Manta Identification Database
Central to the success of Project Manta is the development of a Manta Identification Database. Manta rays can be identified by the pattern found on the underside of individual rays. This pattern is as unique as a fingerprint so photography provides a non-intrusive method of identifying individuals. Project Manta requires a large amount of data to be collected and analysed. The scale of the task means that scientists cannot do it alone. In response to this challenge the database will be web-based and divers or snorkellers from around the world will be able to upload their photographs into the database. The information gained from these photographs will allow research scientists to:
- calculate the population size
- determine the sex ratio and any spatial/temporal variations
- determine how animals move along the coast through time
- determine the size-frequency pattern for this population
- explore growth rates
- determine recruitment rates (pregnant females and pup
The Manta Identification Database will provide the best available source of data on which to base decisions about species and habitat management plans. An example of how the database could be utilised would be in providing the data necessary to reliably inform government, conservation agencies and commercial operators about how best to protect manta populations while increasing the opportunities for ecotourism.
As the most developed nation in the Pacific region Australia has an obligation to set high standards of conservation based on sound science. Data that underpins species and habitat conservation in Australia can have significant positive impacts around the world. For example the identification process and database developed for Project Manta can be replicated across a number of different species. The spot patterns of whale sharks, sunfish and leopards and the whisker patterns of polar bears can all be used to identify individuals of those species.
Therefore the research techniques and web technology developed for Project Manta can be used to assist us to learn more about other important species.
In addition to its significant scientific outcomes, Project Manta will provide excellent environmental learning outcomes for a range of stakeholders including local community members, students and corporate employees.
Lady Elliot Island is an exceptional place to carry out research and there are many opportunities for further research based on the island, principally around coral health, migratory seabirds and cetaceans (in particular humpback whales).