Standard Talk (15 mins) Australian Society for Fish Biology Conference 2022

Reef manta ray movement ecology and connectivity along a continental coastline (#75)

Asia O Armstrong 1 , adam barnett 2 , Michael B Bennett 3 , Christine L Dudgeon 1 , Mark V Erdmann 4 , Fabrice RA Jaine 5 , Anthony J Richardson 6 , Chris A Rohner 7 , Kathy A Townsend 1
  1. University of Sunshine Coast, Hervey Bay, QLD, Australia
  2. James Cook University, Cairns, QLD, Australia
  3. University of Queensland, St Lucia, QLD, Australia
  4. Conservation International, Auckland, New Zealand
  5. IMOS Animal Tracking Facility, Sydney, NSW, Australia
  6. CSIRO, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
  7. Marine Megafauna Foundation, Inhambane, Mozambique

Elasmobranchs are facing an extinction crisis globally, with over one-third of shark and ray species threatened by overfishing. Species with conservative life history traits, such as manta rays, are especially vulnerable to targeted fisheries pressures. Reef manta rays are found throughout tropical and sub-tropical oceans, and are listed as Vulnerable to Extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. On the east coast of Australia, their distribution has been confirmed from the Solitary Island Marine Park in the south (30°S), to Tijou Reef in the north (13°S). It is not known whether these animals move outside of this range into international waters and neighbouring jurisdictions where they might be subjected to targeted threats and differing levels of protection. Additionally, there is a knowledge gap about whether their distribution along this coastline represents one connected population of rays or several isolated sub-populations. Using a range of telemetry approaches, including acoustic tracking, satellite tagging and photographic identification (photo-ID), this study set out to determine the movements and connectivity of reef manta rays in eastern Australian waters. Manta rays were found to make overlapping movements between the southern and northern regions of their range, make dives off the continental shelf to over 350 m depth, and movements across marine park boundaries, including into international waters in the far north. Rays appear to use reef environments as an interconnected network of cleaning stations and shallow habitats for daytime basking, surface “snacking” and reproductive activity. These findings provide insight into potential threats facing manta rays at the northern extent of their range, and can be used to inform management of their populations and habitat in eastern Australian waters.