In a big win for mantas, Peru has decided to accord the animals full protection. Mantas are many a diver’s favorite marine animal, because of their size, enigmatic nature and astonishing grace underwater. For this very reason, many dive operations specifically market the chance to see mantas as a top draw. But, just as with many other charismatic marine species, manta-ray populations are in decline for a number of reasons, but not least due to overfishing, with populations declining as much as 80 percent in the past 75 years.
Peru Protects Manta Rays
While divers routinely travel to the Maldives or Indonesia in order to see manta rays, the largest known population of animals is actually in Peru, according to a field study done by WildAid Manta Ray of Hope team. And now, the government of Peru has passed legislation giving mantas full protection from fishing, capture, and sale along the entire coastline from Peru to Ecuador, which passed similar legislation last year. As the manta population in the area migrates between the waters of the two nations, this cross-border protection is key.
Mantas reproduce very slowly, with a female manta giving birth to only one pup every two to five years, which makes the species extremely vulnerable to overfishing. And the mantas along the Peruvian coastline have been under pressure due to locals accidentally landing them as bycatch — large parts of coastal Peru depend almost entirely on fishing for sustenance and industry — or targeting them specifically. Manta meat and gills are considered a delicacy in China, and the gills are also used in traditional Chinese medicine, where they are believed to treat everything from poor blood circulation to chicken pox. The worldwide trade in manta-gill plates is estimated to be worth around $30 million a year, with 99 percent of it going to China.
For rural Peruvian communities, that kind of money poses a huge temptation, but with the new legislation in place, fishing for mantas will hopefully be a lot less lucrative. And by passing these new laws, Peru joins 12 other nations worldwide that have partially or completely regulated manta-ray protection.
“It’s a huge deal,” says Peter Knights, WildAid’s executive director. “With Indonesia, and now Peru, committing to protecting this species, two of the largest manta fisheries in the world are closed. We hope that other nations where mantas are threatened by local fisheries, particularly India and Sri Lanka, will follow suit.”
Unfortunately, the legislation doesn’t currently include mobula rays, a similar species that’s equally threatened by overfishing. It’s hoped that, as Peru protects manta rays, the legislation will not only be an example to other countries, but also indicates that local governments are beginning to realize the importance of marine conservation, and the legislation will be updated to include all threatened species in their waters.