Climate change is a global issue that has far-reaching effects on our planet, including the delicate marine ecosystems around Hawaii… which also impacts the environment our cherished manta rays need to survive and thrive.
Manta rays are highly vulnerable to environmental changes because they have slow growth, low reproductive rates, and long lifespans. Even relatively small changes in their habitats or food availability can significantly impact the manta populations.
Changing Habitats Due to Coral Bleaching
Warmer waters lead to coral bleaching, which damages, weakens, and kills coral reefs.
Coral reefs are an essential habitat for many species in Hawaii’s underwater ecosystem, including the reef manta rays. Besides finding shelter in shallow water, they visit cleaning stations aka “day spas”.
Coral reef bleaching events weaken the corals’ ability to support diverse marine life populations, leading to declines in fish that depend upon them for shelter or food sources. Read more in this article on ReefResilience.org!
Changing Habitats Due to Sealevel Rise
The melting of polar ice caps and subsequent rise in sea level can lead to the loss of coastal habitats and nesting areas for many different species of marine life, which is not different for manta rays. Plastic pollution and chemical runoff, often exacerbated by climate change, can further degrade their surroundings.
Altered Food Chains
Climate change can affect the abundance and distribution of plankton, which forms the primary food source for manta rays.
We already know that ocean acidification affects the base of the food web by impacting phytoplankton populations, which serve as a primary food source for many marine organisms. Read more about this here!
When carbon dioxide (CO2) from human activities dissolves into seawater, it forms carbonic acid. This lowers pH levels in the water, making it more acidic. The resulting changes in food availability have cascading effects and affect species like manta rays that rely on these resources.
Changing Migratory Patterns
Rising global temperatures lead to ocean warming, which can affect the distribution and behavior of manta rays.
Manta rays are generally found in temperate, tropical, and subtropical waters, and they rely on specific temperature ranges for feeding and reproduction. Ocean temperatures exceeding their preferred range can disrupt their feeding and migratory patterns and reproductive cycles.
This is likely to already have a big impact on the larger manta species, the oceanic manta rays known to travel long distances.
Extreme weather events
Climate change is associated with increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, cyclones, and typhoons. Read more about the phenomenon here! These events can directly impact manta rays by damaging their habitats, disrupting their migration patterns, and causing injury or mortality.
How can we (all) help?
While it may not be possible to reverse most of the consequences of climate change, there is still a lot every human on the planet can, needs, and should do to mitigate its effects.
Conservation efforts are crucial for the long-term survival of manta rays in the face of climate change. The time is NOW, not later. Be encouraged. We must not burden future generations with the devastating consequences of climate change. We can all
- Reduce our ecological footprint by transitioning towards renewable energy sources and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Read more about our own efforts here at Manta Ray Advocates HQ!
- Eat No (or less) fish and/or, at the least, support sustainable fishing practices.
- Fight to establish more Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to preserve healthy habitats with coral reefs resilient enough to withstand climate change-induced stressors.
- Educate fellow divers and snorkelers about minimizing the human impact on vulnerable species like manta rays while promoting overall ocean conservation efforts.