by Dr. Andrea Marshall, Giant Manta Ray Scientist
Just got back from an incredible expedition to Komodo with Ocean GEMS. Indonesia is top on my list to research manta rays. I have always had such great encounters with these gentle giants here but even more compelling is the number of aggressive fisheries for mantas in the region. I had never visited Komodo before, and I was so pleased that I have been able to visit this area finally. In the north we had incredible encounters with some of the largest feeding aggregations of reef mantas that I have ever seen. In two days I was able to identify 63 individual manta rays, breaking my own personal record for IDs on a live aboard expedition. The area that we were diving was heavily influenced by tides and current, both of which managed to push enormous amounts of plankton into the bay each day, creating the perfect conditions for a plankton extravaganza. Large chains of feeding manta ray whizzed past our heads, missing us by mere inches as they circled round and round scooping up the plankton with their enormous mouths. Back in Bali I was even able to match on the manta rays from this population, named Pyramid, to one that I had seen in Komodo confirming that manta rays do indeed travel long distances from region to region in Indonesia. This is important information to know since there are many active fisheries for mantas in the area and manta rays face many threats as they migrate from one National Park to another.
My greatest hope is that Indonesia will finally recognize the importance of these animals to tourism and to the heritage of their country and protect them nationally with legislation. While on location with Ocean GEMS I learned of yet another active fishery in the country that I aim to return to in May when I re-visit the country. Another hugely successful expedition with Ocean GEMS complete with incredible manta ray observations and Komodo dragons too! I huge thank you to Tom Campbell and the rest of the Ocean GEMS production team for making this trip a reality!