Manta Ray Conservation Efforts
The world population of manta rays is not exactly abundant, however, it has a tendency to decrease. Factors such as fishing, habitat degradation, collisions with ships and the effects of global warming contribute to their situation on the planet to be grim. In view of this situation, various environmental organizations, countries and society at large have been implemented and launched several efforts to try to preserve the two species.
In the present manta rays enjoy international protection. CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) in 2013 included manta rays in their Appendix II; this means that their trade is heavily restricted under penalty of influencing an act that endangers the populations of the genus Manta.
Years before, in 2011, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) began to protect international waters and in the same year were classified as vulnerable species on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Although these world-class measures have represented a step forward, they are still very new and almost sparse compared with conservation efforts of other animals.
Countries hosting manta rays have also taken action on the matter. New Zealand was one of the first countries to do so by the Wildlife Act of 1953. Several decades later the Republic of Maldives eliminated the practice of exporting parts of any kind of rays and included manta rays. In 2009, the country reported the creation of two marine protected areas that are key habitats for manta rays. In Western Australia, their fishing, disturbance and harassment is prohibited in marine parks.
Recently, Indonesia has been characterized by its strict measures against fishing for these fish. In January 2014, the Indonesian government announced its intention to protect the giant manta ray (Manta birostris) and the reef manta (Reef Manta Ray) and declared both as protected species by the laws of the country. In August and September 2014 began to circulate the news of the first arrests of fishermen who violated this law because their activities were in the context of illegality. In that year it was established the largest sanctuary of manta rays, covering over 2 million square meters.
Moreover, in 2011 an organization was born directed to the research and conservation of these fish: Manta trust, based in UK. According to their website, their vision is a sustainable future for the oceans where manta rays are developed in various healthy marine ecosystems. Another outstanding organization is Marine megafauna Foundation, co-founded by Dr. Andrea Marshall, key person in the identification of the two species of manta ray in 2009.
Individual conservation efforts
There are many things that anyone can do to reduce the danger to which manta rays are exposed. Of course, one of many is caring for the oceans, ensuring their cleanliness, health and sustainability of resources. At the same time it is important not to support illegal fishing of the species because, besides being illicit activities, they contribute to further decrease the number of individuals in the world. It is known that in some regions such as the Gulf of California it’s almost impossible to find manta rays, which is an unfortunate fact if one takes into account that years ago these were abundant in there.
Tourism, meanwhile, seems to have two poles. While it is useful to attract tourists and provide information on their biology, care and conservation, it can also pose a threat since tourists paying to swim with them are likely to disturb them. It is recommended not to try to “ride them” since this affects the mucus layer that protects them from infection, or to interfere in their way as they swim. Remember that they are not domesticated animals and they need to live naturally.