The 2011 manta ray season has been one of the most interesting yet for the MMRP. We’ve seen a lot less mantas than we have in previous years, but we’ve made some interesting discoveries about why this might be, correlating our manta sightings with the strength of the monsoon winds and wider climate patterns affecting the Indian Ocean.
This year marks Guy Stevens’ 8th year in the Maldives and the 6th year of study at Hanifaru Bay. The team this year was also joined by Katie Brooks as project leader who completed her masters with the project last year as well as team of volunteers from the UK, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. For the third consecutive year, a Masters student from the University of York also completed a two month project with us.
Bec Atkins, our masters student looked in depth at interactions between mantas and people to help us gain a deeper understanding of what the real impacts of tourism here in Baa Atoll might be. This has fitted in very well with the new management initiatives we have seen in Hanifaru Bay MPA this season. The bay now has a full management plan and a ranger on site to monitor activities. July 2011 also saw the designation of Baa Atoll as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve with Hanifaru Bay designated as a core protected zone within the reserve.
In addition to our work in the Maldives we have also supported a new project in Sri Lanka headed up by Sri Lankan marine biologist Daniel Fernando. Daniel completed 4 months of surveys at the Sri Lankan fish markets in order to give us a greater understanding of the extent and impacts of these fisheries, as well as new insights into manta ray life history.