Project Manta

Project Manta is a multidisciplinary research program based at The University of Queensland, Brisbane. It was founded in 2007 to investigate the population biology and ecology of manta rays in eastern Australia. The research is funded and supported by an ARC Linkage Grant and several partner industries including Earthwatch Australia, Brother, Lady Elliot Island Eco resort and Manta Lodge and Scuba Centre.

Photo-identification (photo-ID) is one of the key methods used in our research as individual manta rays can be differentiated by their distinctive ventral markings, comparable to human finger-prints. ‘Citizen Science’ is a major component of Project Manta for photo-ID data collection. Professional and recreational divers provide photographs and sighting information of manta rays along the entire east Australian coast. Involving the community with our research has not only led to increased public awareness about manta rays and their marine environment, but also promoted UQ and our partner industries. Regular updates about Project Manta’s recent discoveries and research news are distributed to the public through email, Facebook and other internet resources.

Despite the popular interest worldwide for manta rays, very little is known about their biology and ecology. Knowledge of their distribution and movement patterns is vital for conservation purposes. The reef manta, Manta alfredi, is known to occur and aggregate at several locations along the eastern Australian coast. However, information on the distribution, movement and biology of M. alfredi in eastern Australia is not well understood.

This research project focuses on the population ecology and biology of manta rays off the east Australian coast. It aims to provide important information on the life history of the manta ray population in eastern Australia, needed for conservation purposes. The main aspects investigated are:

  • the population ecology (population size, structure and distribution)
  • their habitat use at aggregation sites
  • the feeding ecology (diet composition, feeding behaviour, preys nutritional quality etc)
  • the cleaning ecology (cleaning fishes species, parasites, cleaner fish segregation, cleaning stations)

The Project Manta team visit Lady Elliot Island as part of an Earthwatch Expedition several times a year. On these expeditions the team will conduct research which includes photographing, observing and recording manta ray behaviour. In the lab, they identify individual rays from photographs and enter the results in the database. They also collect samples of water and plankton and take oceanographic measurements of water currents, conductivity, temperature, and depth.

Lady Elliot Island is an important aggregations sites and is integral to the important research undertaken by Project Manta, manta rays can be seen all year around but aggregate by hundreds during the winter months.

“Excitingly, we have captured on film the late-stage courtship behaviour of manta rays at Lady Elliot Island, something that has only been done a handful of times before.”

Dr Kathy Townsend
Project Manta

Going diving with mantas soon? Check out our code of conduct.

Want to join an Earthwatch Project Manta team?

Teams are fielding June 14-21 and again in September 6-13, 2014.

To find out more or make a booking contact Earthwatch on 03 9016 7590 or visit www.earthwatch.org.au

Contact Project Manta @ project.manta@uq.edu.au