Juvenile manta ray with scuba diver in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
Scientists have discovered that there is a site off the coast of Texas, that they say is the world’s first well-known manta ray nursery.
Joshua Stewart, a marine biology student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego worked with experts from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to create the remarkable find.
The oceanic manta ray nursery is located in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, and is the first of its kind to be described in a scientific study, according to a statement released by the University of California in San Diego.
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The marine sanctuary is located in the Gulf of Mexico about 100 km south of the coast of Texas.
“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,” says Stewart, who in the declaration. “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. This discovery is a major advance in our understanding of the species and the importance of the different habitats in their life.”
The student also serves as executive director of the Manta Trust, a global manta conservation program.
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Sites where the large plankton-eating manta rays typically occur far from the coast areas, making it difficult for scientists to study the animals in the wild. “Babies are virtually absent from almost all of the manta populations around the world, thus, even less is known about the juvenile life stage,” explained the University of California in San Diego, in the statement.
After studying 25 years from the dive log and photo-identification data, Stewart and marine sanctuary staff have shown that about 95 percent of the manta rays visiting the Flower Garden Banks site, which are young animals. The manta rays had an average wingspan of 7.38 feet. Oceanic mantas reach a mature wingspan of 23 metres.
“Nowhere else in the world has a manta ray nursery is recognised that increases the importance of the sanctuary for these pelagic species,” said George P. Schmahl, superintendent of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. “The discovery of the sanctuary as a nursery area for the species raises a lot more questions, where we can hopefully start studying with Josh Stewart, and other partners.”
The results of the research are published in the journal Marine Biology.
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