably living to at least 50 years old or possibly longer! This characteristic, coupled with the fact that they mature late, reproduce infrequently and give birth usually to a single pup at a time, make them very vulnerable to exploitation by fisheries.

Are there any threats to mantas?

Gill plate photoUnfortunately yes, manta and mobula rays are fished for their gill plates, the intricate apparatus which helps them to both breathe underwater and to strain their microscopic planktonic food from the water.

This fishery is quite a recent development, with the gill plates being sold in Asian markets where they are prepared as a tonic to treat a variety of ailments.

Due to the vulnerable nature of these animals this has the potential to have catastrophic implications for their fragile populations.  In fact populations in some areas have already seen declines of up to 86% due to fisheries.

Where does the Manta Trust work?

One of the main aims of the Manta Trust is to unite and co-ordinate work being undertaken with these rays in all corners of the globe.  So far we are working in 17 countries!  By co-ordinating our research in this way the hope is that we can share in each other’s successes (and failures), learning what works and what doesn’t, ultimately achieving global successes for these species.

What does the Manta Trust want to achieve?

Our vision is “A sustainable future for the oceans where manta rays thrive in healthy, diverse marine ecosystems.”  We’d like to achieve this by conducting robust scientific research whilst educating and raising awareness of the issues which face these animals.

We know that good conservation requires a holistic approach. Therefore the Manta Trust researchers and volunteers work closely with tourists, local communities, businesses and governments to ensure the preservation of these amazing animals through a combination of good science, education, community based initiatives and government legislation. As the scope of the Trust’s work continues to grow our goal is to keep expanding these efforts globally.

In March 2013, the Manta Trust was part of a consortium of NGOs behind the successful listing of both species of manta ray on Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).  This listing means trade in manta ray parts between the 178 signatory nations will be closely controlled and restricted when this legislation comes into force in September 2014.

Manta Trust photo

This is a huge victory, however much still needs to be achieved for these animals until this legislation comes into force, especially to aid those in the involved fishing industry to transition to more sustainable futures.

How can you help The Manta Trust?

Manta ray photoOne of the best ways you can help is to swim with mantas! By showing governments that manta-based tourism is important and that it provides a sustainable long term industry in which people can earn a living whilst co-existing with these animals, we will be taking positive steps towards long-term solutions for these rays.

If you’ve been lucky enough to swim with mantas why not send us your pictures?  Each manta is uniquely identifiable by the pattern of spots on their ventral (belly) surface.  We are collating manta images from around the world as part of our global IDtheManta database.

You can learn more about it here.  By collecting this information on a global scale we hope to learn more about these amazing and mysterious animals.

We also accept volunteers! Check out our Volunteer page on The Manta Trust website and follow us on Facebook to see the latest opportunities as they are announced. In fact following our work on our blog, website, Facebook and Twitter pages and sharing what we do with your friends is also an amazing way to spread the manta message!

Jun 8
Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni)

Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni)

Species: Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The male Banggai cardinalfish broods its eggs and young inside a special pouch in its mouth, and does not eat during this period.

Its striking colouration and long, elegant fins have made the Banggai cardinalfish hugely popular in the aquarium trade. This species is unusual for a marine fish in the extreme levels of genetic diversity between its populations, caused by its very limited ability to move between different areas. The Banggai cardinalfish also lays relatively few eggs compared to other marine fish, and the eggs hatch after being brooded inside the male’s mouth for about 20 days. The young then continue to develop inside the male’s mouth for a further ten days before being released. The Banggai cardinalfish lives in shallow, tropical coastal waters around coral reefs or seagrass beds, and feeds on planktonic crustaceans.

The Banggai cardinalfish is found only at certain sites around islands in the Banggai Archipelago in Indonesia, and is under serious threat from over-collection for the aquarium trade. Many individuals die during transport, and many more are rejected due to being in poor condition. Habitat destruction and the illegal use of dynamite and cyanide in fishing for other species is also a threat to this small fish. A successful captive breeding programme has now been developed for the Banggai cardinalfish, although a proposal to regulate trade in this fish under CITES was rejected due to a conflict of interest. Fortunately, the Banggai Conservation Project is now working to protect the Banggai cardinalfish and its habitat.

 

Find out more about conservation of the Banggai cardinalfish at the New Jersey Academy for Aquatic Sciences and The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

See images and videos of the Banggai cardinalfish on ARKive.

Read about World Oceans Day on the ARKive blog, and have a go at our virtual scavenger hunt!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 13
Photo of angel shark resting, camouflaged on the seabed

Angel shark (Squatina squatina)

Species: Angel shark (Squatina squatina)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: With its flat body and large pectoral fins, the angel shark more closely resembles a large ray than a shark.

The angel shark is a large, stocky fish with strong jaws and sharp, needle-like teeth. An ambush predator, it spends the day lying buried in mud or sand with just its eyes protruding, and bursts out with impressive speed to catch fish, crustaceans and molluscs. Female angel sharks give birth to up to 25 pups after a gestation period of 8 to 10 months. The angel shark historically occurred from Norway to North Africa, the Canary Islands and the Mediterranean and Black Seas, but it has now vanished from many parts of its former range.

Although the angel shark is not a major target of fisheries, its habit of lying on the ocean bottom makes it vulnerable to becoming bycatch in trawl fisheries. As a result, its populations have undergone a dramatic decline. Like other Squatina species, the angel shark is protected within three Balearic Islands marine reserves, where fishing for these sharks is banned. However, more research is needed to better understand the status of the angel shark across its range, so that appropriate conservation measures can be put in place to protect it.

Find out more about the conservation of sharks and rays at Save Our Seas Foundation, Project Aware and The Shark Trust.

See images and videos of the angel shark on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Mar 16
Photo of green sawfish resting

Green sawfish (Pristis zijsron)

Species: Green sawfish (Pristis zijsron)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: The green sawfish uses its bizarre saw-like snout to swipe at shoals of fish and to rake crustaceans and molluscs out of the sediment.

A type of ray, the green sawfish is easily recognised by its highly elongated snout, known as a saw. This strange structure bears up to 37 pairs of teeth and is often held upwards at an angle as the fish rests on the ocean floor. The green sawfish is the largest sawfish species, occasionally reaching over seven metres in length. It gives birth to live young, and the saws of the young fish are covered in a gelatinous coating at birth to protect the mother. The green sawfish is found in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean, where it inhabits muddy or sandy bottom habitats in inshore areas or the lower parts of rivers.

The main threat to the green sawfish is accidental bycatch in fisheries, with its large size and long saw meaning it easily becomes entangled in nets and is difficult to set free. This species has also been deliberately caught in fisheries and its fins used to make shark fin soup. Habitat degradation is an additional threat to this large fish, and its slow reproductive rate makes it difficult for its populations to recover. Although once common, the green sawfish has now been lost from many parts of its former range. International trade in this species is banned by CITES, but strict legal protection is needed, together with further research into its distribution and ecology, and monitoring of bycatch levels.

Find out more about the conservation of sharks and rays at Save Our Seas Foundation and Project AWARE.

See images of the green sawfish on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Mar 13

It’s ARKive’s 10th birthday this year and we want you to join our celebrations by helping us find the World’s Favourite Species.

We think all the world’s species are amazing but which is your favourite? Which animal, plant or fungi is so special that it deserves to be crowned the World’s Favourite Species?

Nominate today!

Nominations are now open and it couldn’t be simpler to vote  - simply find your favourite species on ARKive and click the ‘Nominate Today!’ button.

You have until 3rd April to suggest your favourites (and yes, you can choose more than one species!), after which we’ll draw up the shortlist and put it to the public vote. This shortlist will be whittled down to determine the Top Ten World’s Favourite Species – as chosen by you.

We can’t do it without your input – please spare a few moments to make your nomination TODAY!

Need some inspiration?

There are over 15,000 species on ARKive to nominate, so here are a few suggestions to start you off…

Will you nominate the polar bear - our most visited species so far this month?

Photo of polar bear with cubs

What about a newly discovered species? Is the Louisiana pancake batfish your favourite?

Louisiana pancake batfish

The osprey features as our no.1 video, but will it be no. 1 species?

Photo of osprey in flight carrying fish

Vote now, and share your nominations on Facebook and Twitter!

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