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Climate change may cause stingrays to move toward danger

Stingrays are on the decline. Overfishing is the main cause, but climate change and pollution aren’t doing them any favors either. 

For now, stingrays are still plentiful in the Seychelles, with its clear blue waters, white sand beaches and biodiverse coral reefs. Scientists from the Save Our Seas Foundation D’Arros Research Centre (SOSF-DRC) and the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity have been investigating the lives of stingrays in the Seychelles. 

In a new research paper published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, researchers looked at the importance of diverse habitat for stingray survival. Sixty individual stingrays from three species were tracked for an average of a year. During the tracking, environmental data such as temperature and tides were also recorded. 

The research was carried out on St. Joseph Atoll, where both shallow reefs and a deep enclosed lagoon can be found. The atoll is also a nursery for the three study species – the cowtail stingray, mangrove whipray and the porcupine whipray. 

Twenty of each species of stingray were tagged and tracked via passive acoustic telemetry. Forty receivers were placed throughout the different habitats and set to receive sounds from each of the transmitter tags fitted to the rays. 

The researchers found that stingrays generally like safer, shallow water, but can be driven by factors like high temperatures to deeper water where they are more vulnerable to predators. 

“Stingrays are really important for keeping oceans healthy, especially in tropical places like Seychelles,” said study lead author Chantel Elston, an SOSF project leader. “This research helps to present further evidence that the isolated St Joseph Atoll provides suitable habitat for threatened stingrays and that the newly announced marine protected area will have real conservation benefits.”

The scientists hope that this research can benefit stingrays with more effective protection techniques. This is especially important as those unusually high temperatures that drive rays into deeper water are set to become more and more common. 

“When you know what the priority habitats for vulnerable species are and how and when they move around, management plans can be developed for their conservation,” said Helena Sims, SOSF Seychelles Ambassador.

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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