Mantas in Fiji – Mobula alfredi & Mobula birostris

Just in December last year (2018) we have scientifically confirmed that we have both types of mantas in Fiji waters, both Reef Manta Ray ( Mobula alfredi) and Oceanic Manta Ray (Mobula birostris).

How to tell the difference between Reef Manta Ray ( Mobula alfredi) and Oceanic Manta Ray (Mobula birostris)

Mantas in Fiji

Reef Manta Ray ( Mobula alfredi)

  • Up to 4.5m / 15 feet across
  • M. alfredi all year round
  • Studying black-morph mantas in Fiji
  • BACK: Shoulder markings “Y shape”
  • BELLY: Spots between gills and at back edge
Reef Manta Ray ( Mobula alfredi)  - Mantas in Fiji
Reef Manta Ray ( Mobula alfredi)

Oceanic Manta Ray (Mobula birostris)

  • Up to 7m / 22 feet across
  • M. birostris seasonal: Nov – Feb
  • Only confirmed in Fiji Dec 2018
  • BACK: Shoulder markings “T shape”
  • BELLY: No spots between gills, “Spray paint” along back edge
Oceanic Manta Ray (Mobula birostris) - Mantas in Fiji
Oceanic Manta Ray (Mobula birostris)

Mantas in Fiji

The Fijian population of reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi) consists of both black and chevron-morph individuals. In fact, Fiji’s population boasts one of the largest proportions of black-morph mantas of any well-studied reef manta populations.

This provides an excellent opportunity to study the genetic differences between these two colour morphs, and discover any underlying factors that may cause the wide variations in the expression of the black morph observed in different parts of the world.

Mantas in Fiji by Luke Gordon
Mantas in Fiji – Photo by Luke Gordon – Manta Trust

Manta Project Fiji

Little information is known about the manta and devil rays found around South Pacific island nations like Fiji.

Manta Project Fiji is dedicated to the conservation of mobulid rays in the Fiji Islands through research, education and collaboration.

The project is working to better understand mobula ray movement ecology, population dynamics and genetic connectivity within the Fiji Islands, assisting government, local stakeholders and the tourism industry in developing more effective conservation management strategies.

Project Goals

To better understand the population dynamics of manta and devil rays throughout Fiji, in order to support the promotion of sustainable mobulid eco-tourism, and the effective regulation of bycatch fisheries in the nation’s waters.

Additionally, the project hopes to increase our knowledge of the underlying causes of the black-morph, so that we may understand how and why its occurrence varies between manta populations.

Main Objectives

To achieve this goal, the Fiji Manta Ray Project works to meet the following objectives:

  1. Identify reef manta aggregation sites throughout Fiji, and assess the connectivity between mantas observed at these sites.
  2. Discover the migration patterns, population structure, ecology and biology of the Fijian manta rays, using photo identification, citizen science, remote cameras, drones, environmental monitoring and local knowledge.
  3. Raise awareness of the conservation needs of mantas in Fiji, and the benefits of sustainable tourism over unsustainable fishing of these animals.
  4. Assist the Fijian government in establishing effective and sustainable conservation management and legislation, particularly with regards to managing tourism and reducing bycatch.
  5. Assess the distribution and ratio of black morph / chevron morph reef mantas within the Fijian population, and investigate the underlying genetics.
Manta Project Fiji - Mantas in Fiji

Project Leader – Luke Gordon

Luke finished school knowing he wanted to pursue a career investigating the natural world. He decided to gain some hands-on experience by initially volunteering in Madagascar on a marine environmental program. Being captivated by the tropical marine ecosystem and excelling in his role, Luke was offered a staff contract after three months, and spent the next six months in Madagascar working on empowering local communities with marine resource management strategies. Over the following two years, Luke worked in Fiji, conducting marine resource inventories around the western coast of Gau Island in the Lomaiviti group. During his time there Luke encountered his first manta ray, and started becoming increasingly acquainted with the resident population of reef manta’s (M.alfredi).

These experiences led Luke to enrol into the Open University and complete his BSc (Hons) in a distance-learning format, focusing on marine biology and environmental sciences. Conducting online learning part-time was not easy, but it allowed Luke to carry on gaining valuable field experience across the globe. Luke worked on a variety of different marine research projects, including; the implementation and management of marine protect areas in the Philippines and Fiji, coral reef regeneration and environmental education in the Maldives, the feeding ecology of oceanic manta rays (M.birostris) in Ecuador with Marine Megafauna Foundation, and delving into the world of cryptobenthic fauna on soft sediment habitats across S.E Asia with Curtin University.

Most recently, Luke has been involved in a variety of research projects with the Save Our Seas Foundation’s (SOSF) D’Arros Island Research Centre in the Seychelles. One of the projects Luke was heavily involved in was the Seychelles Manta Ray Project, co-managed by Manta Trust and the SOSF. It was after this research project that the opportunity arose to come out and spearhead the next phase of manta ray research conservation in Fiji and the South Pacific.

Project Founder: Steve Pollett

Past Project Contributors: Dan & Heather Bowling

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