I started collecting manta IDs for fun in 2009 after reading about the manta aggregations of Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives. Yap had long been known as "the" manta destination in Micronesia, and I was curious to find out how many manta rays Palau has, and if we had any large feeding aggregations like Hanifaru. At that time, if you asked experienced local dive guides, they would estimate there were only about 10-20 manta rays, because they were only familiar with the German Channel cleaning and feeding site. Since 2009, we have learned that there are many other manta sites around Palau's reefs, and yes, we do have aggregations of up to 70 animals feeding together a few times a year, and our photo IDs are up to 275 individuals now for Palau, after 5 years of collecting photos from 9 different sites, which is more than are known from the Guam and Yap area together so far. So there is a huge potential for manta tourism in Palau, but site management needs to be put in place to avoid the tourism pressure chasing the animals away from their traditional feeding and cleaning sites, which is already starting to happen at the popular, today over-crowded and unregulated German Channel site.
The goal of our Palau Manta ID Project will therefore be expanding. The last few years we collected IDs and maintained the Palau ID web database, while studying behavior without invasive tagging methods, and publishing data for manta awareness. Now we will work with Manta Trust to recommend and draft legislation for site management and manta protection in Palau on state and national level.
Palau Project Leader- Manta Trust
Managing Director, Etpison Museum
Honorary Consul of France to the Republic of Palau
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