Vulnerable mobulids include two manta and nine mobula species. Because they all look alike, it is difficult to identify different species. Daniel is compiling the world’s first mobulid ID guidebook and genetic identification kit.
I was clinging to a rock 15 metres below the ocean’s surface and the current’s surge seemed determined to wrench me from my precarious hold. Visibility was less than five metres, but through the gloomy waters a massive bird-like fish glided gracefully into view, passing just inches above my head, with its ‘wings’ on either side of my body. This first encounter with a manta ray was an experience I will never forget!
Sri Lanka is a small island nation in the Indian Ocean and I was born and grew up right in the...
The development of a comprehensive global taxonomical, morphological and genetic identification guide for all mobulid ray species which would be made accessible to both scientists and non-specialists.
Species identification of mobulid rays has proven to be very problematic due to their similar external features resulting in misidentification even in current scientific literature, highlighting the necessity for a set of clear identification tools to help current and future researchers fill in the large knowledge gaps. This lack of available data for mobulid rays is currently severely impeding the conservation process.
There is very limited scientific information available on the biology and ecology of mobulid species, and with the rapid increase in fishing pressure due to the global trade for dried mobulid branchial filter plates, it is imperative that more knowledge is gained. The mobulid fisheries are considered unsustainable due to the animals’ slow growth rates, low fecundity and late maturity, thereby constraining their ability to recover from a depleted state. All Mobula rays are currently listed on the IUCN Red List for Threatened Species as Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered or Data Deficient. This project was conceived when several issues arose regarding the identification of mobulid species around the world, and consequently, the possibility that certain species from different geographical regions were in fact the same species. This has resulted in most mobulid species receiving inadequate protection even when considered to be vulnerable due to fishing pressure. International conventions such as CITES have not accepted submissions for a Mobula listing due to the considerable difficulty in identifying the species, which invariably would lead to difficulties in monitoring and controlling any international trade.
The lack of extensive scientific data to support conservation or management proposals for Mobula rays is often due to misidentification of species and this project aims to address the very roots of this issue. With the creation of an international pocket guide book that would be readily available along with the means of species confirmation via a simple genetic identification kit using tissue samples, researchers will be provided with the instruments required to carry out further in-depth studies, which are critical to provide the data required for the protection of these species through instruments such as CITES. This project will be carried out on a global level and will aim to replace and update various regional guides with one guide that is both comprehensive and not constrained to any particular geographical region. This guide and genetic kit would be targeted at researchers, enforcers and the general public, and would help track and control the trade of these vulnerable species and help provide the information required for the management of these species, thereby improving their chances of survival.
Manta and devil rays are caught as by-catch in the tuna purse-seine fishery. Using new genetic tools to find out which species are caught in the Eastern Pacific, Donald and Melissa are working with the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission to turn the tide for these poorly understood and highly threatened rays.
With no real information about whether or how mobulid rays survive after being released from purse-seine fishing nets in the Eastern Pacific, Josh is training fishery observers to assess the impact of this fishery on these by-catch species and to create best-practice release guidelines to improve the survival rate of the rays.