(Blue Ocean Network.com – April 21, 2014) — Last month, Indonesia’s Minister of Fisheries announced that his country will create the largest refuge for manta rays in the world, containing an area of about 2.3 million square miles. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed the reef manta and the giant manta as “threatened” on their red list of endangered species and the newly established sanctuary will now provide full protection for both species of mantas.
As the numbers of sharks has diminished due to shark finning, manta rays have been targeted by fisherman. Manta gills are harvested, dried and used in Chinese medicine. where they supposedly are a cure for everything from cancer to chickenpox.
More Valuable Alive than Dead
The creation of Indonesia’s protected marine sanctuary may not have been motivated by the decline in manta numbers but in the discovery that mantas are much more valuable alive than dead.
A Manta can be Worth $2 Million Dollars
A study published last May in PLoS ONE reports that Indonesia earns approximately $15 million in revenues annually based on manta ray tourism — in contrast to the $500,000 that mantas are worth for the country’s fisheries. This breaks down to the worth of a single manta ray being between US $40 and $500 dead, but that same ray being worth nearly $2 million over its 25 year lifespan in tourism revenue.
Mantas also need to be protected because of their importance to coastal marine ecosystems. Mantas can live up to thirty years and grow to twenty five feet across, however they also have a very slow reproduction rate and are particularly vulnerable to over-fishing. It is reported that nearly 100,000 mantas are caught annually, almost 5,000 in Indonesia.
In 2013 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) granted mantas increased protection and member nations are now expected to increase their protection of these wonderful marine creatures.