Today marks the 17th annual Endangered Species Day, during which people commit to learning, celebrating and taking action to save the many endangered species throughout the world and its oceans.
Dr Andrea Marshall, co-founder and principal scientist of the Marine Megafauna Foundation, works tirelessly to protect manta rays. She is based in Mozambique, Africa, and dedicates her time to protecting, researching, and conserving endangered species.
To celebrate her work for Endangered Species Day, here’s her profile as featured by PADI as part of its PADI AWARE Foundation campaign.
Dr Andrea Marshall, ‘Queen of Mantas’
Dr Andrea Marshall holds a PhD in manta ray ecology from the University of Queensland in Australia. She is a marine biologist whose interests largely lie within the fields of scientific research and exploration. Andrea considers herself a conservation biologist as her work focuses predominately on questions related to the effective management and conservation of threatened marine species. She has been living in the field for the last twenty years, based largely in Africa.
‘My team and I study the ecology or population dynamics of marine megafauna species like manta rays or whale sharks to help gain a better understanding of the species as a whole and to develop better management strategies for specific populations under threat. To do this we are constantly exploring areas faced with particular conservation problems and monitoring specific populations, sometimes for years and years at a time.
‘Personally, I have always been interested in using technology to push the limits of our knowledge of these animals. Sometimes this means using advanced telemetry equipment for the first time to track these animals into the depths of the ocean or as they make broad-scale migrations, other times it means pushing your own limits with technical diving technology, which allows us to better explore the environments used by our flagship species.
‘Every day, every year, it is a different issue or question, and it is this never-ending quest for information about the animals that keep me inspired as a scientist. I hope in my lifetime to contribute enough scientific information to develop effective conservation solutions for threatened marine species like manta rays and whale sharks. And since I know that I may only get part of the way to realising some of my goals, I am also working hard to inspire a new generation of marine activists and educators to carry my work to fruition long after I am gone.’
One of Andrea’s proudest achievements was contributing to the scientific research that underpinned the CITES victory at the CITES CoP in Bangkok with majority support by parties to list all species of manta rays in Appendix II. Her other proudest achievement is the creation of the first global online database for manta rays. It operates with an automated algorithm that matches the unique spot patterns of manta rays like the FBI fingerprint database. ‘Manta Matcher‘, as it is affectionately called, stands to revolutionize manta ray research by both centralizing data and tapping into a much broader base of contributors, namely the SCUBA diving community around the world.
‘My favourite part of being a conservation biologist is seeing the fruits of your labour. We all do this job for the love of animals and it is our passion for the natural world that constantly drives us forward. So when you can see that the work that you are doing is directly contributing to the survival of a species or the management of vulnerable populations, it is the most rewarding feeling in the world. This might seem like a big task, and it is… sometimes it takes lifetimes to achieve this kind of ambitious goal. But success stories around the world are a testament to the fact that it can be done and that the commitment and passion of conservation biologists are making happen one project at a time.
‘At the moment we are working to protect the core habitat for manta rays in southern Mozambique and success would be a series of connected MPAs along the coast that formed a seascape of protection to help safeguard Africa’s largest identified manta population which is under threat at the moment.’
Following in her footsteps
Andrea has some great tips when it comes to following in her footsteps and she credits much of her success to surrounding herself with passionate colleagues, living her life in the field, making use of technology, and being creative, but mostly due to doing what she loves and is passionate about!
‘Scuba divers can also help by doing what they do best…going for a dive. The enormous costs of running protected areas can hamper their establishment. Of course, the faster they can become self-sustaining, the more likely they are to succeed and serve as models for others behind them. A surefire way for national parks, marine reserves, and protected areas to sustain themselves is through tourism. Just as ocean lovers favour companies with good environmental policies, purchase eco-friendly products and abstain from eating unsustainably caught fish, it is important that the public supports protected areas around the world by simply visiting them. The surest way for you to voice your approval of protected areas is to preferentially support them over areas that are not protected or that are managed poorly. This small act of support can have a huge impact on the success of these kinds of initiatives and help facilitate the creation of future protected areas.
‘Members of the diving public can also start contributing to citizen science efforts. There are so many divers out there unknowingly collecting really important data for science. The footage you take or the observations you make might be very important to scientists. Learn more about how you can get involved with citizen science projects online. For instance, to get involved with manta ray conservation, divers can start contributing to the global online manta ray database Manta Matcher at www.mantamatcher.org
Find her on Instagram: @marinemegafauna, @queenofmantas and Twitter: @marinemegafauna, @queenofmantas