The Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, USA, in cooperation with NOAA, has examined and described the world’s first known baby manta rays nursery. The nursery was found in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Flower Garden Banks marine sanctuary managed by NOAA, off the coast of Texas.
“Baby Manta rays are virtually absent from almost all blanket populations worldwide, so very little is known about the juvenile life stage of the species,” explains Joshua Stewart, the study’s leading author.
Stewart has spent his past seven years examining and studying manta rays but had never seen a baby one in his natural environment until he moved to Flower Garden Banks in 2016. After gathering and reviewing the data from the past 25 years, collected by divers, Joshua Stewart and his co-workers uncovered that about 95% of the manta rays they see are juvenile.
Scientists found the world’s first known baby manta rays nursery
Flower Garden Banks is a secluded marine sanctuary found at approximately 100 kilometers south of the state of Texas, in the United States. It is housing coral reef ecosystems that have maintained in healthier conditions in comparison to the other reefs in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
Researchers believe that baby manta rays spend the majority of their time on quite shallow shores to regain their average body temperature after returning from the ocean’s depths where they feed with specific types of zooplankton, which are known to be the favorite food for manta rays but can only be found deep into the oceans.
The discovery of the world’s first baby manta rays nursery underscores the importance of marine protected areas in ensuring conservation efforts, the researchers say.
Manta rays are threatened globally by selective fishing and bycatch, the scientists added.
“There are many things we don’t know about manta rays, and that’s exciting from a scientific perspective, as there are many questions that are still waiting to be answered,” suggests Joshua Stewart.