Thursday, March 7, 2013

Manta Rays Front and Center at CITES

Meeting Room I was filled to capacity with standing room only in the back
Guest Blog
by Leah Meth

Both species from the genus Manta are proposed for Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix II listing, which would mandate that future trade be sustainable. The debate surrounding their future conservation status took center stage at CITES yesterday. Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, the EU, and Honduras hosted an informational session in the afternoon and WildAid and Freeland hosted a dinner reception in the evening.

The Shark Stanley team attended both events. The informational session was incredibly successful. 200 people packed the room to the walls while Ecuador spoke on the plight of manta rays.

Delegates from Honduras, Brazil, Colombia, the European Union, and Ecuador made presentations on sharks and manta rays.
Ecuadorian delegate Eduardo Espinosa of the Galapagos National Park likens mantas to marine mammals. "They take a long time to mature and have very young,” he explained. “They have only a single pup every 2-5 years."

These giant filter feeders have become severely threatened in the past decade due to the rise of a largely undocumented and unregulated trade in their gill rakers, the part of the mouth the animals use to collect food. Approximately 4,500 mantas were landed each year, primarily in targeted fisheries in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and India. From there the gill rakers are exported to the hub of the trade in Guangzhou, China, which makes up 99% of the global market.

This situation is incredibly critical considering manta life history, which makes them extremely vulnerable to overfishing and slow to recover. To make matters worse, populations are genetically distinct and form predictable aggregations. These are factors, which taken together, mean vulnerability to regional depletion and local extirpation.

Espinosa also drew attention the economic illogic of the trade, highlighting the importance of manta rays in providing a long-term and sustainable source of income to communities through ecotourism. Exceptionally charismatic, highly intelligent, and social, manta aggregations draw divers from around the world. Internationally, the global tourism value of manta diving is an estimated US$140 million per year. Other studies estimate that a single manta is worth US$1 million throughout its lifetime, whereas the value of a dead manta ray is only US$40-500.

Talk about the 600 pound manta ray in the room!
Steps have been taken domestically in some countries, as well as internationally through increased protection by the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS), yet we still lack measures that would ensure the sustainable trade of manta rays and allow them a chance to recover from decline. Appendix II would provide this chance. In closing the afternoon event, Brazil's delegate said, "We have the means to implement these proposals...and sufficient scientific information to justify listing. We believe it is the time for CITES to act and we count on your support."

At the WildAid and Freeland event, Andrea Marshall of the Marine Megafauna Foundation explained how the trade has led to drastic declines in populations. She said, "Over the last 8 years, we've experienced an 87% decline in manta populations in Southern Mozambique." Similar trends have been documented in many other parts of the manta ray's range. As a result, they are now assessed as Vulnerable globally on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species.

Manta rays are the Proposal 46 on the agenda and as I type this we are only on Proposal 12.  So far the results have been mixed.  Manatees were uplisted to Appendix I, but polar bears were not.  It looks like we’ll know early next week if manta rays will receive  protections and we'll update this blog as soon as the votes are counted. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest.

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