From monsoons to mantas: seasonal distribution of Manta alfredi in the Maldives


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The Republic of Maldives in the central Indian Ocean is home to large numbers of manta rays, Manta alfredi. They are known to undertake seasonal migrations within the Maldives, but these movements have not been well documented. The aims of this study were to map the seasonal distribution of manta rays within the Maldives, and to provide some indications of the physical and biological oceanographic processes affecting their distribution. The seasonal distribution of mantas was determined from a national survey of fishermen, interviews with experienced divers and personal observations. The data demonstrate that the distribution of mantas is strongly influenced by the seasonally reversing monsoon currents. Mantas occur on the downstream sides of the atolls, and are rare on the upstream sides, switching sides biannually as the monsoon currents change direction. These seasonally alternating currents are driven by monsoon winds which also alternate according to the season, and bring clear oceanic water to the upstream sides of the atolls. As the currents pass over the Maldives ridge, nutrient-rich waters are lifted to the surface, promoting phytoplankton blooms (as demonstrated by the distribution of chlorophyll-a) on the downstream sides of the atolls. This manifestation of the island mass effect supports an abundance of zooplankton, which in turn supports the manta rays.