We just finished filming manta rays in Komodo National Park. We are using the word ‘finished’ a bit loosely because we are already quickly talking ourselves into returning soon.
Located in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, Komodo National Park comprises nearly 700 sq. miles of protected islands and marine ecosystem. There are healthy coral reefs hosting a wide diversity of wildlife to be found here. The currents are strong, bringing nutrients to the reefs and making for some excellently fun diving. (we highly recommend going with Dive Komodo for diving in the area)
Marine ecotourism (primarily diving and snorkeling) has played a large part in helping to fund the conservation efforts of the park. With more than 1000 species of tropical fish and more than 260 species of corals, the area is extraordinarily rich in biodiversity, making it home to rare species such as dugongs as well as healthy populations of apex predators like sharks.
The park is typically hot and relatively dry, which gives it a more savannah style of vegetation, rather than the thick jungle that characterizes other parts of Indonesia. This climate tends to concentrate terrestrial animals around water sources for much of the year. Our recent visit was firmly during the rainy season (typically December-March), during which many of the land animals can be found widely distributed around the islands.
The park is perhaps most famous for it’s Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis). These amazing animals can reach up to 3 meters in length and weight up to 70kg, making them the worlds largest lizards.
As amazing as the land animals are in this part of the world, our main goal was to get in the water and film the awe inspiring manta rays that thrive in the strong currents around the islands.
Reef mantas can be seen in Indonesia in both the typical coloration and an all black variety. Mantas can be identified by a unique pattern on their undersides, making it possible for researchers to estimate local abundance and track the rays over great distances. Tourists can contribute photos toManta Matcher and help researchers track this incredible animals.
Technically, Indonesia as a whole comprises the worlds largest manta ray sanctuary – roughly 2.3 million sq. miles! Unfortunately, conservation in an area that size is extremely hard to enforce and manta rays still face numerous threats in Indonesia – primarily from fishing. Manta gills are highly valuable on the international market, particularly in China where they are used in traditional medicine.
Manta rays are slow reproducers making them particularly susceptible to things such as overfishing. While each manta may live up to 50 years, they don’t reach sexual maturity until between 8-10 years old, and give birth to a single live pup every 2-5 years.
Despite the short term value of mantas as a fishery, they are much more valuable to the local economy alive than dead. A report complied by the NGO WildAid, found that over the course of it’s lifetime, each manta ray is worth approximately 1 million USD when considering the ecotourism revenue generated! This is compared to the $40-$500 USD each manta can bring when killed.
More information on manta ray conservation can be found at Manta Watch
Additional manta ray photos can be seen in our Manta Ray Gallery