Project Manta News & Updates - September 2011

Project Manta News & Updates - September 2011

Project MANTA is growing and extending its wings as time flies by and more and more fantastic people are getting involved and offering their support. We have been very busy these past few months and the workload is only increasing! This is good news as it means that Project MANTA is progressing well and we are discovering a lot about the beautiful manta rays of eastern Australia. We, the Project MANTA team, would like to thank you for your amazing support. All the wonderful discoveries we have made this last year would not have been possible without the help and contributions of so many of you.

THE MANTAS WILL BE MOVING SOUTH SOON

Summer is coming and the mantas are due to migrate to their southern aggregation sites aka ‘summer holidays destinations’ (e.g. Nth Stradbroke Is, Byron Bay, Solitary islands). So get your camera ready, your manta dance rehearsed, be the first to report a sighting down the coast and give our fieldwork a kick-start.
Note: Make sure you book Manta Fest in your diary to be held the 10 to the 12th of February 2012 at North Stradbroke Island. For more information contact Manta Lodge and Scuba Centre or visit: http://www.mantalodge.com.au/

PROJECT MANTA DOCUMENTARY IS OUT!

It has already been released on Nat Geo Wild as “Manta Mystery” in several countries (including the UK, Asia, Central Europe and Latin America). It is scheduled to be aired on French and German TV the 29th September 2011 at 7.30pm on ARTE. We still don’t know about the scheduled date for Australia and the US. In Australia, it will be aired on ABC; we will inform you of the exact date as soon as we know it.

We would like to congratulate the Kaufman Production Team for the amazing work with this film. The footage is so magnificent that the documentary has already won one award for “creative excellence” at the annual US International Film & Video Festival in LA (http://www.filmfestawards.com/index.asp) and has been nominated for 2 other awards as “Best Conservation Program” at the biannual Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and “Best Documentary” at the 2011 ATOM Awards.

Gisela, Carsten, Malcolm and Mylene, it was a great pleasure and so much fun to meet you and work with you. Thank you for all the formidable and unforgettable memories…

ODEX

Project Manta has been invited to participate in the Oceania Dive and Ecotourism Expo (ODEX) to be held in Brisbane the 7th – 9th October 2011 (http://oceaniadiveexpo.com/). We will also be giving a talk about Project Manta on Saturday 8th October at 14h20. So book those dates in your calendar and come meet with us!

LADY ELLIOT ISLAND (EARTHWATCH TRIP)

Our June month was marked by another fantastic trip to beautiful Lady Elliot Island (LEI) with our Earthwatch volunteers. Although the mantas appeared to be more skittish than usual and did not feed much, we encountered about 190 individuals, including 45 new mantas, in 2 weeks. This high number of new individuals tells us that there are still a lot of mantas we haven’t met along the east coast of Australia. A lot of mantas mean a lot of work to identify them. Luckily we had our team of Earthwatch volunteers who were up for the task and did an amazing job!

PLANKTON SAMPLES
TAURUS

We successfully managed to deploy 10 new acoustic tags, and 6 satellite tags on several mantas.
The acoustic tags emit unique acoustic signals that are picked up by our receivers placed all around the island. This technology allows us to determine when the tagged mantas are present around the island and if they have any particular habits (e.g. more around during the day than night). One of our oldest manta, Taurus, was tagged during the June trip. Taurus was photographed for the first time at LEI in the mid-80’s by Peter Allen, and is at least 25 years old. We are excited to see when this old male is likely to be present around the island.
Satellite tags allow us to know where the mantas have travelled, helps us to understand broad scale movement patterns. Although the satellite tags are still attached to the mantas, there are due to detach soon so please keep an eye for us and remember if you find the tag and return it to us, we will give you the $500 reward.
Although the rough weather hindered our fieldwork, we still managed to get two whole sampling days of zooplankton and oceanic conditions; this will give us precious information on the local oceanographic dynamics that might influence the manta presence around Lady Elliot Island.

The most astonishing dive during that trip was probably experienced by Angie, Ken and Lydie who were the lucky divers to see 3 humpback whales playing around them while diving, breathtaking…”We were getting ready to get a tissue biopsy from a young manta when some agitation caught our attention in the background… There they were, two massive humpbacks playing, swimming around each other and slapping their tails at the surface. My heart was beating so fast. Angie and I were screaming so loudly, we nearly burst our lungs. Then suddenly a third whale passed just above us, meeting with the other two whales… We could feel the water moving around us from all the agitation, it was scary but so wonderful at the same time… Then they were gone and our dive tanks nearly empty…”

PLANKTON AT THE SURFACE OF THE WATER

It just reminds you how tiny you are in the vast marine environment. We would like to say a big thank you to our amazing volunteer on this trip. Ken, Angie, Jacob, Angela, Helga, Greg, Nano and Michelle it was wonderful to meet and work with you. We were really glad to share our research experience with such motivated and hard working people. Memorable trip. If you want to volunteer for one of our Earthwatch field trip at Lady Elliot Island please visit the Eathwatch website: www.earthwatch.org/australia/exped/townsend.html or email: volunteer@earthwatch.org.au

LITTLE EXTRA TRIP TO LADY ELLIOT ISLAND

Lydie and Chris Rohner (whale shark researcher from the Marine Megafauna Foundation in Mozambique and UQ PhD student) were lucky enough to go back to LEI to collect extra data. The mantas rays were very wary and not in high numbers, but the marine life up there offered us another unforgettable experience. Once more a humpback whale swam past during a dive – magnificent. The manta rays did not start to show up until the last day of that trip, mainly feeding at the surface. The plankton concentration in the water was just incredible. You could scoop it up using your hands and eat it yourself... well if you wanted to. No wonder the mantas were feeding like crazy! We managed to get several plankton samples to see what plankton species the mantas were feeding on and what plankton concentration is needed for a manta to start feeding.

NEW FANCY BOAT AT LADY ELLIOT ISLAND

During that trip we were lucky enough to participate in the launch of the new glass bottom boat, specially designed to spy on marine creature at night time, thanks to powerful light illuminating the sea bottom up to 15m depth. A marvellous idea, that will allow the curious ones to witness new animal behaviours that only occur at night time. Just imagine how wonderful it will be to witness the coral spawning this year, without even getting wet! And who knows, we might be able to spy on some mantas at night and see what they are up to.

COUSTEAU’S SATELLITE TAG HAS BEEN RECOVERED!

This tag was deployed last June on a large male named Cousteau (#284). The tag detached from Cousteau in September then slowly drifted towards the coast to finally wash up on a small beach within a military area near Yeppoon. The only information we had from the tag was that Cousteau had been travelling northward from Lady Elliot Island to the Keppel Island area, diving up to 302m at times. Cameron Mulville, a local marine park officer, managed to recover the tag and returned it to us! This is amazing news as we will be able download the important raw data, giving us further insights into Cousteau’s behaviour (e.g. how frequently he undertook deep dives and at what time of the day). We will keep you updated on our results once we know more. But for now, thanks Cameron!

FIRST SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATION

Our first article has finally been published in a scientific journal. It describes the discoveries we have made thanks to the photo-identification (including all the photos that many of you have sent us), explaining the movements of some manta individuals between Lady Elliot Island, North Stradbroke Island and Julian Rocks (Byron Bay), as well as the site affinity of these animals at Lady Elliot Island. This achievement would not have been possible without your participation and support.

For your interest:

Couturier LIE, Jaine FRA, Townsend KA, Weeks, SJ Richardson AJ and Bennett MB (2011) Distribution, site affinity and regional movements of the manta ray, Manta alfredi (Krefft, 1868), along the east coast of Australia. Marine and Freshwater Research, 62 628–637
Don’t hesitate to contact us at project.manta@uq.edu.au if you would like to get a copy of the article.

KEY NOTE SPEAKER FOR OCEANIA GALA DINNER

Invited as keynote speaker for the event, Project Manta’s Kathy had an opportunity to frock up and rub shoulders with the rich and famous at the Earthwatch Institute’s Oceania Gala Dinner. Celebrating 40 years of science based volunteer expeditions; the night was hosted by popular sports broadcaster Hamish McLaughlan and featured entertainment by singer Kate Ceberano and Band. Over 400 guests, including a plethora of celebrities and the founder of Earthwatch International: Brian Rosborough, converged on the Melbourne Casino to help raise over $40 000 for Earthwatch Australia projects. For more pictures of the star studded night check out http://www.facebook.com/EarthwatchAustralia.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?

Visit our website: http://sites.google.com/site/projectmantasite/
Visit on our Facebook fan page to follow our adventures, share your manta experience(s) or ask us questions: http://www.facebook.com/pages/PROJECT-MANTA-The-manta-rays-of-eastern-Au...
Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions, we will be more than happy to help you out.
We are looking forward to hearing from you and seeing your photos!
All the best,

THE PROJECT MANTA TEAM
Lydie Couturier, Fabrice Jaine, Kathy Townsend, Scarla Weeks, Anthony Richardson, Mike Bennett