Connect with us

Thai Life

Diving: Saving mantas with photos

Legacy Phuket Gazette



PHUKET: Phuket divers have been regularly asked to participate as citizen scientists over the last several years, helping ‘Spot The Leopard Shark’ to better understand shark populations and to collect data for ‘Project Seahorse’ as they determined the sustainability of fishing practices for seahorses in Thailand.

Now, a new project is afoot in the Kingdom, one destined to improve conservation efforts and our understanding of one of the most iconic fish in the sea: manta rays.

Oceanic and reef manta rays are on every diver’s bucket list. Their gracefulness as they effortlessly glide through the water and the intelligent curiosity in their gaze is captivating. And for those not instinctively drawn to the gentle giants, it should be noted that mantas generate more than 5 billion baht per year in ecotourism revenues worldwide.

In an effort to preserve their presence in Thai waters, the Manta Trust recently diversified their scope by adding a Thailand project to their global research campaign, which already has projects established in a number of countries, including Mexico, Fiji, Indonesia, the Maldives and the Philippines.

“We are only starting to learn about the population structure of oceanic manta rays. While they were previously considered highly migratory, recent research by Manta Trust scientists suggests that oceanic manta ray populations are also highly structured and vulnerable to local and regional impacts,” Manta Trust Assistant Director Josh Stewart explains to the Phuket Gazette.

“The Manta Trust regional projects don’t necessarily reflect individual manta populations, although that is the case in some regions. The structure of the organization is based more on our philosophy on how to affect meaningful conservation action for manta rays.”

The majority of threats to manta rays come from local impacts, such as targeted capture by fishermen and bycatch from gillnets, as well as ship strikes and local habitat degradation.

“We believe that these issues are best addressed by bottom-up, grassroots conservation efforts. So, our organization has local initiatives – typically with project leaders from the local communities – working on local-scale and regional-scale issues to support manta research and conservation,” Mr Stewart says.

Taking the reins in Thailand, after becoming involved with the Manta Ray Project in 2014, is Jamie Monmaneerat. Ms Monmaneerat first took the conservation spotlight when she was crowned Miss Marine Conservation and Miss Scuba International 2012-13 in Bali, and has since taken the title to heart.

“Currently, we have 70 plus individuals in our database,” explains Ms Monmaneerat, who is coordinating her efforts with Department of Fisheries and Department of Marine Coastal Resources. “Few manta rays in our database have been spotted several times over the year, which indicates that we do have a population that needs protection.”

The spots on the underside (ventral surface) of each manta ray are completely unique, much like finger prints, allowing scientists to establish accurate databases of populations. Because of these unique markings, divers are able to play a crucial role in data collection.

New and old photographs of the ventral surface, even if taken from a sharp angle, can be submitted through an online form at (here) or emailed to

Additional information, such as when the manta was spotted, where it was spotted and what it was doing, as well as depth, visibility, water temperature and the current, all provide helpful clues for those crunching the numbers.

However, even if you only have a picture and a general location, such information can be extremely helpful as Thailand plays catch-up in better understanding its manta population, says Ms Monmaneerat.

“In terms of the big picture, Southeast Asia collectively is the largest supplier of manta and mobula gill plates, and fisheries represent a huge threat to regional manta populations. There are several major targeted fisheries for mantas and mobulas throughout Southeast Asia, and it’s not clear how populations are connected in this unique archipelago seascape, or how these populations are impacted by fisheries,” explains Mr Stewart.

“Understanding the movement patterns of manta rays allows researchers to determine where the species are most threatened by various impacts, such as targeted fisheries, bycatch or habitat degradation. Furthermore, low-cost, non-invasive research initiatives such as photo ID databases help to determine seasonal trends in site use and visitation, residency patterns, and identify-critical habitats, while at the same time involving the public and the local community in data collection efforts and raising awareness.”

Though manta rays are not targeted fish in Thailand, researchers have received reports of them being caught as bycatch, often due to illegal fishing practices, explains Ms Monmaneerat.

The more than 5bn baht per year in ecotourism revenues generated by manta rays dwarfs the about 180mn baht per year in the gill plate trade, something that is being taken advantage of in Phuket.

“Thailand is the second destination in Southeast Asia that divers choose to come and see these species,” Ms Monmaneerat explains. “However, while manta tourism generates millions of dollars for the country each year, there are still no national protective laws in place for these animals and wrong-method fisheries continue to threaten these species regionally. There is therefore an urgent need to collect data on these populations.”

However, there are already examples of manta research supporting policy changes elsewhere in the world, most notably Indonesia – now home to the world’s largest ‘manta sanctuary’.

“Tagging data collected by Manta Trust partners at the Misool Manta Project and Conservation International helped support the creation of the manta sanctuary by demonstrating that both species of mantas remain resident to Indonesian waters, making them a purely Indonesian resource,” says Mr Stewart. “This provided added incentive to protect the species within the country’s exclusive economic zone, as there was little threat of external fisheries having a significant impact on the Indonesian manta populations, which would negate local conservation efforts.”

The data collected by divers in this region as ‘manta season’ starts to take hold at popular dive locations around Phuket, such as the Similans, Hin Daeng and Hin Muang, could make a real difference in future conservation efforts, points out Ms Monmaneerat.

— Isaac Stone Simonelli


Get more from The Thaiger

📱 Download our app on Android or iOS
👋 Have your say on our Thailand forums
🔔 Subscribe to our daily email newsletter
📺 Subscribe / Join YouTube for daily shows
👍 Like/Follow us on Facebook
🐦 FOLLOW us on Twitter
📷 FOLLOW us on Instagram


Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

Follow Thaiger by email:

Thailand3 hours ago

Thailand conservation adds 17 rare Indochinese tigers this year

Pattaya4 hours ago

Man falls off 4th story roof only breaking arm and chin

Thailand8 hours ago

Family finds long lost man after he is rescued from 17 metre well

Welcome back to Thailand!

Thaiger is getting behind local businesses for the restart of tourism in Thailand - up to 50% discounts across all advertising packages!

Coronavirus (Covid-19)10 hours ago

16 new dark red provinces and restrictions extended to Aug 16

Hua Hin11 hours ago

Hua Hin Maya Club execs get 3 months for superspreader event

Myanmar13 hours ago

Thai candidate selected as ASEAN envoy to Myanmar

Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
Coronavirus (Covid-19)14 hours ago

Foreigners able to register on vaccine site despite data leaks, glitches

Thailand14 hours ago

Covid UPDATE: 18,027 infections, provincial totals

Thailand23 hours ago

Covid UPDATE Sunday: 18,027 infections, expat vaccine registration

Transport1 day ago

August flight plans: Bangkok Airways, Nok Air, Thai Lion

Coronavirus (Covid-19)1 day ago

New site for foreigner vaccine; Mor Prom deletes appointments

Politics1 day ago

Facebook fake news post suggesting a coup faces prosecution

Koh Samui1 day ago

UPDATED: Samui Covid-19: 14 new Black Club infections, 2nd small cluster

Thailand2 days ago

40,000 cases a day could happen by September, says projection

Phuket2 days ago

Phuket Sandbox Covid-19 infections: 35 today, 209 this week

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

Tourism5 months ago

Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

Phuket5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

Tourism5 months ago

Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

Thailand5 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

Tourism5 months ago

In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

Thailand6 months ago

Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

Thailand6 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11

Thailand7 months ago

Thailand News Today | Southern floods, Face mask fines, Thai Air Asia woes | January 8