Protecting Manta rays in Sudan

The Deep - 20th Sep, 2017

The Deep is working in partnership with Equipe Cousteau on a region-wide Shark and Ray Conservation and Management Programme for the Red Sea.

The project is a pre-emptive baseline study of Manta ray populations and movements in Sudan.

The area around Dungonab Bay on the north eastern coast of the Red Sea was designated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) World Heritage site in 2016. It is one of only 2 marine protected areas (MPA) in Sudan and is a site with a significant population of Manta rays and for large seasonal manta aggregations.

The Manta project is a unique opportunity for proactive, pioneering research and for acquiring baseline data that can be used to inform and implement a shark conservation and management strategy. 

It is the first time scientists have been able to carry out research in this area since the 1960 Cousteau Conshelf underwater habitat experiments. In 2013, staff from The Deep together with partners; Equipe Cousteau, scientists from the University of Windsor (Canada), the Wildlife Conservation General Administration in Sudan and the Red Sea University completed phase one of the project.

Phase 1:

  • Install a network of acoustic monitors around the bay and surrounding area based on historical, local and previous reconnaissance.
  • 22 Manta rays were tagged with an acoustic tag which works with the array to determine small scale movements.
  • 3 SPOT 5 satellite tags were mounted on the dorsal fin of 3 individuals for large scale movements.
  • A small tissue sample from each tagged individual and additional samples from opportunistic encounters were taken for genetic analysis.
  • Visual observations were made in the bay on manta movements.
  • Zooplankton sampling at key aggregation sites.


  • 40 seabed monitors were installed (20 inshore and 20 offshore) using SCUBA
  • The first recorded internal implantation of acoustic tags in a manta ray was 100% successful, dramatically increasing accessible information. This methods means 10 years of movement data is possible
  • 3 SPOT 5 satellite tags begun responding within 72 hours of tagging and showed at this time of year (Oct/Nov), rays moved out and back to the bay. Travelling over 100km in several days
  • Biopsy samples revealed the discovery of the first Manta alfredi (Reef manta ray) and Manta birostris (Giant oceanic manta) hybrid. This has significant ramifications for methods of conservation and management. Further samples are required to expand this area of research
  • Ephemeral slicks on the water surface were noted and they appeared to be sought out by the manta rays. Water samples in this area revealed high concentrations of zooplankton. Plankton samples in these areas and those where manta were not found were taken to be analysed.

This project utilises ‘in country’ science combined with capacity building for local communities, the marine park rangers and the Red Sea University. Darwin Initiative funding was able to develop infrastructure for a research hub and managed ecotourism, provide equipment for continued monitoring, improve the protection of MPA’s and provide supplemental or alternative sources of income for local people.

Phase 2:

  • To use drone technology to assist in the location of manta rays whilst on the water and to map Dungonab bay throughout the year, tracking seasonal population changes.
  • Expand the number of Manta rays tagged.
  • Expand and maintain the acoustic monitor array to take into account previous data.
  • Provide support for scientists in the country to continue the research and assist in developing the conservation framework.
  • Encourage and support infrastructure, working with all stake holders to develop sustainable diving operations that do not impact on the Manta ray populations.
  • Expand to other shark species in the area to identify the status of shark populations in Sudan.

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