After my first dive at the aptly named ‘Manta Point’ at Bali’s Nusa Penida island earlier in the year, the large number of dive boats crowding the site left me feeling concerned about the safety of the manta rays that occur at this site year round, and also the divers and snorkelers who come to see them. Although an important aim of this project is to promote manta ecotourism in Indonesia as a sustainable alternative to manta fishing, if not managed correctly it can result in detrimental consequences to marine life and also the safety of the tourists.
Manta Point is a small, relatively shallow (3-24m) site lined by limestone cliffs and mantas come here regularly to feed, which they do mostly at the surface of the water. Understandably, this attracts a huge number of tourists hoping to get the chance to snorkel and dive with these incredible rays. But, unregulated this results in a scary mix of boat propellers (and lots of them), people and mantas. All added up this equals an accident waiting to happen and also potential habitat disturbances that may impact the manta’s feeding behaviour.
Thankfully, Nusa Penida is currently being established as a Marine Protected Area and I have teamed up with the Coral Triangle Center (CTC) to assist their efforts to create effective zoning and management policies for the MPA. It is likely that Manta Point will be designated as a Marine Tourism Zone, meaning fishing practices will be banned and tourism management will be implemented. Manta rays are an icon of Nusa Penida, but unlike other iconic marine species found around the island (such as the Mola mola) no research has been conducted on this population of rays, which is surprising given their popularity among dive tourists. My research, which aims to better understand the population ecology, habitat use and movements of these rays, will be making a significant contribution to the conservation of this ecologically and economically important population of reef manta rays.
As well as conducting research we are also working with CTC to set up workshops to educate local dive operators and communities about manta rays and the importance of ecotourism management.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the future of Nusa Penida’s manta rays is looking bright.