The giant manta ray (Manta birostris) just got an upgrade. It’s now listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, so maybe it’s patchwork of local protections will gel into some international cooperation.
The Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) gaves rays the boost Nov. 25 because their population fell 30% in the last decade and 80% since the 1940s.
Its big problem isn’t being delicious; people generally don’t want to eat them. The manta ray has gill rakers–combs to get food out of the water–that are dried and served as tea in Chinese medicine for a range of iffy ailments from rashes to circulation and immunity. The Ray of Hope compares their problems to those of sharks targeted for mystical shark fin soup. Fishermen turn to rays after they’ve wiped out sharks. Their meat is used as a filler in shark fin soup.
The ray’s dried gills are the big prize and the new rule means the world will start tracking the trade. Scubazoo reports finding ray’s gill rakers readily in markets in Sri Lanka, with dried tea selling in several spots in $80-$140 per kilo, again depending on size and quality. That’s a lot of money, but still not as much as manta rays bring in if we let them live and just let animal tourists come look at them. As Scubazoo points out, researcher Chas Anderson estimated last year that manta rays are worth about $4,000 each in tourism to the Maldives.
The IUCN says fishermen target manta rays in the Philippines, Mexico, Mozambique, Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Tanzania and Indonesia.
The ray got help from Ecuador and NGO Equilibrio Azul, which in turn was assisted by the Manta Ray of Hope project, run by WildAid and Shark Savers. They’ll release a report in December on the decimation of manta and mobula rays.
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