Species of the Month: Blue Spotted Ribbontail Ray

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The Blue Spotted Ribbontail Ray (Taeniura lymma) is a common species of stingray found from the tropical Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific Ocean. It lives in shallow reef habitats near shore to depths rarely deeper than 30 metres. It may be relatively small for a stingray at only about 35 cm across and 8o cm long, however, it is definitely one of the most distinctive and visually striking. Its yellow tinted circular body is covered in electric blue spots, with two stripes reaching along the tip of its protruding tail. Ribbontail Rays tends to be bottom dwelling, hiding under rock outcrops or hidden in the reef amongst the coral typically with only its tail showing. They are more commonly found roaming around out on sandy flats to feed on night dives.

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The Blue Spotted is one of a few rays which rarely buries itself in the sand, and therefore when seeing these rays kick up the sandy bottom, they are actually instead looking for prey. These rays feed on small bony fish, shrimp and other small marine species living in or on the sand. When caught, unlucky prey are trapped under the rays disc-shaped fins and pushed towards its mouth. Small rays such as the Blue Spotted are vulnerable to larger predators and are commonly preyed upon by larger marine species such as Sharks and the Bottlenose Dolphin. However, with shark populations decreasing worldwide, and the drop of shark sightings around Koh Tao, our rays are currently under very little natural threat. The Blue Spotted Ribbontail Rays also has a very effective defensive mechanism that can be used against threats in the form of two barbed, venomous spines on its lower tail. These can give humans an extremely painful wound, but fortunately these are only used as a last resort, and rays prefer to flee if threatened.

The blue spotted ray is still considered to be near-threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is due to large areas of its natural habitat being destroyed or collapsing due to environmental pressures alongside intensive fishing. Some are hunted for food, but a large quantity are actually captured for the pet trade as their stunning markings and small size make them seem ideal as aquatic pets. Unfortunately, most rays caught for the pet trade become ill; many outgrow their aquarium habitat or stop feeding due to external stressors and artificial surroundings. The methods used to catch them are also extremely harmful, such as cyanide fishing, which is harmful not only to rays but to all the species within the area and the environment as an ecosystem.

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It may still be a relatively common species today with a wide distribution, however, the IUCN still classify the Blue Spotted Ribbontail Ray as near threatened due to multiple factors. With a very low reproductive rate, long gestation times, and few offspring, this makes the Blue Spotted Ribbontail vulnerable to population depletion. Populations could collapse to the high demand for the pet trade alongside continuing habitat degradation worldwide and negative fishing practices.

This is another stunning marine life creature that can be found here on Koh Tao. Let’s all make sure we as divers do not aid in its habitat destruction by advocating for ocean protection and leaving marine species where they belong… in the ocean! Hopefully, many divers after us will then still be able to see this highlight of any dive.

[Photos by Adam Leaders: AdLePhoto]

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