A Manta Ray breeding ground discovered in South Floirda

Tanner Jenni, Contributing Writer

A marine biologist is educating FGCU students about the importance of a recently discovered possible manta ray breeding ground.

In February 2022, marine biologist and research scientist, Jessica Pate, the founder of The Florida Manta Project, visited FGCU to educate students on Florida’s manta rays.

Pate said that a previously undiscovered manta ray nursery may have been found along the coast of South Florida, particularly off the coast of West Palm Beach.

Pate shares that this is unusual because there are only a few known regions where manta rays go to reproduce, and Florida shores were not one known to be one of these locations. It is also interesting because the breeding ground is just offshore from a highly developed area and tourist-packed beaches.

Manta rays are a vulnerable species, said Pate. This new nursery could be good news for manta rays and the scientists studying them. Pate said this opens up new opportunities for manta rays to be studied and hopefully leads to better protection for the species. Pate said that research on the nursery is ongoing.

“Just last year the giant manta was uplisted to endangered, which means they are facing an even higher risk of extinction,” Pate said.

Manta rays face many different threats including: line entanglement, vessel strikes, climate change, coastal development, and particularly microplastics. The biggest threat to manta rays around the world is fishing,” Pate said.

Pate said that anglers that she’s asked can generally identify a manta when they see one in the water, but they don’t always know how to take the necessary cautions to protect mantas. “Instead of just watching it,” Pate said, ”take a photo, report it as a citizen scientist, and reel in their lines,”

Pate said there is a lot of space in manta research yet to be filled. She said, “I think all animals have an innate right to be here whether we say so or not,” Pate said, “They’re these smart creatures with complex social lives that we don’t even understand.”

Sydney Payne, the president of the FGCU Wildlife Club, said, “Our goal is to educate and help enhance the student experience of the wildlife on campus and off campus.”

Payne said Pate’s work is very interesting and it’s important to South Florida because it is research that hasn’t been done before in our Florida waters. Payne said they wanted to host this event because the FGCU Wildlife Club has a duty to bring awareness to animal issues in our South Florida community.