The giant manta ray, one of the most beautiful and fascinating marine creatures, will now enjoy strict protecting in international waters thanks to its recent inclusion in the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).
The CMS is an international treaty organization concerned with conserving migratory species and habitats on a global scale. Although the manta ray is protected by several national laws, it often migrates through unregulated waters, putting it at increased risk from overfishing.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which declared giant manta rays as’ vulnerable with an elevated risk of extinction’ earlier this month, intense fishing pressures and growing international consumer demand have caused manta ray populations to decline by 30 percent worldwide, with some regions experiencing an 80 percent decline over the last 75 years.
Unlike blue fin tuna, manta ray isn’t a common menu item in American restaurants. It’s important for the public to understand that while manta rays may be a marine park attraction in the U.S., they are targeted for food and medicinal preparations by other nations.
Similar to sharks, manta rays and their close cousin, mobula rays, are highly valued in Chinese traditional medicine for their gill rakers, cartilaginous projections along the gill arches used for trapping food particles when filter-feeding. Previously targeted by small-scale subsistence fisheries, increasing consumer demand has expanded the gill raker trade into a global commercial industry. According to the IUCN, targeted manta ray fisheries now operate in critical habitats and well-known aggregation sites in the Philippines, Mexico, Mozambique, Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Tanzania and Indonesia.
“CMS listing is a critical step needed to end the exploitation of mantas and mobulas”, said Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid. “By harnessing the cooperation and concerted efforts of member states, the CMS listing sets the stage for cohesive monitoring and regulation of the gill raker trade”.
WildAid was once of several conservation organizations that assisted Ecuador’s CMS delegates in shaping the proposal to list manta rays. In December, the organization will release the Manta Ray of Hope report to the public. The report provides the most far-reaching documentation ever conducted on the intensive overfishing of mantas and mobulas and the growing pressures that have pushed these animals to the brink of local extinctions.
Image via iStockphoto