Individual Variation in Residency and Regional Movements of Reef Manta Rays Mobula aldredi in a Large Marine Protected Area
Andrzejaczek, S., Chapple, T.K., Curnick, D.J., Carlisle, A.B., Castleton, M., Jacoby, D.M.P., Peel, L.R., Schallert, R., Tickler, D.M. and Block, B.A. (2020) Individual variation in residency and regional movements of reef manta rays Mobula alfredi in a large Marine Protected Area. Marine Ecology Progress Series.
Mobulid populations are declining on a global scale as a result of both targeted fisheries and indirect anthropogenic threats. In order to implement effective conservation strategies for species of this taxa, it is crucial that movement patterns at a range of spatiotemporal scales are defined. To gain insight into such patterns, we deployed a combination of acoustic (n = 21) and satellite (n = 12) tags on reef manta rays (Mobula alfredi) in the British Indian Ocean Territory Marine Protected Area (BIOT MPA) annually from 2013 through 2016. An extensive array of acoustic receivers (n = 52) were deployed across the archipelago to record the movements of mantas throughout the MPA. Data revealed large individual variation in horizontal movement patterns, ranging from high local site fidelity (<10 km) for up to three years, to large-scale regional movements (>200 km) around the entire MPA. Depth time-series data recorded vertical movement patterns consistent with other epipelagic elasmobranch species, including oscillatory diving and deep dives to greater than 500 m. Though no individuals were directly recorded departing the MPA throughout the study, the gaps in detections and estimated travel speeds documented here indicate that the movements of individuals outside of the BIOT MPA cannot be discounted. Collectively, our data suggests that, with effective enforcement, the current size of the BIOT MPA is providing substantial protection to its reef manta ray population. Characterization of movement patterns across ontogenetic classes, however, is required to fully characterize the spatial ecology of this species and ensure protection across all cohorts of the population.