Project Manta Ningaloo Reef
Globally rays and sharks are under threat from fishing pressure and changes in the food sources caused by rising ocean temperatures linked to climate change. Join Earthwatch scientists to evaluate how effective current marine protected areas are at protecting Ningaloo ecosystem.
Recreational and commercial fishing, unregulated tourism, and plastic pollution have changed the quality and availability of food sources for marine predators throughout our oceans. Join us in the crystal waters of Ningaloo Reef to examine how these, and other pressures, are impacting the area’s food web.
Ningaloo Reef supports an abundance of life, with more than 570 fish species, 250 coral species and 600 mollusk species recorded so far, along with many marine invertebrates, and of course, the majestic manta rays. Its most famous inhabitants are the imposing whale sharks, which gather around the reef between March and August each year. And from August to October, thousands of humpback whales make a spectacular sight as they pass by Ningaloo during their annual migration.
On this expedition, you’ll be snorkeling the waters and working on small boats to identify locations where mantas and other large predators come to feed and be cleaned. You’ll be helping to collect samples of food sources, for example, plankton tows, that will help build our understanding of how the local resources are changing. With this knowledge, we can better protect this UNESCO World Heritage site, and determine if current Marine Protected Areas around Australia are effectively protecting the Ningaloo’s biodiversity.
A Typical Itinerary
- DAY 1 Arrival, introductions, snorkel
- DAYS 2-7 Shark, ray, macro- and micro-plastic surveys, manta ray photo ID work, snorkeling wildlife surveys, small boat plankton tows, and laboratory work
- DAY 8 Departure
HOW WILL YOU HELP
Conduct shark and ray surveys
Snorkel and record presence of benthic rays, sharks, and benthic invertebrates, such as starfish or sea urchins, across shallow lagoon sand flats. While snorkeling, you’ll also monitor manta ray cleaning stations, recording their behavior. From the shore, you’ll conduct surveys of a shallow lagoon to record reef sharks and rays. In the lab, you’ll help identify individual rays and sharks in the pictures you took and upload those images to a database.
Foraging area surveys
Participate in the collection of plankton from small boats to determine the productivity at locations inside and outside of the sanctuary zones by conducting plankton tows. You’ll then identify and count the plankton using a microscope.
Macro- and micro-plastics surveys
Conduct macro- and micro-plastic surveys adjacent to beaches where manta rays aggregate. You’ll also conduct surface tows from the research boat to examine micro-plastic concentrations in the local environment.
To be eligible for the project as a snorkeler, participants must complete the Earthwatch Snorkelers Form and have the medical section signed by a doctor.
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