Project Manta is a research group headed by Dr Kathy Townsend, Dr Mike Bennett, Dr Scarla Weeks and Dr Anthony Richardson from The University of Queensland and PhD candidates Fabrice Jaine and Lydie Coutourier. Fabrice is creating a model for climate change using the manta rays as a bioindicator species and Lydie's PhD project focuses on the population ecology and biology of manta rays in eastern Australia.
We know that the mantas are in high densities at Lady Elliot Island (LEI) from June till about September and we have mantas at Nth Stradbroke Island (NSI) from October till about March-April. It appears that they migrate annually down the east coast and stop at various locations on the way. Our main focus is "why do they migrate", "where are they going" and "how are they using the various locations?".
At both Lady Elliot Island and Nth Stradbroke Island, we are going to deploy satellite and acoustic tags on the mantas to determine how often they pass these locations and where they are going. We are seriously considering the Solitary Islands as another key study site for this project, but no decision has been made yet.
In parallel, a database of mantas photographs has been started to be used for photo identification. We are using the spot patterns that each manta displays on its underbelly as it is unique for each individual and we've already ID about 190 individuals for Heron Island, Lady Elliot Island and Nth Stradbroke Island. Among these mantas are 46 resights that include 43 mantas resighted twice at LEI, one manta resight twice at NSI and 3 mantas resighted at both LEI and NSI. So we know that at least some individuals have been travelling along the coast. We are looking forward to look at the manta population found at the Solitary Island to determine if LEI and NSI individuals are travelling south. We've also been given photographs and a video of a potential new born male manta measuring no more than 1.2m at Heron Island!! Hopefully he will survive and give us precious info on the growth rate and aging of manta rays.