In this paper, researchers from the Marine Megafauna Foundation show strong evidence that South Florida features a nursery ground for manta rays, only the third such special place known for the species. The results are surprising, given the proximity to large numbers of people and human activity. The lead author spent hundreds of hours conducting visual boat-based surveys between Jupiter Inlet and Boynton Beach between June 2016 to November 2019 in order to locate and identify individual manta rays from their color patterns and markings. Through the time period, she identified 59 individuals, and saw several multiple times. While the warm south Florida waters seem conducive to young manta growth, there is a trade-off; 46 percent of the indivudals showed evidence of injury or scarring from boat propellers, fishing equipment, or other unidentified causes. The authors used the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project database to establish a baseline of sighting frequency for the species in Florida, and noted a very low frequency of occurence by REEF surveyors (<1% statewide; from approx. 45,000 surveys conducted in Florida since 1993).

Want to learn more? National Geographic coverage on this study