Sara dives deep into the social world of manta rays | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Sara dives deep into the social world of manta rays

USC Fraser Coast honours student Sara Perrott is diving into the incredible underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef in a bid to reveal new insights into the social life of the mysterious manta ray.

The 27-year-old Animal Ecology student has put her scuba diving experience to use at Lady Elliot Island, home to the largest aggregation of manta rays on the eastern coast of Australia.

Working with supervisor USC marine biologist Dr Kathy Townsend, the former retail worker has used using photo-identification and video behavioural analysis to investigate intra-species behaviour and manta ray interactions at the Island's reef cleaning stations.

Data was gathered using underwater cameras at these areas where manta rays congregate to have their skin, gills and teeth cleaned by small fish and parasitic copepods.

“To date, there is limited knowledge on how manta rays are behaving with one another at sites where they gather in high numbers,” Sara said.

“The findings could further our understanding of social behaviour in manta rays, as well as other rays and sharks, and highlight the importance of cleaning stations to improve conservation planning and fisheries management.”

After relocating from the Sunshine Coast to USC Fraser Coast Bay to start her research project, Sara worked as a deckhand on a whale watching vessel while upgrading her boating and diving qualifications.

“I am training to obtain my coxswains or skipper license to improve my boating experience for future marine research opportunities, and plan to gain dive-master qualifications to open doors for commercial marine fieldwork opportunities,” she said.

“I chose to continue with honours at USC as I believe the skills and experience in the field and in research labs will be essential in pursuing a career in marine research,” said Sarah, who grew up in the Sunshine Coast hinterland and attended Beerwah State High School.

“At this stage I am eager to use my scuba diving experience to be involved in a crown of thorns project and coral reef restoration.”

With the ocean a large part of her life growing up, Sara said USC’s Animal Ecology degree seemed the best pathway to follow her passion for marine science.

“I could go to uni close to the beach and study both terrestrial and marine ecology which allowed me to explore both streams for a wider choice of career options.”

She said her interest in marine science was reinforced by fieldwork on North Stradbroke Island, Fraser Island and Heron Island.

“These incredible experiences were the highlight of my undergraduate degree as well as being able to engage with many amazing like-minded people including students, tutors and academics.”

Sara is among a growing number of Fraser Coast students contributing to new insights into the region’s marine life by undertaking research-based programs at the campus in Hervey Bay.

Applications are open to study at USC next year.

— Clare McKay

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