How Citizen Science contributes to our Knowledge of Manta Rays

Aug 14, 2023 | Citizen Science Projects

Did you know that your love for diving or snorkeling can directly contribute to manta ray conservation efforts? By identifying individual rays and monitoring their behavior, health, and other attributes, we can all help to improve knowledge and understanding of mantas and marine life. This is called Citizen Science.

How does Citizen Science work?

Citizen science is a form of scientific research that involves members of the general public, often referred to as “citizen scientists”, in the process of collecting and analyzing data. Regular people can be amateur scientists or volunteers in scientific research and data collection. They may not have formal training or qualifications but want to contribute to scientific discovery and conservation efforts.

Citizen scientists work alongside professional scientists to help solve problems, collect data, and sometimes even analyze and interpret results.

Benefits of Citizen Science

Citizen science projects are a win-win for all parties involved. The perks of using this way to practice scientific research are:

  • By involving a wide range of participants, citizen science projects benefit from diverse perspectives that can lead to new insights and discoveries.
  • With many people participating, scientists can collect large amounts of data more quickly. This enables researchers to tackle larger-scale questions than they could alone.
  • Participating in citizen science projects helps raise public awareness about important issues such as environmental conservation or species protection.
  • Citizen science also offers valuable learning experiences to the people involved by engaging them directly with real-world problems and providing hands-on experience with scientific methods.

Examples of Citizen Science Projects

Citizen science projects span numerous disciplines, including astronomy (e.g. Galaxy Zoo), ecology (e.g. eBird), and ocean conservation, such as our own Manta Ray Advocates project.

We focus on studying manta rays on the West Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, protecting the gentle giants of the sea, and promoting overall ocean conservancy. By engaging divers, snorkelers, and professionals in the manta ray tourism industry, we can make significant contributions to understanding manta rays while helping protect their populations.

How can Citizen Scientists Help with Manta Ray Conservation?

Citizen scientists play a crucial role in manta ray conservation by contributing to research and data collection efforts, which help experts better understand these fascinating creatures. Participating in various projects can make a difference in protecting mantas and their ocean habitats.

Identifying and Tracking Individual Manta Rays Worldwide

A key aspect of manta ray research is identifying individual rays based on their unique spot patterns.

Manta Matcher, an online global database for manta rays, allows citizen scientists to upload photos taken during dives or snorkeling trips. Their algorithm automatically matches the new imagery to the markings of already identified manta rays, making tracking their migrations possible.

Monitoring Injuries and Health Issues in Manta Rays in Hawaii

Our own database focuses on manta rays spotted along the West side of the Big Island of Hawaii. And while it cannot automatically track migratory patterns, it allows us to secure in-depth information about each manta.

We collect stories on their behavior, pregnancies, injuries, and more – which can then be used to study social dynamics, reproductive behaviors, threats to the manta ray population, and more.

We also report every newly sighted manta ray to the Manta Pacific Research Foundation so they can be officially registered and named.

Featured article: naming mantas

How you can help to collect data on manta rays

Whether you’re visiting Hawaii or you live here and regularly snorkel or dive with manta rays along the Kona Coast, we encourage you to help!

If you encounter a manta ray along the Kona Coast, we’d love to hear more about that experience.

If you know which manta ray you’ve sighted, you can navigate directly to their page in our manta ray database and share your story at the bottom. When and where did you see this manta? What was the encounter like? Was there anything out of the ordinary about the manta or the encounter, e.g. an injury, pregnancy, or unusual behavior?

If you’re unsure which manta ray you saw, you can email us any information you have. We might be able to match your encounter to one of the mantas in the database, and it is truly one of our most favorite pastimes ever!!

Whether you encounter injured mantas or manta rays displaying unusual behavior, or you can report a perfectly healthy manta, happily swimming and feeding – this is all essential information for gathering data that can help effectively conserve the species.

Manta Ray Advocates’ Contributions to Science

Since 2012, I (Martina Wing) have made several contributions to science, using our extensive experience here at Manta Ray Advocates – as well as the data and video/photo materials we collected over the years.

  • I co-authored an article about “Sex-biased individual variation in movement patterns of a highly mobile, near-shore marine planktivore, the reef manta ray Mobula Alfredi”, in the Journal of Fish Biology. (download the PDF here!)
  • I contributed to Dr. Sam Kao’s “Assessment of Manta Ray Viewing Boating Operations and Safety” for the Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative Research Program in 2015. (download the PDF here!)
  • I recently contributed to Kirsten Moy’s graduate thesis, “Understanding the Intersection of Hawaii’s reef manta ray and its growing tourism industry”, or “Of Mantas and Man” for short. (download the PDF here!)
  • And as we speak, I am working with Holly Hokenson to shed new light on “Manta Alfredi injury occurrences and healing patterns in Kona, Hawaii”. The study uses our expansive video and picture archive of the Kona manta ray population (click here to view the picture archive of injured manta rays!)

These are not the only contributions so far and will definitely not be the last; I will share more later in a more elaborate article on the subject.

What Other Contributions Can Citizen Scientists Make to Save the Oceans?

Ocean conservancy is a vast field that encompasses protecting and preserving marine ecosystems, species, and resources. Citizen scientists can contribute by participating in various projects beyond manta ray research.

Here are some ways you can get involved:

Collecting Data on Marine Species Populations and Movements

By recording sightings of specific animals (not only manta rays) during dives or snorkeling trips, you help researchers gather valuable data on distribution patterns, migration routes, breeding grounds, and more. One such project is iNaturalist, where users can upload photos of observed wildlife for identification purposes.

Documenting Changes in Marine Ecosystems

Our seas’ wellness largely depends on the health of its ecosystems – from coral reefs to seagrass beds. As a citizen scientist, you can assist researchers by documenting changes in these habitats over time through photographs or observations made while diving or snorkeling.

For example, the Reef Check Foundation trains volunteers worldwide to conduct surveys on coral reef health using standardized methods.

Participating in Beach Cleanups and Other Conservation Efforts

  • Join local beach cleanup events organized by groups like Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. These efforts not only remove harmful debris from our shores but also raise awareness about plastic pollution affecting marine life.
  • Participate in projects like the NOAA Marine Debris Program, which encourages citizen scientists to report and track marine debris, helping researchers understand its sources and impacts on our oceans.
  • Volunteer for habitat restoration efforts such as mangrove planting or seagrass bed rehabilitation. These activities help restore vital ecosystems that support a diverse range of marine species. Organizations like the Mangroves for the Future Initiative offer opportunities to get involved in these types of projects.

And when you share your experience as a citizen scientist, you can spread awareness among your friends and family and inspire others to join you in protecting our oceans. Together, we can make a significant impact.

Online Platforms for Finding Projects to Participate In

For those wishing to contribute to manta ray conservation and ocean conservancy as citizen scientists, resources abound for training, funding, and connecting with projects. The possibilities are endless, from online platforms that connect volunteers with projects to training opportunities and funding sources.

Several websites are dedicated to helping citizen scientists find projects that align with their interests. These platforms allow volunteers to discover ongoing research efforts and contribute valuable data or observations. Some popular sites include:

  • Zooniverse: A platform hosting a wide variety of projects across multiple disciplines, including marine biology and oceanography.
  • SciStarter: A comprehensive database of citizen science projects searchable by topic, location, age level, or activity type.
  • iNaturalist: An app-based platform where users can record observations of plants and animals they encounter during outdoor activities such as diving or snorkeling.
  • The NOAA’s National Ocean Service Citizen Science Portal

Training Opportunities for Learning About Scientific Methods

To ensure the quality of data collected by citizen scientists is reliable and useful for researchers, it’s essential that participants have access to proper training materials. Many organizations offer educational resources tailored specifically towards non-professional contributors:

  • PADI’s “Project AWARE” Dive Against Debris Program: Provides divers with tools necessary for collecting debris data during underwater cleanups.
  •’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project: Offers training materials for conducting fish surveys and submitting data to a global database.
  • Manta Trust’s manta ray ID program: Provides guidelines on identifying individual manta rays based on their unique spot patterns and instructions for submitting sighting information.

Citizen scientists can make a real difference in ocean conservation with the right resources. By connecting with local organizations and researchers working on relevant projects, anyone interested in participating in citizen science can get involved to help protect manta rays and other marine life.

Joining an Online Community of Citizen Scientists

Becoming part of an online community can offer valuable support, resources, and connections within the world of citizen science. Various web platforms, social media outlets, and discussion forums exist to enable cooperation among citizens engaged in scientific research. For instance, the Citizen Science Association Facebook Group is an active community where members share project updates, resources, and opportunities for involvement.

By getting involved in citizen science projects related to manta rays or other ocean conservation organizations, together, we can make a tangible impact on our understanding of these magnificent creatures and contribute towards their preservation for future generations.

If you love diving or snorkeling and want to save our oceans while having fun at the same time, join a Citizen Science project! Together, let’s make an impact on our understanding of these magnificent creatures and contribute towards their preservation for future generations.

And next time you encounter a manta ray along the Kona coast, don’t forget to relay the story in our manta ray database!

Visit the database of manta rays in Kona

Learn everything you always wanted to know about manta rays in our free Facts & Figures (PDF) ebook.

Download it below so you can teach everyone around you about the gentle giants of the sea, and become a Manta Ray Advocate yourself!



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