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Residency, movement patterns, behavior and demographics of reef manta rays in Komodo National Park

Germanov, E.S., Pierce, S.J., Marshall, A.D., Hendrawan, I.G., Kefi, A., Bejder, L. and Loneragan, N. (2022) Residency, movement patterns, behavior and demographics of reef manta rays in Komodo National Park. PeerJ, 10 . rt. e13302.

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Abstract

Background

The reef manta ray (Mobula alfredi) is a globally threatened species and an iconic tourist attraction for visitors to Indonesia’s Komodo National Park (NP). In 2013, manta ray fishing was banned in Komodo NP and its surroundings, preceding the nationwide manta ray protection in 2014. Over a decade ago, a previous acoustic telemetry study demonstrated that reef manta rays had high fidelity to sites within the park, while more recent photo-identification data indicated that some individuals move up to 450 km elsewhere. Characterization of manta ray demographics, behavior, and a focused assessment on site use of popular tourism locations within the park is vital to assist the Komodo NP Management Authority formulate appropriate manta ray conservation and management policies.

Methods

This study uses a long-term library (MantaMatcher.org) of photo-identification data collected by researchers and citizen scientists to investigate manta ray demographics and habitat use within the park at four sites frequented by tour operators: Cauldron, Karang Makassar, Mawan, and Manta Alley. Residency and movements of manta rays were investigated with maximum likelihood analyses and Markov movement models.

Results

A total of 1,085 individual manta rays were identified from photographs dating from 2013 to 2018. In general, individual manta rays displayed a higher affinity to specific sites than others. The highest re-sighting probabilities came from the remote southern site, Manta Alley. Karang Makassar and Mawan are only ~5 km apart; however, manta rays displayed distinct site affinities. Exchange of individuals between Manta Alley and the two central sites (~35.5 km apart) occurred, particularly seasonally. More manta rays were recorded traveling from the south to the central area than vice versa. Female manta rays were more mobile than males. Similar demographic groups used Karang Makassar, Mawan, and Manta Alley for foraging, cleaning, cruising, or courtship activities. Conversely, a higher proportion of immature manta rays used the northern site, Cauldron, where foraging was commonly observed. Fishing gear-related injuries were noted on 56 individuals (~5%), and predatory injuries were present on 32 individuals (~3%). Tourism within the park increased from 2014 to 2017, with 34% more dive boats per survey at Karang Makassar and Mawan.

Discussion

The Komodo NP contains several distinct critical habitats for manta rays that encompass all demographics and accommodate seasonal manta ray movements. While the present study has not examined population trends, it does provide foundational data for such work. Continued research into manta ray abundance, long-range movements, and identifying and protecting other critical aggregation areas within the region is integral to securing the species’ recovery. We provide management recommendations to limit undue pressure on manta rays and their critical habitats from tourism.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Environmental and Conservation Sciences
Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Ecosystems
Publisher: PeerJ
Copyright: © 2022 Germanov et al.
United Nations SDGs: Goal 14: Life Below Water
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/65018
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