Hunting for porcupines

  • Rays & Skates
Years funded
  • 2014
  • Archived
Project type
  • Research

Andrew wants to know more about the ‘spiky pancakes’ that are porcupine rays, but to do this, he needs to find them first. Armed with underwater cameras, a kayak, and snorkelling and fishing gear he is on a mission to seek out the elusive porcupine ray in the Great Barrier Reef.

Hunting for porcupines

Andrew Chin

Project leader
About the project leader

I have always had an affinity with the ocean. Even though I grew up in the urban jungle of Singapore, I could often be found in the school library reading dive magazines or books detailing the voyages of Jacques Cousteau and the Calypso. At home I kept fish tanks that contained anything from freshwater eels to archer fish. However, I clearly remember the exact moment when I decided that I’d spend my life working on the ocean. I was 12 years old, snorkelling off Pulau Tioman in Malaysia. I was completely absorbed in my first visit to a living coral...

PROJECT LOCATION : Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Project details

Exposure and sensitivity of the porcupine ray to climate change and coral reef degradation

Key objective

The key objective of this research is to document the movement and habitat use patterns of the porcupine ray in coral reef environments and thus determine how the species’ behaviour and habitat use affect its vulnerability to habitat loss and environmental change, and identify potential management responses to reduce impacts and increase the species’ resilience.

Why is this important

Although the porcupine ray Urogymnus asperrimus is widespread in the Indian Ocean and Indo-West Pacific, it is rare and has declined in at least parts of its range. Furthermore, very little is known about the species. By investigating the porcupine ray’s movement patterns and habitat dependencies, this project will contribute to better understanding the species’ vulnerability to habitat degradation and environmental change.


The porcupine ray is a distinctive and unusual stingray associated with coral reefs. It appears to play an important role in bioturbation and habitat formation in reef lagoons. It is widely distributed from the Indian Ocean to the Indo-West Pacific, but relatively rare and very little is known about its biology or ecology. A recent review of the species in Australia located only 25 records in museums and scientific databases. The lack of information about the porcupine ray’s biology and ecology is a significant issue given its rarity and the serious threats it faces from habitat degradation and environmental change, especially considering both the documented and projected declines in coral reefs throughout its range. Lack of information about the species’ habitat use and movement compromises scientific understanding of its exposure to risks, sensitivity to these risks and ability to adapt to impacts through compensatory behaviours, such as reaching and colonising alternative habitats and locations should coral reefs in one area become degraded.
While the species is rare, its highly unusual appearance makes it easy to identify and contributes to its potential role as a charismatic coral reef species. Capitalising on these traits, a pilot study was carried out in 2012 using citizen scientists to identify hot spots of porcupine ray distribution. This facilitated the identification of two potential study sites in the Great Barrier Reef. This project will focus on one of these sites, One Tree Island in the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

Aims & objectives
  • Document fine-scale habitat use of the porcupine ray.
  • Determine whether porcupine rays exhibit consistent and predictable patterns when using specific habitats and locations.
  • Determine whether movement and habitat use are affected by environmental and ecological factors, such as temperature, tidal state and inter-specific interactions.
  • Assess how the porcupine ray’s habitat use and movement patterns affect the species’ exposure and sensitivity to impacts, and its potential to adapt to impacts through movement and dispersal.