by Sandra Pearce
International body CITES has listed manta rays as a ‘Vulnerable Species’, providing a framework for its increased protection by restricting unsustainable international trade.
Dr Andrea Marshall, director of the Marine Megafauna Foundation and lead author of the IUCN Red List conservation assessments for manta ray species, said: “A CITES Appendix II listing was desperately needed as a precautionary approach to avoid the over-exploitation of these species. Those of us studying wild populations of manta rays are seeing first-hand substantial declines in their numbers across the globe.”
The Appendix II listing means that any exports have to come from sustainably managed fisheries that are not detrimental to the status of the wild populations that they exploit.
CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an intergovernmental agreement signed by 178 countries which aims to ensure that international trade does not threaten the survival of wild animals or plants in their natural habitats.
Manta rays are worth an estimated US$73 million in direct revenue and US$140 million to the overall marine tourism industry annually. Many populations globally are in swift decline as a result of overfishing for their gill rakers, used in traditional Chinese tonics.
On average, manta rays bear only a single offspring every two to three years. Added Dr Marshall: “As low-productivity species, these beautiful rays are highly vulnerable to human-induced pressures. Unregulated and unsustainable fishing can quickly wipe out entire populations.”
The manta ray proposal, put forward by Ecuador, received 80.67% of parties’ votes in March.
She said: “While manta rays face significant threats worldwide, there has been tremendous support and momentum for their conservation recently. The Appendix II CITES listing is a major step toward our shared goal of the global protection of these iconic species.”