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PROJECT: Mantaray

Manta Rays, in spite of being giants that can reach up to 6 meters in diameter, are peacefull and gentle fish of whom very little is known.


Manta Rays are biologically similar to sharks and are in the same family since they have cartilage for a skeleton. Just like their kin they have a similar biological cycle that makes them vulnerable to fishing. The decrease of this species has traditionally been due to fishing, and thus has caused many fisheries to direct their efforts towards certain rays in particular. The Mantas (Mobulas) have been observed as part of incidental fishing (by-catch) and on arrival at the ports are sold at very low prices because of the poor quality of their meat.

There are no fisheries in Ecuador that are solely directed at fishing Manta Rays. Nevertheless, it is known that they are caught as by-catch in industrial fishing. The ignorance of the state of their population, their distribution and biological characteristics make them very vulnerable to the activities that take place on the fishing grounds. Additionally, with the decrease of fishing stocks, these rays are under more pressure from the fisheries for their meat, even at its low value.

Consequently it is of vital importance that data is collected and analysed. Just with some accurate scientific data we will be able to better understand their situation in Ecuadorian waters.




Mantas travel thousands of kilometres through the ocean to complete the different parts of their life cycle.  These fish are observed in open water "flying" their way toward zones of reproduction, diet and cleaning. 

There is no up-to-date and/or accurate information on Manta Rays in Ecuador. Nevertheless we know that they have been present in the Galapagos Islands and other zones of the Pacific e.g. Cocos Island and Malpelo. In Machalilla National Park (Isla de la Plata) these giants are observed yearly from the month of June/July to October. Sadly, their migration patterns, or the reasons that determine their abundance in this zone are not yet understood.

Since 2004, Equilibrio Azul has had the objective to study the behaviour and distribution of the manta rays on the Isla de la Plata. With the aid of photographic equipment and divers, Equilibrio Azul started the photo-identification project in our MANTARAY PROJECT.

Photo-identification is a non-invasive technique that consists of marking individual's identities through analysing photographs of their colour patterns, injuries and cuts to their bodies. This technique has previously been applied to Humpback Whales and has since become an important tool for evaluating the size and fidelity of the Manta Rays that frequent La Isla de la Plata.

Up until now, the photos from 2004 through 2008 have permitted us to identify more than 60 individuals that visit La Isla de la Plata. It is a very difficult and resource intensive research method, however it is necessary to determine if this is a breeding, feeding, or cleaning area within the Pacific. Additionally, we are developing a catalogue of images which will permit us to compare the Manta Rays of Ecuador with other places within the marine corridor of the Pacific.


TELEMETRY (transmiter tags)

The surface of the ocean is unfortunately not very frinedly to carry out research of the animals within it, satellites find it difficult to penetrate the surface and receive transmitions from tagged animals. Telemetry is a technique that permits us to obtain information of fish, birds and mammals without needing to observe them directly.


In 2004 a Coluda ray similar to the one pictured here was tagged with an acoustic transmitter and followed for 24 hours around La Isla de la Plata. The results showed that the ray did not abandon the area surrounding the island and displayed a preference to certain places around the island. In spite of being a very short study, this investigation indicated that the rays are residents of La Isla de la Plata, which places them in direct danger from the fishing boats that frequent the Island.


Map of the path travelled by a ray around the Isla de la Plata:  The animal travelled nearly 4km, mostly during the night.

.raya isla de la plata

We are currently searching for additional methods to conduct these types of studies on manta rays and other species since knowledge of the spatial and temporal distribution of these species is critical in order to effectively manage and conserve them.


Few things exist that can be compared with the experience to swim with a manta ray. This has made diving with these animals a popular tourist activity. 

Around the Isla de la Plata, manta rays are curious and will approach with the divers and photographers.  On more than one occasion we have had to withdraw our cameras to avoid making direct contact with them.  It is important that all divers exercise this same degree of caution; mantas and rays should never be touched as this can alter their behaviour.  Although Machalilla National Park prohibits direct interaction with all marine creatures within its boundaries, this is an attitude of conservation that should be utilized throughout the world.

Write us if you would like more information.


Fundación Equilibrio Azul© 2006-2008 • E-mail: info@equilibrioazul.org • P.O.BOX. 17116025 • Quito - Ecuador
Diseñado por NM.COM / Fotografía: Felipe Vallejo E.