We have been collecting reef manta photo IDs since 2009 in Palauan waters, and without invasive tagging methods we have been able to ID over 285 animals, and have learned a lot about these amazing animals since. The mantas spend a of time near the reefs and inside the lagoons, and the reef mantas in Palau seem to stay around year-round, and follow the plankton around Palau's reefs from north to south, and east to west, depending on wind direction, moon cycles and tides. On special occasions when feeding conditions are perfect, large aggregations of mantas can be seen around the northern reefs, with over 70 animals swimming together. Feeding mantas can easily be disturbed by the bubbles of scuba divers blocking their feeding route, and snorkeling is the best way to keep up and observe feeding mantas. Cleaning stations on the reef are the best way to observe reef mantas for scuba divers. If divers keep their distance and the animals feel comfortable, they often stay around for a whole dive.
There are only a few cleaning stations known in Palau, and the most popular, German Channel, has become one of the top dive spots in Palau, resulting in hundreds of people entering the water there on a busy day. The last two seasons the manta rays have not shown up there in the same numbers as in previous years, and it is likely that tourism pressure as far as number of people, boat traffic and diver behavior at this site are at least partially to blame. We will continue to working with Koror State to implement site management to try and preserve this important site.
Palau Project Leader- Manta Trust
Managing Director, Etpison Museum
Honorary Consul of France to the Republic of Palau
All photos on this site are by Mandy Etpison unless otherwise credited
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