In December, Manta Trust reported a significant milestone reached by its pioneering Maldivian Manta Ray Project - the discovery of its 5000th reef manta ray. And to celebrate, they’re offering a lucky supporter the chance to name it.

As long-living animals, reef mantas reach sexual maturity slowly and have just one pup at a time - creating a constant struggle to maintain population size. But it’ll be no surprise that the Maldives boasts the largest population of reef mantas in the world, making it a vital destination for manta research.

Manta number number MV-MA-5000 identified by its unique pattern. Image: Manta Trust
Manta number number MV-MA-5000 identified by its unique pattern. Image: Manta Trust

The Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP) has been studying reef mantas in the region for more than 15 years. And, together with images submitted by the public through their ID the Manta programme, they have compiled a database of literally thousands of mantas. 

Each manta ray features a unique pattern of spots on its belly, that never changes throughout its life - much like fingerprints. These spots can be quickly matched between images, providing an easy way to identify individual mantas. 

Using photo-matching software, MMRP’s database has become the largest in the world and now provides an invaluable picture of population size, demographics, and movements of reef mantas throughout the Maldives.

“our whole team are delighted to have identified the 5000th reef manta ray in the Maldives. It’s a testimony to the hard work and dedication of all our researchers, interns, citizen scientists and collaborating tourist operators in the Maldives. Now we’d like the public to help us name this special manta ray.”- Tam Sawers, MMRP Manager

The lucky supporter who gets to name the juvenile male manta ray will be chosen at random. Once the 5000th manta has been named, the supporter will also receive a personalised manta adoption certificate, a cuddly manta toy, and a book about manta and devil rays of the world.

During its 15 years of operation, the MMRP helped secure national protection for manta rays in the Maldives through the designation of two Marine Protected Areas, and promoting the addition of all ray species to the Maldivian National Protected Species List. The MMRP also played a crucial role in the first scientifically-advised code of conduct for manta ray tourism, as well as helping to educate local children to become future ocean ambassadors.

This level of advocacy is vital, considering both manta and devil rays are under threat from overfishing throughout the world, with many populations in decline due to either targeted fishing or accidental bycatch. Both species of manta ray are now listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.