Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mantas Gain Protection, but Demand Continues to Grow for Gill Rakers

Greetings everyone. Once again, I hope all is well. Today's blog has some good news and some well, frankly grim news. First the good news! The Maldives have declared that 18 species of ray will now be protected in their waters! Included in those species of ray are the manta and mobula rays! Under the new law it will be illegal to catch, harm, keep, or posses any species of ray. In addition to Maldives enacting this rule, Indonesia has also come out for the manta rays.

A locator map of Maldives
Maldives on a map

The country of Indonesia has established the largest manta ray sanctuary in the entire world! The size of the sanctuary includes all of Indonesia's 6 million kilometer exclusive economic zone. This is one of the rare cases where money seems to have played a part in actually protecting a species versus leading to their demise. Apparently, the government of Indonesia likes the idea of one manta ray being worth roughly 1 million dollars USD alive versus merely a couple hundred dead. This information was found by a study conducted by WildAid, Shark Savers, and the Manta Trust. Economically and conservation wise, Indonesia made an incredibly smart choice and it is one that I highly applaud. Not only will this no doubt continue to bring in massive sums of money to the country, but it will also help to ensure that the manta rays of Indonesia are around for a long time to come. Manta rays will now be joining whale sharks and sawfish as animals that are completely protected in the waters of Indonesia. The country is now looking into possibly protecting hammerheads and oceanic whitetip sharks as well. Two more species of shark that are threatened with extinction. Without a doubt this is great news for manta rays. Given the location of Indonesia, I have little doubts that there were fishermen regularly going out and killing mantas for their gill rakers. With these new protections I would like to think that many of those people will back off and if not that the officials of Indonesia will act accordingly. Indonesia has chosen that live mantas are far better to have around than dead mantas. This choice is one the entire world should look at and strongly consider. I understand that many people in this world do not care at all for the animals of the seas if they can make money off of them. Well, this is a case where caring about these animals can actually make a country MORE money than seeing them dead. Congrats to the country of Indonesia for this choice and may your manta tourism industry flourish as these animals swim safely in your waters.

So that is the good news in the world of mantas. Again, Indonesia, congrats and congrats to Maldives as well for their new rules as well! So before going any further with this blog I feel now is a good time to explain why mantas have been a part of my spring/summer campaigns since I started this blog. Shortly before I decided to start this blog someone from work had handed me a report that WildAid had put out about the status of manta rays globally. I thought the title of the report seemed a bit odd as I had  no idea mantas were in any kind of trouble. I opened the report and my jaw literally dropped at what I would learn. The gill raker trade is seriously some kind of messed up, nightmarish trade that has zero purpose in the world other than to make some really greedy people some quick cash. No, this is not one of those things where people can say, well they are trying to feed their families. I'm sorry, but to me that is not an excuse for this. There are billions of other ways to feed a family. For those of you who do not know what I am going off about here be prepared to be highly disturbed and probably alarmed as manta rays are in far more trouble than you probably would have ever thought to have been.

The manta ray is an incredibly majestic animal. It is 100% harmless and has never been cited in any kind of human injuries. They are filter feeders, eating only the tiniest of living creatures and have a tail that is incapable of stinging like some other rays. It's massive size makes it look quite intimidating, but it has no real defense. Naturally, the manta ray has very, very few predators and it is thought that they only really have to deal with large sharks from time to time. Since they lack much in the way of predators, their reproductive rate is incredibly slow. Some mantas will give birth to one pup throughout the course of her life. Sounds like another species of animal we all know very well right?

Manta rays have been known to be very curious of humans. Sometimes they are even known to approach and interact with humans who may be swimming nearby as seen in the photo above. Others may shy away from humans, but either way, these animals have zero issues with humans and may seemingly even welcome them to wherever it is they may be swimming. They are also one of the most mysterious animals on our planet. We know less about manta rays and their true populations than we do about many other animals living on our planet. Seeing one is enough to change a persons life forever. I would know. Seeing one in real life completely changed my outlook on these animals that until then I knew virtually nothing about. Yes the manta ray is truly an incredible animal who can have quite an interesting relationship with humans as seen above. Sadly these animals are currently listed as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN's Red List and their populations are heading south. No, it is not due to a slow reproductive rate or an inability to find mates. The answer here is the very animals that can cause the curiosity of a manta to spike, man.

What man does to these animals ranks right up there, for me anyway, with the horror of shark finning. The only redeeming factor is that at least the mantas are not left to suffer after people do what they do to them, unlike the sharks. From this point on, I warn you that there may be graphic images ahead involving animal cruelty towards manta rays...

When I read that report back in 2011 there was a pretty harrowing statistic. There is an existing manta ray gill raker trade in China. The gill rakers are what the animal uses to filter feed. The trade exists as the gill rakers are supposed to (with zero scientific backing mind you) lead to a healthier life, cure diseases, and even give you a better sex life. Again, these claims come with no scientific backing at all. Also, the gill rakers are said to be a part of traditional Chinese medicine, upon investigations of those claims however, it was not found to actually be a part of traditional Chinese medicine. To get an idea as to what the market for these gill rakers looked like in 2010 check out these stats...

61,000kg of gill rakers
Value of 11 million dollars USD
Aprox 49,000 rays

Staggering numbers to say the least right? That was WildAid's results from their 2010 report. In the new 2013/2014 report, the numbers are even more telling...

138,000kg of gill rakers (a 127% increase)
Value of 30 million dollars USD (168% increase)
Aprox 147,000 rays (198% increase)

I can sum it up in two words. MASSIVE INCREASE. The demand for gill rakers is skyrocketing and something needs to be done about it not later, but now before mantas find themselves in serious, serious trouble. Remember, one manta alive is worth 1 million dollars USD in tourism money. Kind of puts into perspective why Indonesia and Maldives are acting to protect these animals considering 138,000kg of rakers is roughly 30 million USD. The point is, this gill raker trade is going to do an awful lot of harm to other countries that rely on manta tourism and obviously to the rays themselves. It is a dangerous game that I can see politics getting into in the not too distant future... Then who knows what will happen. Personally when it comes to the politics, I don't care who needs the mantas around. The bottom line is they have every right in the world to exist and not have their gill rakers taken for phony medicine that contains roughly 20 times the amount of arsenic that is safe for human consumption.

It is a horrible thing that is going on in our world and it is GROWING. You read the stats above. You know I am not being crazy when I say that this trade has exploded over the course of four years. We need to reverse this course now. China needs to step up and protect these animals. They are not a part of traditional Chinese medicine and realistically the people who are selling them are literally poisoning their consumers. The general public is not made aware of the health risks and odds are the general public have no idea what is done to obtain those gill rakers. It wouldn't surprise me if most did not even know what a gill raker is. It's scary to think about, but we could really be starting to face the end of the manta ray. Indonesia and the Maldives have taken a step in the right direction, but the world is an awful lot bigger than those two countries and the few others that openly protect these animals. Everyone needs to become aware of this senseless killing and be made aware of the falsehoods that is the growing gill raker trade.

We need to protect these animals now before they are lost forever. The world needs to wake up before it is too late.

Don't let this...

be the fate of the manta rays. Extinction is forever and as long as this continues it becomes more and more of a reality for these animals.

As always, thanks for reading! I'm not sure what the topic of my next blog will be quite yet so stay tuned!

To view the whole 2013-2014 WildAid manta ray report visit

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