Influencing consumer behaviour toward protecting a species such as the iconic Manta Ray is a nuanced and lengthy process gaining awareness, changing attitudes and finally changing actions. It is work that SOS Grantee WildAid, has been doing for some time using a toolkit including celebrity ambassadors, social media, television and billboard advertising to win hearts and minds. First and key, however, is up to date market information: in this case the manta gill plate consumer market of Guangzhou, China – where 99% of the world’s consumption occurs.
A report published by WildAid in June 2014, reveals an alarming and unsustainable increase in the number of manta and mobula rays killed for their body parts. The report found these remarkable fish are being killed to supply a single ingredient – their gills – for a pseudo-medicinal health tonic. Slow to reproduce, populations of many ray species suffer from over-harvesting, unable to replenish numbers in the face of market demand. Newer data on manta ray reproduction suggest that they may reproduce even more slowly than previously believed, with a maximum lifetime reproduction potential estimated at only 5-15 offspring.
Key findings of the report included:
• Both volumes traded and the market value of manta and mobula gill plates (known as Peng Yu Sai in Guangzhou) have increased dramatically in three years since the last survey conducted.
• The Guangzhou manta and mobula gill plate market is now estimated at 138,000 kg per year worth US$30 million, representing gills from approximately 147,000 mantas and mobulas annually or 99% of the world’s manta gill consumption.
• There are no scientifically proven health benefits associated with the consumption of dried manta and mobula gill plates.
• Arsenic, Cadmium, Mercury, and Lead were detected in all manta and mobula gill plates sampled from the Guangzhou markets with Arsenic found at 20 times the levels permissible by the Pharmacopoeia of China and Cadmium at triple the permissible levels.
• Of 100 Guangzhou Peng Yu Sai consumers surveyed in 2014, 99 were unaware of the presence of heavy metals in the product.
• The surveys’ results suggested a demographic of Peng Yu Sai consumers comprised primarily of working mothers/wives, over 40 years of age with less than half of all respondents knowing the source – manta and mobula rays – of the product.
All species of manta were recently included in Appendix II of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Their addition to the listing will take effect 14th September 2014. Trade in such species is controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. Policing trade is difficult, which is partly why WildAid focuses efforts at the consumer end of the supply chain.
According to Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid, “together with assistance from the Chinese government and Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, we will raise awareness among China’s consumers of the manta ray gill trade and the issues surrounding their alleged medicinal values”.
To this end, WildAid is in the process of launching a coordinated media campaign featuring television, social media and billboard advertising. We look forward to reporting on the campaign and its impacts soon.