Thursday, March 7, 2013

Manta rays worth more alive than dead: UN treaty can protect vulnerable species say groups

Delegates to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) have the opportunity to stem the trade in manta gill-rakers and protect vulnerable manta populations at the 16th Conference of the Parties, which begins today. Charismatic manta rays can generate tens of millions of dollars annually through ecotourism if the destructive trade in their gill-rakers is stemmed say proponents.

Manta gill rakers (plates used to strain plankton) are made of cartilage and are used as a purported health tonic in China. Hunting is driven by the demand for gill-rakers, which can fetch up to $500 per kilo, while the meat is of very low value. Mantas reproduce extremely slowly and cannot sustain even modest fishing levels. Female manta rays take 8-10 years to sexually mature and may give birth to only one pup every two to five years.

Targeted manta populations have declined by an estimated 56% to 86% in recent years. The trade in manta gills amount to only about $5 million annually at retail and is concentrated in a single city in China, Guangzhou. Most of the financial benefit goes to the distribution channel rather than fishermen. In contrast, coastal communities can benefit greatly from global tourism for manta ray watching, which attracts an estimated at over US$140 million annually.

Proposal 46 to list mantas to CITES Appendix II is sponsored by Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador, and is broadly supported. The CITES Secretariat and TRAFFIC recommend adoption. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) believes the proposal satisfies criteria for Appendix II. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s Expert Panel reports that these low productivity species are highly vulnerable and any increase in fishing mortality would probably have a profound effect on populations, and Appendix II listing is likely to result in further regulation and monitoring of this trade.

As part of their “Manta Ray of Hope Campaign, conservation organizations WildAid and Shark Savers are releasing new videos that demonstrate both the beauty of mantas, as well as never seen footage of the capture and processing of the animals, based on their recent report on the global status of mantas. They will host a reception for CITES delegates on March 6th, 2013 from 6:00 to 8:30 PM at The Retro CafĂ©, Queen Sirikit National Convention Center, Bangkok, Thailand with the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Freeland Foundation, joined by Piyada “Jaime” Monmaneerat, Miss Scuba International, Maggie Q by live video and Sir Richard Branson by video.

Sir Richard Branson stated “While the gills are valuable for this trade, it is also robbing local economies and the environment of one of the most charismatic creatures in the ocean that could draw millions of dollars each year for those communities.”

Shawn Heinrichs, Project Leader for WildAid stated “CITES delegates should act now to stop the destructive overfishing of mantas before we begin to see regional extinctions and squander what could be a valuable long term resource”

Michael Skoletsky, Executive Director of Shark Savers stated “Once people understand that these beautiful animals are being killed en masse to provide for a so-called health tonics with no substantiated results, there can be no reasonable course but to protect manta populations.”

Shark Savers: Lisa Amend, 719.201.3619,
WildAid: Zach Weismann, 415-834-3174,

About WildAid: WildAid focuses on addressing the human threat to wildlife. Our comprehensive approach includes public awareness campaigns and educational initiatives to reduce consumer demand for wildlife products, and working with communities to support and enforce key protected habitats around the world. WildAid has also defined a comprehensive marine enforcement model that focuses on the law enforcement chain, which encompasses the activities of detection, interception, prosecution, and the sentencing of lawbreakers. For more information, please visit

About Shark Savers: Shark Savers was founded in 2007 by six long-time divers driven by a shared passion – to save the world’s dwindling shark and ray populations. Today, more than 25,000 members from 99 nations share that passion. Focusing on action and results, Shark Savers programs result in saving the lives of sharks and rays. By leveraging professional experience and expertise, Shark Savers brings this important issue to the masses in many compelling forms, motivating people to stop consuming sharks and shark fin soup, and working for the creation of shark sanctuaries and other protections. For more information, please visit

About Manta Ray of Hope: The Manta Ray of Hope campaign is a joint initiative that includes top field investigators, leadings scientists and researchers, all working together to further the conservation of manta and mobula rays.

Download the report: 
To sign the petition to protect manta rays:

Source: WildAid and Shark Savers press release

Image courtesy of NOA via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)