Story | 10 Sep, 2014

A good news story unfolds for mantas and sharks

What did it take to get here? And what will it take to go further? asks Isabel Ender, Conservation Strategy Manager with the Manta Trust, an SOS Grantee.

She is speaking via Skype from the Maldives but is referring to new CITES regulations taking effect September 14th 2014 which will control the trade in mantas and 5 species of sharks.

In March 2013 at the CITES CoP meeting in Bangkok, scientists, conservationists, organisations and governments brought together enough evidence of the increasing threat these species face and the value of conserving them to achieve inclusion on CITES Appendix II. Change takes time and one must be patient.

There is an 18 month delay from the date species are listed on CITES to legislation coming into force.

This time is critical to ensure countries are informed, trade and custom representatives are trained and all parties, from government to fisheries officers, have the knowledge and tools to control this trade – a challenge almost as large as achieving the listing itself, in which the Manta Trust have played a formative role along with other groups too.

Apart from the conservation priority, economically speaking regulation of the trade in Mantas makes sense.

Manta ray tourism globally contributes over US$ 140 million per annum in direct economic impact, however increasing pressure from by-catch and particularly targeted fishery is decimating populations around the world, Isabel explains. Their meat is worth little, yet manta ray gill plates, their prebranchial appendages used for filtering plankton out of the water to feed, have become highly sought after in Asian markets where they are sold as a pseudo-medicinal tonic.

While a CITES Appendix II listing means that manta rays are not necessarily threatened with extinction, trade in these animals must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. Their slow reproduction, low fecundity and late maturity makes manta ray fishery incredibly unsustainable according to Isabel.

Once the law is effective, if a CITES member country wants to continue trading in manta products, such as gill plates, strict requirements need to be fulfilled. Countries will need to apply for a permit, show proof of data and conduct a thorough scientific assessment that gives evidence that this trade is not detrimental to the population. In most places this will be very difficult or impossible to achieve.

Recently Isabel participated in a regional CITES implementation workshop organised by the PEW Charitable Trust in Colombo, Sri Lanka - a trip funded by the SOS grant. Representatives from governments, departments of environment, conservation and fisheries from 13 different countries were present, ranging from Taiwan and Pakistan to Indonesia and the Seychelles.

The Manta Trust contributed all aspects related to teaching about the need for conserving manta rays up to identifying species and distinguishing between dried manta and mobula ray gill plates. Included was a trip to the Negombo fish market to give participants the chance to see these species and experience first hand how they are landed.

Overall, it was successful, endowing attendees with the tools and improved skills to help implement and enforce the pending CITES regulation through hands-on learning.

Effective wildlife conservation is often about people’s attitudes and skills sets and always about timing. The conservatoin success story of these shark and ray species has only really begun. The workshop in Colombo is one of many frontline activities across the world that will take place to educate and prepare people to help support CITES regulation but also to conserve our natural heritage using other means and tools.  

Please show YOUR support and join the celebration September 14th sharing the good news for these amazing species and inspiring conservationists worlwide that significant change can come if we work together.