Kokomo Manta Conservation Project
The waterways surrounding Kokomo are a sensory feast, brimming with an enormous variety of sea life including the extraordinary Reef Manta rays (Mobula alfredi). Kokomo is making conscious efforts to help raise awareness and protect manta rays as best as possible in the waters surrounding our Island. The Kokomo Manta Conservation Project encompasses a manta acoustic tagging project, manta identification work, and our Adopt a Manta Initiative working in collaboration with the Manta Trust Fiji.
Acoustic Manta Tagging Project
This year, Kokomo Private Island announced the launch of the ‘Kokomo Acoustic Manta Project’; a project aimed at preserving, protecting and conserving manta rays in Fiji. Ground breaking for science and conservation, this is the first Manta tagging project in Fiji, and the first acoustic manta tagging project in the South Pacific. Research backing the tagging project will be led by The Manta Trust and the Kokomo Marine Biology Team, and will extend over a three-year period.
Manta Identification Work
Kokomo began collaborating with The Manta Trust in 2017 to help identify individual Reef Manta Rays (Mobula alfredi) by taking photographs of the spot patterns on their bellies. Similar to a birthmark, these spot patterns are used to identify a single individual. When the mantas are in season (April-September) Kokomo guests have the opportunity to snorkel with mantas and capture photographic images for identification.
Since the collaboration began in 2017, Kokomo has helped increase the size of The Manta Trust Fiji database by more than 60%. In 2018, Kokomo identified 22 new mantas for The Manta Trust database; and simultaneously captured “cyclone feeding” on video. Cyclone feeding is a group behaviour where mantas work together to feed on phytoplankton in the water, a feeding pattern that had previously never been witnessed in Fiji.
In addition, this year Kokomo Private Island and the Manta Trust have launched the Kokomo “Adopt a Manta” program. By ‘adopting’ a manta, our guests are given the opportunity to support global efforts to research and protect these gentle giants.
Adopt a Manta Initiative
The Adopt a Manta program offers interested guests the opportunity to adopt a manta ray by contributing to the collaborative work between Kokomo and the Manta Trust to protect manta rays in the waters surrounding Kokomo. Guests will have the chance to name their manta ray, and will receive regular bi-monthly updates on their manta’s progress, where they have been sighted and any exciting news from our ongoing research.
The concept of the collaborative work between Kokomo and the Manta Trust Fiji gives an opportunity for guests to make direct contributions to active robust scientific manta ray research which is the first of its kind in Fiji and the South Pacific. The overall goal of this research is to help get a better understanding of manta rays in the hopes of protecting them as best as possible in Fiji.
If you are interested in making a donation please contact the reservations team.
Make your trip to Kokomo a memorable one by getting involved in the manta conservation work to help conserve these big friendly giants as best as possible!
Photo Source: Luke Gordon Photography
Manta Project Fiji
The Manta Trust was founded in order to turn the tide for these enigmatic rays, by co-ordinating global research and conservation efforts around manta rays, their relatives, and their habitats.
Luke Gordon is a Marine Biologist and underwater photographer, best known for his role as Project Leader of the Manta Project Fiji.
Having spent over five years working in Fiji on various marine conservation topics, Luke moved into a new role of Project Leader for the Manta Trust Fiji in 2018. He brings a wealth of experience in marine conversation from the Maldives, Ecuador and the Seychelles, where he was most recently involved in the Seychelles Manta Ray Project.
Q: What led you to work with manta rays?
A: After being lucky enough to work all over the world and gain a wealth of experience in various tropical marine research projects, manta rays always seemed to pop up and be part of the research. After many hours underwater with them in countries such as Indonesia, Maldives, Seychelles, Ecuador and Fiji, I fell in love with their curiosity, intelligence and shear majestic nature underwater. Now facing further threats across their global range, I felt motivated to play my part in helping these beautiful rays and their habitats thrive in the future.
Q: What has been your best Fiji manta ray experience?
A: I would have to choose two. Firstly, here at Kokomo and the islands surrounding Yaukuve Levu, the manta action here is spectacular. The feeding aggregations we see here are currently seen nowhere else in Fiji, being in the middle of a cyclone of 40+ huge manta rays is an experience you will never forget. Not only the sheer spectacle makes this experience so great, it is also the fact that the manta population here has had very little contact with humans, they are some of the most curious and playful mantas I have ever had the pleasure of sharing the water with. The second has to be from November last year when we made the discovery of the first confirmed sighting of the Oceanic Manta Ray in Fiji waters. Growing to 7 metres across, this ray has the largest brain of any fish, we know very little about this species in Fiji and the whole South Pacific region, I am very excited to see what we uncover about their ecology here in the years to come, we may even find some in the waters surrounding Kokomo!
Q: Why is your work so important?
A: Manta rays globally are facing increasing pressures from many angles, but mainly anthropogenic threats. We are unsure of how the changing climate will affect their food source, but as their food source heavily relies upon the state of the ocean it is in no doubt that they will be heavily affected. More worryingly right now is the relatively recent emergence of an Asian market for their body parts in the medicinal trade. Mantas and their cousins are currently being heavily fished globally for their gill rakers, the body part responsible for respiration and food collection. It is unfortunately falsely believed that consuming these body parts in various ways can keep the human body healthy. No scientific evidence backs these claims. Manta rays especially are very vulnerable to over fishing due to the fact they are very slow to reproduce, a female will reach sexual maturity at about the age of 15 and will only have 1 pup every 3-5 years on average, meaning any fishing pressure can crash a population.
In Fiji we currently know very little about the population status and where these animals are moving throughout the year. To develop robust conservation management strategies, it is vital we can answer some of these glaring questions. It is hoped that this tagging project will be the start of those answers and we can start to inform the relevant authorities on which habitats are critical to the Fiji population.
Photo Source: Luke Gordon Photography