Few people are aware of or understand the severity of the threats that manta rays are currently facing around the world. Year after year thousands of manta rays and their close relatives the mobula rays, are being killed and removed from the oceans virtually unnoticed, and all for body parts that makes up a tiny percentage of their total body mass. The body parts in question are their gill plates, which are made of cartilage and enable the rays to filter tiny plankton animals from the water.
But why are these gentle giants being fished for a small, seemingly inedible piece of feathery cartilage?
Historically, mantas have not been targeted to any great extent and they had never demanded a high price due to the poor quality of their meat, but in the last decade a commercial fishery for manta and mobula rays has begun in order to support a new demand for their gill plates for use in the Chinese Medicinal Trade. It is claimed that the plates can treat health issues ranging from asthma, to skin rashes, chicken pox and even cancer. Some of the practitioners also maintain that the gill plates reduce toxins, boost the immune system and aid in the detoxification of the bloodstream. However, there is no scientific evidence to support any of these claims, and some Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners have even admitted that gill plates are not effective and that many other alternatives are available. As demand from this senseless and unnecessary new market is increasing manta rays are becoming extremely vulnerable in a number of locations around the world, in-particular Indonesia.
Manta rays are slow growing, live a long time and reproduce very slowly, giving birth to only a single offspring after a year long pregnancy every 2 to 5 years. These factors make mantas extremely vulnerable to exploitation, as they are not able to quickly replace individuals removed from the population. Fishing these animals can fast lead to population collapses.
There is, however, a ray of hope on the horizon for mantas. The next CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) convention is coming up in March 2013 and a proposal to have the genus Manta listed on Appendix II at the next convention has been accepted. Now it is up to member nations to vote upon this and a two thirds majority vote will secure this crucial international protection for mantas.
Manta ray researchers, conservationists and enthusiasts are all currently pulling together to try and urge for this protection. The UK registered charity, The Manta Trust, who I work with, have recently started a petition directed at the delegates of CITES to help highlight the importance of voting to protect manta rays.
By signing the petition you’ll be letting your CITES delegate know that as your representative you would like them to vote in favour of the proposal to protect manta rays. They are at the meeting to represent the view of their country, so with a high number of signatures from their own country on the petition we’re hoping they will listen! Every single signature counts, but with Indonesia’s manta populations being some of the most threatened of anywhere in the world we are hoping we will gain the support of many Indonesian nationals.
If you would like to sign the petition you can find it here: http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Protect_Manta_Rays/
Thank you for signing and please don’t forget to share the petition with everyone you know.