Manta rays have always been a popular attraction for SCUBA divers visiting the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Their size and grace is impressive by all accounts.
|A manta in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo: Joyce and Frank Burek)
Over the years, sanctuary researchers have learned to identify individual mantas by the patterns and markings on their ventral, or undersides. As a result, they can now tell whether a specific manta has been sighted at the sanctuary before. But there is still a lot they do not know.
Do the manta rays observed in the sanctuary move between the various banks of the sanctuary? How much time do they actually spend in the sanctuary? These are just some of the questions that sanctuary staff and outside researchers want answered.
In 2006, researchers Dr. Rachel Graham and Dan Castellanos, from the Wildlife Conservation Society in Belize, began a research project at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. The purpose of the research is to learn more about the movements of manta rays in and around the three banks that make up the sanctuary.
Between February and October 2006 they successfully attached acoustic tags to six different mantas. They also placed acoustic receivers at East Flower Garden Bank, West Flower Garden Bank and Stetson Bank.
Every time a tagged manta swims near any of the three receivers, the unique pattern of sound waves emitted by the tag is recorded along with the date, time and other important information that the researchers can download at a later date. From this data, we already know that at least one manta has traveled between two of the banks.
During the Secrets of the Gulf expedition, Graham will be working from the M/V Fling to continue the tagging efforts. She will also download data from the receivers so that we can learn more about what has already taken place. The more mantas we are able to track, the greater our chances of identifying their movement patterns and connectivity within the sanctuary and its surroundings.