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Rare manta ray nursery uncovered in Texas

No one thought to find out why there are more baby rays swimming in the area than elsewhere previously.

Manta ray in Kaiyukan aquarium, Kansai region, Osaka, Japan
It's easier to spot adult rays than their babies.
Eric Lafforgue/Art In All Of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

Scientists have given us another reason to save the reefs -- to protect manta rays endangered by Chinese demand for its gills.

A manta ray nursery ground at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the US has been discovered by scientists at the University of California, San Diego, the institution announced Monday

The sanctuary, managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sits in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas and harbours healthy coral reef ecosystems that researchers suspect are used by juvenile rays to recover body temperatures after "accessing deep, cold waters off the continental slope." 

In a study published in Marine Biology, the exploration team described the newly discovered ground as an "important habitat" for juvenile rays, which make up 95 percent of manta ray visits to the Banks. Given how rare it is to spot juvenile rays, Josh Stewart, the lead author of the study, decided to find out why it was such a regular occurrence at the Banks.

Calling the discovery a huge leap towards furthering our knowledge of manta rays,  Stewart said: "The juvenile life stage for oceanic mantas has been a bit of a black box for us, since we're so rarely able to observe them. Identifying this area as a nursery highlights its importance for conservation and management, [and] gives us the opportunity to focus on the juveniles and learn about them."

It's a rare discovery but not the first. Another manta ray nursery was discovered in Raja Ampat in Indonesia three years ago as part of a study by US-based nature group, Conservation International. Raja Ampat, which comprises thousands of islands, is famed for its beaches and coral reefs brimming with marine life.

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