The last couple of weeks we have been trying to expand our manta horizons and spread the word about our project. Our aim was to find a couple of new ways to talk about the importance of conserving mantas and marine ecosystems and we already had some target audiences in mind. Before we came out here we hoped to be able to do two things: create a way to engage those holidaying in Bora Bora with manta conservation and also get some school groups involved in the project. If we could achieve both then we would have raised awareness of the important issues involved in conserving these amazing animals and their habitats with international visitors to French Polynesia as well as with the next generation of conservationists back home.
Part 1 was an easy win actually. We’re constantly taking photos of manta bellies when we’re diving and adding the sightings to our ever growing database. But it’s only us doing it and not many people know what we’re up to. So we’ve made some ‘Manta Watch’ boards and put them up in both the dive shops we work with here in Bora Bora. We update them with our sightings and with info on the mantas we see, such as: when they were first seen, their number (or name if they have one), approximate age and any other notes like scars, injuries, pregnancy etc. We’ve also added a bit about the project and a note to say that if anyone has any manta belly photos they can email them to us and we’ll add them to the database. They’ve gone down really well so far and we’re hoping to get some more photos to process from fellow divers soon.
Next up was to try and get some school kids involved. We were approached by two friends back in the UK who are primary school teachers, one in Bournemouth and one in Southampton. Their Key Stage 2 classes were studying the ocean and they wanted a new way to tell them about it and asked if we could help. This was just what we had been looking for! So we got some of our manta footage together and even made some stop motion animations about overfishing and coral reef damage and created a little video for them on marine conservation. It was a bit of a slog in the end; video editing on an unhappy laptop and uploading on medieval internet but we got there in the end. You can watch the video below.
Bex will be posting again soon on the topic of mantas in Polynesian culture so stop by to have a read of that! All for now though, thanks for reading.
We’ve had another fortnight of entirely unpredictable, tropical weather; we are never sure whether to the leave the house with shades and factor 30 or our Pac-a-Macs? As the weather changes dramatically, multiple times a day, we generally opt for swimwear which functions well in both scenarios. If like me, you like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain, then Bora Bora really is the perfect place for you!
So yesterday’s dive at Anau started out in the same way as most of our dives have this last couple of weeks; descending down the reef and into milky, murky waters with low expectations of seeing very much. At nearly 20m we found the visibility so dreadful we could not see more than a 1m in front of us so we popped back up to 15m where it was a little better and set off on our normal route along the reef. However, after less than 10 minutes of ambling along, a beautiful big female manta swooped past us with three amorous young males in tow. Here is a little atmospheric* footage that I took.
*In the context of this post the word ‘atmospheric’ can be interchanged with the word ‘blurry’.
During the mating season females are thought to release sexual pheromone scents into the water to let suitors know they are ready for courting. Males know that the best places to find females are at cleaning stations (like Anau) and feeding sites. Once a male finds a female he tests her receptiveness by following her and stroking her head with his unfurled cephalic fins (the ones on either side of the mouth). If she is uninterested the female will simply bat the male away with her huge pectoral fin, however if she is amenable to his intentions then she will lead him and any other eager males in the area on an elegant dance around the reef which is known as a mating train. Mating trains can get very long with tens of excited males in pursuit all jostling for first place and hopefully the chance to make some baby mantas. The train we saw yesterday was only small but still a wonderful thing to witness; manta rays are as unconsciously elegant as I am ungainly in the water and with the prospect of love making on their minds the mantas barely seemed to notice us gawping at them from below so we really felt like we were getting a sneaky peak behind the scenes.
As if that wasn’t enough we encountered many more mantas the further we went. It felt like each time we turned around another new manta ray materialised from the gloom, however we expect that once we have properly reviewed all of our ‘atmospheric’ footage we will find that we actually saw a handful of rays multiple times; perhaps 7 or 8 including the mating train? So why were there suddenly so many rays on the site yesterday compared to previous days? Well Graham has previously written about Anau being a site that mantas visit in order to get cleaned however yesterday we also spotted several of the manta rays feeding; swooping and rolling with their mouths wide open and gills splayed out; something that until yesterday we hadn’t seen at Anau. So there was obviously a lot of plankton in the water yesterday which would have attracted hungry manta rays.
We have our fingers and fins crossed for some more sunny days and manta mating trains, but yesterday’s footage will give us plenty of IDing to do when the rain does return.
Thanks for reading!