We interviewed Graham Hill, a science officer, responsible for the day-to-day veterinary care, research, and conservation projects carried out at The Deep in Hull.
Why are manta rays so important?
Manta rays are very important, as are many animals being intimately woven into a dynamic and changing web of interconnections with other animals and the areas they inhabit. The removal or damage to the ecosystem or its flora and fauna has an impact on all living creatures. It requires proactive action to assess these potential threats before they occur, as too often is a case of shutting the gate after the horse has bolted.
Where is conservation work currently taking place?
Sudan is unique, renowned for its biodiversity, a hotspot for seasonal aggregations of manta ray and most importantly still considered a near pristine environment. It is an ideal place to provide valuable baseline data that can inform and guide conservation efforts to protect this rare area with remarkably little human interference. However, threats gather over the region in the form of continued shark fishing (despite it being made illegal), the recreational diving industry, increasing marine transport, industrial development and increasing coastal populations.
What type of protection do these animals have?
Manta rays are afforded CITIES (Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix II and have been assessed by the IUCN as Vulnerable. Shark fishing is illegal but still occurs, as there is very little infrastructure to patrol and protect areas. Sudan has two Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), one of which happens to be the area where manta rays aggregate but scientists are trying to establish whether this is best way to conserve a species, as very little is known as to where the rays come from. Certainly any protection is better than none. Our project is one of many that will feed into a much larger project for the Red Sea region under the direction of the Cousteau Society, who we have partnered with along with researchers from The University of Windsor in Canada and the Sudanese General Wildlife Administration.
How is climate change impacting manta rays?
This is a good question and to answers it you need to know what things were like before. Changing sea temperatures have huge effects on many factors, including oceanic currents and water movement that can affect where phytoplankton and zooplankton grow. In turn this can then change where plankton-eating animals like the manta ray are found. It could be that their food can no longer survive in the changed conditions. There will of course be natural adaptation but the changes that appear to be happening as direct results of human impact are occurring at such as a pace as to outrun evolution’s timescale.
How can World of Animals readers get involved with manta ray conservation?
Supporting any marine conservation ultimately helps! There are many charities doing amazing work who rely on the fantastic generosity of people with a particular interest. There are also citizen science projects that people can be directly involved with online. For instance, thousands of eyes helping to look at a huge number of images helps to gather research data faster, which would be impossible to achieve with just a few members of a research team. Readers have the power to assist in ways they never would have before! Continuing to be as environmentally friendly in whatever way you can also helps. Small changes can have a big impact.