Mobulids (family Mobulidae), commonly referred to as devil rays, are cartilaginous fishes found circumglobally in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate waters. These pelagic species exhibit low fecundity and slow maturation; however, their life history remains poorly understood, yet these species are highly exploited worldwide. This family includes the genus Manta and the genus Mobula with 11 identified species. Five of these species have been confirmed in the Philippines, namely: the spine-tail devil ray (Mobula japanica), bent-fin devil ray (Mobula thurstoni), sickle-fin devil ray (Mobula tarapacana), the oceanic manta ray (Manta birostris) and the reef manta (Manta alfredi). Two other species the Pygmy Devilray (Mobula eregoodootenkee) and the shortfin devil ray (Mobula kuhlii) are thought to occur in Philippine waters though these sightings have not yet been officially confirmed.
One of our primary research sites has been the monitoring of a century-old ray fishery site in Bohol, with the goal of understanding the reproductive biology of the devil rays to assess the sustainability of the fishery. Our team has been working with the local fishing community since 2012.
We are currently building a national photo-ID catalogue using submissions from citizen science as well as encounters photographed by our team in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park and other opportunistic sightings in some of our other field sites. We are also working with MantaMatcher, to ensure mantas encountered in the Philippines are added to their international catalogue.
Both reef and oceanic manta rays can be identified using the spot pattern on their ventral side (underbelly). This patter is unique to each individual and can give us insight to their movements when encountered in different locations.
In 2015 LAMAVE started a collaborative project with the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park to assess the abundance and diversity of rays within the park. Using BRUV systems and visual identification a number of different species have been reported in the park including: Porcupine, marble, cowtail, whiptail, Mobula and manta rays. Recently we started a tagging project, using acoustic tags to determine the local movements of reef mantas around the atolls.
LAMAVE have been monitoring the mobula fishery in Bohol since 2012. Our work has focused on recording daily catch and tracking fishing vessel routes to examine and address possible over fishing and ultimately investigate the sustainability of the local fishery. Our work would not be possible without the support of the local community, who over the years have allowed our researchers to record and examine their catch. One of our principal goals is to work with the community to develop and promote alternative livelihood.
Historically the Bohol Sea was one of South East Asia's prime hunting grounds for whales, whale sharks and rays. While cetaceans, whale sharks and manta rays were nationally protected in the country in the 90s, devil rays have been continuously targeted by local fisheries, creating a lucrative industry on the island of Bohol. Unfortunately while the century-old mobula fisheries have thrived on the island, the future of these pelagic animals in the Philippines has not been so clear.
Working alongside the local community LAMAVE has been monitoring the mobula fishery in Bohol since 2012, recording daily catch and tracking fishing vessel routes to examine and address possible over fishing. A main goal of the project is to work with the community to develop and promote alternative livelihoods. In April 2017, the Bureau of Fisheries of the Philippines banned the catching and selling of mobula rays nationally in response to CITES listing the rays on Appendix II a decision passed in CoP17 in South Africa. Despite the closure of the fishery, our team continues to work with the community and the local government to find alternative livelihoods for those affected by the ban.
Ticao Manta Bowl Project
Ticao Manta Bowl Project
The aim of the project is to conserve and restore manta and devil ray populations in the Philippines. There is currently a lack of knowledge regarding the stock identity and the geographical range of these populations in the Philippines. LAMAVE is collecting biological (e.g manta photo identification by deploying remote underwater video), ecological (e.g residency by using acoustic telemetry), environmental (e.g current, food availability), and socio-economic (e.g benefits generated by the manta diving tourism) data to be able to design a proper conservation and recovery strategy, taking into consideration the local communities depending on this area. This data will set the basis for the creation of the first dedicated manta ray sanctuary in the Philippines.
Since the recent ban on catching and selling of manta and mobula rays in the Philippines by the national Bureau of Fisheries in response to CITES listing the rays on Appendix II, it is now the time for those population to recover. While by-catch and illegal fishing persist, our project aims to identify and describe remaining populations of manta and devil rays in the country, identify conservation priority areas and migratory corridors and set the basis for the creation of a dedicated network of protected area to allow the species to recover.
Off Ticao Island (Masbate) lays Manta Bowl, a large seamount presenting extraordinary habitat and a large diversity of large marine vertebrates. Manta Bowl hosts a large manta cleaning station, and is a mating site and feeding area for these animals, further underlining the importance of this habitat. Both species of manta, thresher sharks, white-tip reef sharks occur on the seamount. Hammerheads as well as schools of devil rays (spine tail devil ray and bent fins devil ray) are also occasionally reported by dive operators and fishermen. However, despite the increasing diving tourism, no protection has been granted to this key habitat, while sharks and rays are still caught in the area.