Saving Indonesia’s manta rays

  • Rays & Skates
Years funded
  • 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
  • Archived
Project type
  • Research

Despite being a top manta tourism destination, Indonesia was one of the largest manta fishing nations. Sarah has been there since 2010 learning about these vulnerable rays and raising awareness about their plight.

Saving Indonesia’s manta rays

Sarah Lewis

Project leader
About the project leader
As a child I recall being asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Although manta ray scientist was not yet on my list (it would have been had I known that such a job existed), I knew that any career I followed would have to involve nature. I was passionate about the natural world; it both fascinated me and stirred a deep curiosity within me. Growing up in a UK woodland area, I spent countless hours exploring, turning over every rock to discover what may be lurking beneath it, or wading through...
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Project details

Indonesian manta research project

Key objective

To learn more about Indonesia’s manta fishery and the manta populations impacted by it. Working closely with local communities and the dive tourism industry, we aim to use this information to raise awareness about the importance of conserving mantas and develop a management plan for manta populations in the region.

Why is this important

Increased demand for manta gills used in Chinese medicine is changing what was previously a limited scale subsistence fishery in Indonesia into an expanding commercial fishery, and the number of mantas caught each year has risen dramatically. Due to their life history (slow growth, late age of sexual maturation and low fecundity) manta rays have a limited capacity to recover from overfishing, and population declines have already been observed in certain areas of Indonesia where fishing pressure is high.


Working alongside Guy Stevens (Project Leader for the Save Our Seas Foundation’s Manta Project in the Maldives) as a manta ray researcher, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of protecting this incredible species, not only for ecological reasons but also as a resource for sustainable eco-tourism. Recognising that the economic benefits generated through manta viewing far exceed the limited gains available from a manta fishery, the government of the Republic of the Maldives now bans fishing for mantas. Witnessing the Maldives’ success in protecting manta rays while also boosting local tourism revenues has been extremely inspiring, and provides a guidepost for what may be possible elsewhere, in particular Indonesia. At present, manta rays are not protected in Indonesia, and research on Indonesian manta populations to date has been limited in scope. Growing fishing pressure and habitat disturbances have underlined the critical importance of further research within Indonesia to evaluate the impact of these threats to manta populations, and develop appropriate conservation plans.

In 2008, Guy Stevens visited Komodo National Park on an exploratory dive expedition to observe manta rays in the area. His initial observations highlighted the need for future research in Indonesian waters. Subsequently, I travelled to Komodo, Bali and Raja Ampat to assess the possibility of setting up a national research and conservation programme. We are now proceeding with planning and are currently in discussions with international and Indonesian NGOs working on marine conservation in the region, and we look forward to making a meaningful contribution to the understanding and conservation of manta rays in Indonesia.

Aims & objectives

The specific objectives of this project are to:

  • Survey Indonesia’s manta fishery.
  • Research the ecology and biology of Indonesia’s manta populations.
  • Conduct local community education, awareness-raising and increase support of alternative, sustainable incomes.
  • Research the current and potential contribution of manta rays to eco-tourism in Indonesia.