If you’ve ever been lucky enough to encounter a Manta Ray you’ll agree that they are one of the most fascinating, intelligent and enigmatic creatures in our oceans, but they are also one of the most vulnerable. Having dived with them for the first time recently, we are now captivated by the plight of their ongoing protection and survival.
Habitat destruction, over fishing, climate change and irresponsible tourism are all significantly impacting these highly curious and social animals, but it’s the more recent market for their gill plates that sickens us the most.
Over the past few decades, a significant market for their gill plates have developed for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Mainly sold in Southern China’s Guangzhou region to cure everything from cancer, infertility and chicken pox, a slaughtered Manta can be purchased for anywhere between a mere $40 to $500 USD.
While there is no scientific evidence whatsoever to the claim that the gill plates can detoxify and purify the human body by filtering out disease - just like the gill plates filter plankton from the water, fisheries are continuing to target them for their highly prized gills leading to devastating impacts on populations.
Although there has been much progress in protecting these magnetic creatures through laws and sanctuaries, the illegal trade continues and consumers remain unaware of the struggle facing these gentle and curious creatures.
The reality is, that these creatures are actually worth up to 2000 times more alive than they are dead, with every Manta generating $1 million USD over its life time in tourism revenue versus the $40- 500 USD if slaughtered.
While their tourism value is an incentive for increased protection, irresponsible tourism practices can cause decline in populations. In some locations, such as Hanifaru Bay, a world famous Manta feeding site in the Maldives Baa Atoll, the sheer number of people and boats in the water was impacting the Mantas ability to feed. The site is now hugely regulated with only a certain number of boats and people allowed at anyone time. As a result the Manta population is getting stronger.
So while the value of Manta tourism has created a desire to better protect the species, sustainable and responsible Manta tourism is imperative for the Manta’s future survival. If you want to see and experience the majesty of these amazing creatures, here’s a few tips:
If your interested to find out more about these magnificent creatures and how you can get involved in protecting their long term future visit www.mantatrust.org