Monday, December 2, 2013

Representing MPRF at the Oceania Chondricthyan Society Meetin

There are only a very few conferences each year where shark and ray researchers meet to present and discuss their new findings. When I found out about the OCS Meeting in Brisbane, it felt very much out of my reach. I also knew that the recent unexpected discoveries I found on giant manta rays need to be shared with this community. I was very grateful for the MPRF for funding me to present in Brisbane!
Brisbane is a beautiful city. I could find affordable accomodation only a bit further from the conference hotel, but this gave me the opportunity for a nice walk by the river and through a botanical garden every day. The city even have free ferry that connects the downtown area with the other side of the river.

I was presenting at the end of the first day and I was happy to discuss my findings with other researchers about the body coloration changes of manta rays after the talk. I am aware that these changes are very surprising to many of us, but I think it rather shows how little we know about these animals, especially about their biology and behavior. Many of the participants mentioned that these changes are probably not so unique to manta rays since coloration changes are described and have been observed by many of them on sharks.
Probably the most interesting talk for me was at the end of the last day, about large scale movement of great white sharks in Australian waters which results were generated from decades of data collection.


On the last day of the conference during the evening reception the student and travel awards were announced and a boat tour on the river offered a great scene to further socialize and to discuss our work.
Evening reception from left: James Anderson, Csilla Ari, Alastair Harry, Tom Kashiwagi

If I was already in Brisbane I had to make a short visit to the University of Queensland to meet some experts I have been wanting to talk for many years. I am hoping to establish fruitful collaborations in the future.

Before leaving Australia, of course I could not miss the chance to visit a koala rehabilitation farm where I was thrilled to pet koalas and kangaroos.
This conference was a great chance to meet personally with some of the most famous experts of shark and ray research. I was honored to represent the Manta Pacific Research Foundation and to direct more attention to the need of manta ray research at such a great event!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Partnering with the Foundation for the Oceans of the Future 2013

`I was very honored when I was contacted by the founders of the Manta Pacific Research Foundation. They are one of the very first manta ray research foundations and they have accomplished amazing amount of data collection in the last couple of decades on the hawaiian manta rays.`-says Dr. Csilla Ari, the principal investigator of the Foundation for the Oceans of the Future, who was recently asked to become Board of Director for the prestigious Manta Pacific Research Foundation.
`The goal of our foundation and theirs are the same and it is great to be able to work together with people who have extensive knowledge and experience on these rarely studied animals, the manta rays. I am confident that by joining our forces while working for the same goals we will accomplish great things in the next couple of years that will speed up manta ray research and conservation.`

Dr. Csilla Ari (second from right) with the founders of the Manta Pacific Research Foundation, Keller Laros and Wendy Laros (first and second from left) and with Dr. Dominic D`Agostino (far right) in Kona, Hawaii.
More about the Foundation for the Oceans of the Future:

Our manta researcher is featured in The Giants of the Oceans movie

Dr. Csilla Ari talked about her research on manta ray brains in the amazing movie The Giants of the Oceans.

Organizing a Manta Ray Symposium, Oceanography-2013 Conference


The International Conference on Oceanography was held during August 21-23, 2013 at Holiday Inn Orlando International Airport, Orlando-Florida, USA.
The Oceanography-2013 was a remarkable event which brought together a unique and International mix of Oceanography & Marine science  Researchers, leading universities and research institutions making the conference a perfect platform to share experience, foster collaboration across industry,  academia, and evaluate emerging technologies across the globe.

Our principal investigator, Dr. Csilla Ari was asked to organize a Manta Ray Symposium which was a great success and attracted lots of interest. Manta rays were listed in CITES Appendix-II recently! This symposium gave a great opportunity to bring together Scientists, Foundations and Industries to discuss ideas on how to continue research after this great accomplishment. We heard some very interesting talks and collaborations were established between different countries and organizations. 25 countries were represented on the conference giving a broad overview on the advancements in ocean science and marine research. 


Fiji expedition 2013

After the Oceania Chondrichthyan Society meeting in Brisbane I went to Fiji to present my research at the University of South Pacific, in Suva.  Dr. Khairul Azam invited me there who I met during the Manta Ray Symposium in Orlando, in August and is a professor at the marine biology department. Dr. Khairul was a great host and showed me around at the University and introduced me to his students and many professors as well.

While I was in Suva I also visited a poor village elementary school with especially under-privileged kids. I talked to them about my story and my love and dedication to manta rays and I am hoping that I could encourage them to fight for their dreams even if they start their lives with limited resources. I took some school supplies for them which was very needed and they danced and sang to me, and they all draw beautiful manta rays in return. With the help of the Pacific Outreach Foundation they will hopefully get further help in the future.


After a few days in Suva I headed to the Barefoot Island to see manta rays! The island is officially called Drawaqua and is about 4 hours north west from the mainland with a large, fast catamaran. The islands we passed on the way were already amazingly beautiful, but I could not imagine such paradise that was waiting for me at the Barefoot Island. A friendly welcome song on the beach by the locals and the postcard perfect beach took my breath away while stepping on the white sand.

I just settled in my little hut by the beach when the drums signalled:  a manta ray was seen in the channel so we should run to the boats to go out and see it! I could not even wake up from the dream of being at such a beautiful place when they call me to see a manta?? Now I was convinced, this IS paradise!!!

We snorkelled for about 30minutes with a beautiful young, black manta in the strong current which was feeding near the surface. The island is an excellent location for future research because the animals are approachable by boat in just a few minutes and at certain times of the year they are there almost every day.

Sunrise Beach

Manta Ray Channel

Sunset Beach

During the week I met some very kind, interesting people who came to spend one or a few days on the island and wonderful people who worked and lived in this paradise. It is a unique place where nature and people live in harmony and respect each other. We are hoping to establish manta ray research projects in the future to help the community better understand these animals and to find out more about the biology and movement patterns of the mantas. 

During my stay, the Barefoot Island resort- to show their support and dedication to help these magnificent creatures- became the very first distribution center of Manta Memories items and will support the most critical manta ray fishing communities in Indonesia (!
While waiting for manta rays to pass the channel every day I learned a lot from local people who showed us how to break coconut with bare hands, make baskets from palm tree leaves and who also made me cry with their beautiful farewell song when my time came to leave the island.
This trip was funded by the Foundation for the Oceans of the Future, the Barefoot Island Resort and MPRF.

Establishing the Manta Memories Project 2013

At many parts of the world manta rays are killed by people who are fishing for their survival, because they don`t have other option to survive or to support their family.
Manta rays have very low reproductive rates, it is very slow or impossible for a targeted population to recover. Although they are legally protected in a few countries and the international trade of manta ray parts will be more strictly controlled from next year they are vulnerable to extinction. Illegal fishing and trade within countries still continues and marine protected areas often don’t create sufficient bounderies for migrating manta rays or dedicated fishermen either when the demand for dried manta ray and mobula gill rakers are high in asian markets.

`The lesson I learned by travelling around the world is that legal protection is not always enough! I believe the key to effective protection is to rather create alternative income options to these communities who now have to rely on manta ray fishing and trade for their survival because they don`t have other choice.`- says Csilla Ari, who established the Manta Memories Project. `The idea of the Manta Memories Project was born when I was observing manta rays at the Atlantis Resort and tourists wanted to buy manta ray photos from me to take home as souvenirs.`

Less than a year later the Manta Memories project started, to establish an alternative income option to the most critical manta ray fishing communities by helping them create manta ray related souvenir items and handicrafts which than will be available at manta ray focused tourist destinations, this way generating additional income for the fishing communities.

Similar Asset-Based Community Development projects are successfully present worldwide that build on the skills of local residents and on the power of local associations, to help them recognize their capacity to build their own, sustainable, local economy.
Csilla Ari with the staff of the Barefoot Island Resort
Farewell song from the lovely island people
The first distribution center of Manta Memories items was opened in Fiji at the beginning of October, 2013 and will support the most critical manta ray fishing communities in Indonesia. 

At present a small selection of Manta Memories items are available (please check on website: ), but we will keep you updated about the progress! We are planning to establish the first production centers during the beginning of next year!

TedXTampa Bay Talk 2013

TED is a nonprofit devoted to `Ideas Worth Spreading`. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader.

TedTalks are increasingly popular around the world. TedTalk organizers believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world. So they are building a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world's most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other. The presenters are challenged to give the talk of their lives in only 18 minutes or less.

`When I was asked to give a TedXTalk I felt it was a huge honor, but I also got very nervous. I finally could not reject the invitation since I knew this was a great opportunity to get the message out to the word what I believe in, and what I hope can help manta ray research and conservation worldwide.`-said Dr. Csilla Ari.

Her TedXTalk is now online: