Rare giant manta ray nursery discovered off the coast of Texas

A juvenile manta ray in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Credit: G. P. Schmahl/FGBNMS

Tucked away in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the first in the world known nursery for baby manta ray has been discovered in the middle of the shallow reefs. And marine scientists are excited.

Biologist Joshua Stewart, a doctoral student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, noticed several young manta ray (Mobula birostris), while conducting research in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of the Texas Louisiana border. Noting the rarity of this observation, Stewart together with sanctuary staff to determine whether this place was much frequented by the small rays.

The team combed through 25 years of dive logs and pictures collected by the sanctuary of the employees are divers, according to a statement released by Scripps. The scientists used the unique pattern on the underside of the rays to identify you, such as matching human fingerprints. They found that approximately 95 percent of the manta rays visiting the Flower Garden Banks were young animals. Stewart’s team confirmed that the area as a nursery, by comparing the young mantas’ use of the flower garden Banks habitat of well-known indicators of shark and ray nurseries. [Marine Marvels: Spectacular Photos of sea creatures]

“The juvenile life stage for oceanic manta rays is a bit of a black box for us, because we are so rarely able to observe them,” Stewart, who also serves as executive director of the manta conservation program Manta Trust, said in the statement. “The identification of this area as a children’s room highlights his importance for the conservation and management, but it also gives us the opportunity to focus on the young people and learn about them.”

The team is of the opinion that the juvenile manta rays are spending time along the warm, shallow reefs to recover from the trips in the deeper, colder waters where the plankton that they eat is more common. The reefs provide protection against a number of large sharks in the area, where the young manta’s would not have if they were just sunbathing in the open surface waters above their feeding area. The team is still unsure where the beams are born, and hope that this question in the future research, Stewart told Science.

In January 2018, the U.S. government listed the manta as threatened under the U. S. Endangered Species Act. The rays are the target of some fisheries, mainly in South-east Asia, and caught incidentally during the fishing of other species worldwide.

Flower Garden Banks is pursuing a plan to increase the protected areas in the sanctuary since 2006, Emma Hickerson, the sanctuary’s research coordinator, told Science. The current proposal has the broad support of the public, ” she said, and includes 14 reefs in the vicinity of the current sanctuary.

“We know that the manta rays are with the help of sites inside and outside the current sanctuary boundaries,” Hickerson said, “including the banks in the sanctuary expansion proposal.”

The results were detailed online June 15 in the journal Marine Biology.

Originally published on Live Science.


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