Andrew Harvey has been fascinated by the ocean for as long as he can remember. While his primary school friends dreamed of being firemen, he yearned to be a deep-sea diver. His early ambitions carried him to Southampton where he graduated with an MSc in Oceanography in 2004. Since then, his career has taken him around the world, from Antarctica to Madagascar and Indonesia, working with some of the world’s leading organisations, including World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The Nature Conservancy, the US Government, and the Asian Development Bank.
In 2010 Andrew founded MantaWatch, a UK-based marine conservation company that is applying cutting-edge web technologies to conserve threatened manta rays. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Endangered Species classifies both species of manta as being vulnerable to extinction. In 2013, Andrew’s team managed the creation of a 7,000 km² manta ray and shark sanctuary in eastern Indonesia. In March 2014, his organisation played an instrumental role assisting the Government of Indonesia to declare the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary.
This new legislation will provide full protection to manta rays throughout south east Asia’s biggest country, which for years has been the world’s largest shark and ray fishery. The sanctuary will span an incredible area of almost six million square kilometres.
Killing and harming of both oceanic and reef manta rays, as well as trading of manta ray body parts, is now illegal across Indonesia.
Indonesia now has the second-largest manta ray tourism industry in the world, with an estimated annual turnover of $15m
says Agus Dermawan, a senior official from Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries. “Given the huge area of reefs and islands in our country, if managed properly, Indonesia could become the top manta tourism destination on the planet.”
Divers, snorkelers and ocean lovers have helped to protect manta rays in Indonesia by submitting their manta sightings and photos to MantaWatch through its online manta tracking application, providing critical data to the government.
“One of the reasons I set up MantaWatch was to encourage people to become more interested and active in marine conservation. This is a great example of how governments and the diving industry can work together to achieve positive impacts for the environment and the economy,” says Andrew.
MantaWatch also supported the creation of the 7,000km² West Manggarai and Komodo manta ray sanctuary, one year after the Raja Ampat regional government declared the first manta ray sanctuary in the Coral Triangle.
Andrew comments: “Indonesia now faces the new challenge of effectively managing its manta rays, and enforcing the new regulations when necessary. Urgent research is needed to inform management planning by answering critical questions, such as how many mantas inhabit Indonesia’s waters, where the important migratory corridors and habitats are for feeding and breeding, how oceanography influences manta distribution, and whether mantas migrate across Indonesia’s borders, where they may be at risk in the unprotected waters of neighbouring countries.”
Sightings of manta rays while at Southampton may have been slim, but Andrew acknowledges the role that the University has played in his career.
“My course definitely gave me the skills, experience and contacts I needed to set MantaWatch up. But more than the technical skills, we were encouraged to be curious, to ask questions and investigate. We were very fortunate to have world-leading people coming in on a weekly basis giving lectures and presentations. That exposure to different ideas and ways of thinking, and seeing people challenging each other’s thoughts and ideas, was inspiring,” he recalls.
MantaWatch has recently signed a collaborative agreement with Indonesia’s Institute of Sciences and the University of Queensland, a development that Andrew describes as “very exciting”. The agreement covers research into Manta and Mobula ray distribution and population connectivity between nations in SE Asia and The Coral Triangle region.
Andrew adds: “We will be using a sophisticated suite of cutting-edge technologies and methodologies, including satellite tracking, genetic sequencing, photographic identification and citizen science. We are always interested to connect with researchers and/or postgraduate students with similar interests, and hope that some of this work may align with the interests of Southampton masters or PhD students.”
MantaWatch protects threatened manta rays through the application of technology and education to support local conservation actions. The company launched the world’s first social web application dedicated to open, transparent and participative marine conservation, enabling anyone to play an important role in monitoring and protecting manta populations. They also run the annual MantaWatch Internship Program—a professional manta ray research and conservation training program for students in developing countries. MantaWatch is a not-for-profit marine conservation company based in London.