One of the massive issues with manta and mobula rays that people just don't seem to understand is that no one knows just how many of them exist. Originally, manta rays were all grouped together as one species. Scientists have since changed that so there are a few different species of manta rays that exist in the seas today. The status of these rays though is unknown. manta rays are very vulnerable to overfishing. Manta rays mature late in life and some will only give birth to 1 pup in their entire lives. As a result of this, scientists are starting to fear that populations of manta and mobula Rays are in a steady decline. Fisherman in Peru and Indonesia have confirmed that over the past few years, the rays that are caught have been smaller in size than ones caught in years prior.
This doesn't spell just bad news for the rays themselves, but it also spells bad news for the tourism industry as well. On average a manta ray is worth a mere $500 in the marketplace. The vast majority of that $500 comes from their gill rakers which can sell for as high as $500 themselves. The rest of the ray is virtually worthless. It is an incredibly different scenario with live rays. The value of a live manta ray to dive tourism is... $1,000,000. That's right. One million dollars. Lets break it down a bit. In Kona, Hawaii, the annual revenue from diving with manta rays comes to roughly 3.4 million dollars. In Ningaloo, Australia, the revenue from diving with mantas is roughly 1.8 million dollars. In Nusa Penida, Indonesia, diving with mantas produces an annual revenue of 3.5 million dollars. Do you see a trend here? The Republic of Maldives annual revenue from diving with manta is a whopping 8.1 million.
Again, a dead manta ray is worth just $500. That same ray, if allowed to live could help to raise over a million dollars in its life. The gill raker trade that fuels the slaughter of these animals undeniably makes money for those who sell them. This however is nothing more than a short term way of making money. The incredibly slow reproductive rate of these animals means that there usually isn't all that many living in one area. For example, in Yap there are just 100 rays living there. Diving revenues from those 100 rays comes to 4 million dollars. This is a great long term way for countries both large and small to make some serious money. Plus it is much more sustainable than killing a ray off for basically nothing more than its gill rakers. The moral is... Rays make more money for people alive than they do dead.
The sad thing is that people generally do not see it that way. What they see is a possible cure to disease, chickenpox, other diseases, and a better sex life. None of these positive things have any kind of scientific backing and are simply not true. For a diver or snorkeler though, mantas really do offer that dream of seeing something amazing. Every year, surveys show that mantas rank consistently in the top 3 of animals people want to swim with. Manta rays are in big trouble and their plight is not one that is very well known. As a result mantas are in more danger than people really think. The fate of manta and mobula rays remains cloudy, but efforts like the Manta Ray of Hope are helping to really save these creatures from the one thing that is forever... Extinction...