MANTA MAGIC: Dr Kathy Townsend will be heading to Lady Elliot Island next week with Project Manta.
MANTA MAGIC: Dr Kathy Townsend will be heading to Lady Elliot Island next week with Project Manta.

Squadron’s new study at Lady Elliot Island

THE upcoming Project Manta trip will have researchers like Dr Kathy Townsend heading over to Lady Elliot Island to undertake annual surveys of the local manta population and start a new project.

Dr Townsend said the new project would investigate the connectivity between the nutrient flow from the island, caused by birds, with the fluctuations in food sources for the manta rays.

The fieldwork will also involve the Project Manta team identifying manta rays and placing unmanned video cameras to capture behavioural interactions.

Despite recent photos of the famous pink manta Inspector Clouseau by Kristian Laine, who photographed him off Lady Elliot Island at the end of January, Dr Townsend said the manta usually showed up only once a year, in about September.

“While we may see him, it is currently unlikely,” she said.

Discussing the possible reasons for Inspector Clouseau’s pink pigment, Dr Townsend said a genetic mutation was the leading theory.

Dr Kathy Townsend
Dr Kathy Townsend

“While we do not know for sure, we suspect that it is due to a genetic mutation of the melanin cells that is called erythrism, which causes the animal’s skin pigment to be reddish,” she said.

Dr Townsend said the last time she visited Lady Elliot Island was in June to investigate the unique behaviours between manta rays as they shared resources such as cleaning stations.

“We also took identification photos for our long-term database and uploaded data from our acoustic receiver, which had been recording the movements of tagged manta rays for the previous six months,” she said.

Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort’s executive assistant to the general manager Amy Gash said the pink manta ray was first spotted in 2015 by a group of divers at Lighthouse Bommie, a popular dive sight for manta ray encounters.

The manta, given the name Inspector Clouseau, has made an appearance nearly every year since.

“Our fingers are crossed for more sightings of Clouseau in 2020,” she said.



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