Maui truly is blessed in being surrounded by an underwater wonderland. In addition to hosting one of the largest concentrations of humpback whales during their birthing season in the world, we are also lucky to have the chance to see other graceful, unique denizens of the deep, such as monk seals, several species of sharks and even manta rays.

Picture donated by Blake Moore

Maui is one of a few places in the entire world with a resident population of manta rays. Olowalu Reef, off of West Maui, is home to an estimated 350 resident reef manta rays. In nearshore reef locations, manta rays congregate around “cleaning stations”, where Hawaiian cleaner wrasse eat parasites of  the skin of a manta ray. Manta rays are also thought to breed in the shallow coral reef habitat.

Unfortunately, both species of manta ray (Manta birostris and Manta alfredi) are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Manta rays are hunted in some countries for their skin, their fins (for the shark fin soup trade) and for their gill rakers, which are used in some Chinese medicines. Since manta rays mature slowly and have few pups, they are especially susceptible to fishing pressures. Manta rays around Maui have also been spotted entangled in fishing line and some have even lost part of their fins due to this marine debris. Learn more from HAMER.

To raise awareness, Pacific Whale Foundation has just launched a seasonal conservation campaign to take action and help protect the coral reefs of Maui that resident manta rays depend on.
On Maui, proposed shoreline development near the Olowalu area would cause increased runoff, which would smother coral polyps. Encourage sustainable development and responsible environmental policies by supporting conservation minded local officials, no matter where you live. Be sure to clean up and recycle monofilament fishing lines with Pacific Whale Foundation’s fishing line recycling program. Much is still to be learned about manta ray populations, migrations, habitat use, and behavior. Help add to knowledge of these animals by donating any “belly shots”, with sighting location and date, to Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research for mantas in Maui, or to Manta Trust, for mantas spotted in other parts of the world.  Good luck spotting these amazing ambassadors of the reefs!