The Okaloosa Coastal Resource Team is partnering with Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium to educate locals and visitors about devil rays and an ongoing research project during a free event on November 9th.
- The “Deal with Devil Rays” event will take place from 6-7:30 p.m. at The Island Resort on Okaloosa Island. Attendees will learn how to identify different types of rays, what makes devil rays unique, and details on the collaborative devil ray tagging and tracking research.
According to Jessica Valek, Coastal Resource Coordinator with Visit Destin-Fort Walton Beach Tourism, educating the public on local marine life is important.
“I think a lot of people aren’t aware of how many different species of rays we have in this area,” Valek said. “They are so present and visible in the shallow water that people often mistake them for stingrays or other rays in general.”
Valek explained that another goal of the event is to teach people that devil rays, in particular, are not dangerous despite being rays.
“There tends to be a common misconception that all rays can sting you, when in reality many species like the devil ray don’t have stingers or barbs,” explained Valek. “We hope that by highlighting how gentle devil rays are, it can help people feel more at ease and comfortable if they encounter them in the water.”
The event will feature scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory, who will provide updates on their ongoing devil ray research project and explain how acoustic tagging works. Attendees will also learn how to distinguish between the different types of rays spotted locally, including devil rays, manta rays, cownose rays, stingrays, and spotted eagle rays.
According to the Coastal Resource Team, devil rays are typically only seen in the area during fall and winter months in small groups of 2-10 close to the shore. The species is classified as “endangered,” likely due to fishing bycatch, and understanding their migration patterns is critical for conservation efforts.
Mote researchers first began studying devil rays in Northwest Florida last November, teaming up with the Coastal Resource Team to track the species’ movements. Other entities involved in the project include the Georgia Aquarium, Manta Trust, USGS, and the Gulfarium and the Gulfarium CARE Center.
- The collaborative research aims to shed light on devil ray behavior and ecology to inform future management strategies.
The upcoming event will allow locals and visitors to learn more about these mysterious creatures and appreciate their presence just off the coast. Valek emphasized the importance of public education for promoting marine conservation.