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.