project news

Manta Mayhem

News item submitted by Frontier
News item dated 24 Jun 2010

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Current volunteers in Fiji were given the unique chance to snorkel with some gentle giants as Manta birostris, commonly known as the Manta ray, recently returned to the clear, warm waters of Frontier Fiji.

Manta rays are the largest species of its kind (Batoidea), with some having reached a width of 7.6 metres (25 ft) and a weight of about 2,300 kilograms (5,100 lb), that’s about twice the average weight of a horse!

Mantas range throughout the tropical and sub-tropical oceans of the world, typically around coral reefs and are renowned for their inquisitive nature towards humans,

often swimming alongside divers and surfacing near stationary boats. Usually a solitary animal, the team were surprised to recently spot a couple just off Naviavia beach, so close to camp that they were able to snorkel out to them from the shore.

Volunteers have also been able to observe rare episodes of Manta behaviour during an evening boat trip, as one individual was spotted breaching clear out of the water last week. The reason for this behaviour is not yet understood, but some theories suggest it may be related to mating displays, giving birth, an attempt to get rid of parasites or even as a hunting method! Krill are often observed to frighten into a compact immobile mass in response to loud sounds. So it is possible that the Manta rays breach in an attempt to immobilize their prey.

The return of these graceful swimmers is a great sign to the research team that the marine biodiversity levels around Gau Island are high. For the volunteers though, swimming with these majestic rays could account for the experience of a lifetime.

Amelia Davies