London’s Royal Geographical Society (RGS) often hosts lectures by the leading geographers, conservationists or adventurers of our time. When I learned of a lecture by Kerstin Forsberg, co-founder of Planeta Oceano, which focuses on saving Peru’s manta rays, I had to attend.
Founding Planeta Oceano
In 2007, Forsberg was concluding her undergraduate research project in Northern Peru. There, she discovered an unusually high mortality rate among sea turtles. Forsberg asked for local help to reintroduce the turtles back into the ocean when possible. After some success, she created the non-profit organization Planeta Oceano. Its mission is to teach and encourage local populations to care for and protect their own ocean. She focused particularly on fishing communities that had little to no education on the marine environment. With the help of schools, she began to create a passion for the ocean in community’s youth aged 3 to 17.
Protecting Peruvian waters
Peru has one of the world’s most diverse and richest oceans. But the lack of information and sound scientific study mean it is not being conserved properly. For that reason, Planeta Oceano has begun researching the prevalence of manta rays in Peru’s northern waters. Together with the Manta Trust and WildAid, Forsberg has been assessing the impact that fishing and particularly bycatch is having on the manta population. A manta harvest in Peru is particularly worrying as fishermen are catching many pregnant mantas for the local dishes of “chingurito” and “tortilla de raya.”
This is particularly disturbing due to the manta’s extremely long gestation period. Females only give birth to one pup every two to five years.
As in many areas of the world, ray meat is worth relatively little, fetching only .33 cents per kilo (2.2 pounds). For this reason, Forsberg and the other non-profit organizations are trying to persuade the fishermen to become guides.
After two years of continued effort and liaising with the Peruvian government, Forsberg and Planeta Oceano have now ensured that since December 31st, 2015, the capture, consumption or commercia sale of mantas is prohibited.
Despite this key victory for the mantas of Peru, there is a still risk to this threatened species. For that reason, Planeta Oceano strives to reach out to as many in the local community as possible to ensure that passion for the ocean in the future. If you’d like to help, you can donate here.