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Lady Elliot Island sits at the south of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The small coral cay is only a few kilometers from the edge of the continental shelf, providing a productive, safe habitat for manta rays.
Lady Elliot hosts a number of cleaning stations for manta rays. The rays stop by the station to get cleaned by smaller fish and interact with each other.
Manta rays have the largest brain to body ratio of any fish – they are intelligent and willing to interact with divers, as this female demonstrates.
A regular supply of nutrient-enriched, oceanic waters to the Lady Elliot Island reef guarantees the abundance of food (zooplankton) and manta rays, making it a popular diving destination.
A stingray hovers near one of the Lady Elliot cleaning stations.
Each manta bears unique markings and spot patterns on their ventral surface, which Project Manta researchers use to identify and monitor individuals along the east Australian seaboard.
Project Manta member Chris Garraway collects an identification photograph from a passing manta ray.
Lady Elliot Island is a safe haven for marine wildlife. The area offers the highest level of protection to its inhabitants, which include humpback whales and other pelagic fish.
Reef manta rays (Manta alfredi) can grow up to 7m across and 2 tonnes in weight.
The island’s rays are accustomed to human engagement, due to regular interactions with researchers, photographers and divers.
Manta rays are extremely graceful swimmers.
A manta ray gets cleaned at one of Lady Elliot’s cleaning stations.
Lady Elliot Island attracts 21,000 visitors a year.
The research team encourages divers to share their photographs of east coast populations with Project Manta.
Reef manta rays are classified as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Moon wrasses remove parasites from a manta’s dorsal surface.
A manta ray’s mouth is located in front of the head, with eyes positioned on either side and cephalic lobes hanging in front of the mouth. The cephalic lobes are used in various ways depending on whether the manta ray is feeding, cruising or relaxed and hovering atop a coral patch.
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