Divers returning to warmwater locations in the hope of manta ray encounters should ensure that they select a responsible local operator, says the Manta Trust.
The trust is a UK-based conservation and research-based charity dedicated to protecting manta and mobula rays and their habitats. It cites cases of manta tour operators driving boats over aggregations of surface-feeding rays, causing injuries with their propellers, and of scuba divers clustering over manta-cleaning stations to such an extent that the rays are unable to access them.
“We know that responsible manta tourism can be part of the solution to combating the issue of global manta fisheries, encouraging many countries and governments with a strong incentive to protect these animals,” says the trust.
“However, manta rays are very sensitive to disturbances, and occasionally uncontrolled human interactions have negatively impacted local manta populations, driving them away from important areas where they clean, feed or breed.”
The Manta Trust says it is working with a growing number of what are categorised as “Responsible Manta Tourism Operators” worldwide.
Committed to sustainable manta conservation, they follow the trust’s “Swim with Mantas” guidelines, which show divers and snorkellers how to behave in the water around the rays to get the most from their experience.
The guidelines have been validated by scientific studies following several years of marine research in the Maldives, says the trust, and provide the best-practice code of conduct for manta ray tourism.