A Manta For Maite

January 6, 2023

In May 2022, a senseless tragedy occurred in Uvalde, Texas that claimed the lives of 19 students and 2 teachers in a horrific school shooting. One of those students was an aspiring marine biologist.

Since kindergarten, Maite Yuleana Rodriguez wanted to become a marine biologist, never wavering from her path. At age 10, she dreamed of one day attending Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi to be near the ocean where she could "study animals on land and water." She was even making plans with her mother to visit the school.

Although Maite will never make that trip or study the sea, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is trying to keep her story and her memory alive. Since her ambitions aligned with what we do, scuba diver Nancy Higgs recommended that we name one of the sanctuary's manta rays in her memory.

A man speaks at a podium as a woman holds a photo of a manta ray alongside.
Sanctuary Superintendent G.P. Schmahl announced the renaming of Manta M18 in memory of Maite Rodriguez, during the November 2022 sanctuary advisory council meeting. Credit: FGBNMS

Manta rays are spectacular year-round visitors to the coral reefs of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. In fact, recent research has identified the area surrounding the Flower Garden Banks as a manta nursery.

Researchers and other divers have been collecting photos and videos of manta rays (Mobula birostris) in the sanctuary over many years. These photos are the basis for an extensive Manta Catalog. Each manta ray can be identified by the unique set of markings and color patterns on its underside, almost like a fingerprint. Over 100 individual mantas have been identified in this way, and given unique designations so they can be monitored over time.

At every opportunity, new mantas and additional sightings of current mantas are added to our catalog. Because of this, we know that some individuals return to the sanctuary over time.

Jesse Cancelmo, an underwater photographer, author, volunteer, and long-time friend of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, took the beautiful photo of this manta ray, previously known as Manta M18. We chose this particular manta because she was a young female when first observed.

A manta ray swimming in a bright blue sea
Maite the Manta Ray was first observed in the sanctuary on August 16, 2006 at East Flower Garden Bank. Credit: Jesse Cancelmo

In November 2022, Maite's mother, Ana Rodriguez, received a metal print of this photo along with a letter from the sanctuary superintendent. A small plaque on the back of the photo reads:

"Maite" the Manta Ray
Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
In Honor of Maite Yuleana Rodriguez - 2022

A matching print will be on display in the sanctuary offices to further honor Maite's memory.

Ana Rodriguez holds the Maite Manta print as she stands alongside a memorial shrine to her daughter
Ana Rodriguez may add this image of Maite the Manta Ray to the collection of items she has gathered in memory of her daughter. Credit: Ana Rodriguez

Sweet Maite, we hope this naming honors your goals and ambitions, and serves to inspire future divers and scientists. You are still making an impact on the world!