Nations Agree to Protect Giant Manta Rays

UN Conservation Convention Accepts Ecuador Proposal to List Largest Living Rays

Shark Advocates International is heralding today‟s overwhelming agreement by Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) to list the giant manta ray (Manta birostris) under CMS Appendix I and II.

The listing obligates CMS member countries to provide strict national protections for giant manta rays and their key habitats, and encourages concerted global and regional action among all Range States to conserve the iconic species. Manta rays are under increasing threat from East Asian demand for their gill rakers, used in Chinese medicine, which is driving targeted fisheries.

“We are elated that the CMS Parties have embraced Ecuador‟s proposal for protecting the magnificent and exceptionally vulnerable giant manta ray,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International. “CMS is an excellent vehicle for facilitating much needed national and international safeguards for this wide-ranging, globally threatened species and its key habitats.”

Giant manta rays are found in tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, often along coasts and offshore islands. Many of the species‟ sparsely distributed sub-populations number just a few hundred individuals. The greatest threat to manta rays is fishing; their large size, slow movements, and predictable aggregations make them easy targets. Manta rays are protected in Hawaii, Maldives, Philippines, Mexico, Ecuador, Yap, Western Australia, and New Zealand, but migrate into unprotected waters of other countries and the high seas. Today‟s decision marks the first international agreement aimed at conserving manta rays and should spark new protections in key Range States such as Mozambique, India, Sri Lanka, and Peru.

Manta rays can grow to more than seven meters across. Female manta rays are thought to produce just one pup after a year-long pregnancy, which contributes to the species‟ exceptional susceptibility to overfishing. Manta rays feed on plankton filtered through their gills with the help of comb-like projections known as „gill rakers‟. East Asian demand for gill rakers is reportedly resulting in dramatic increases in targeted manta ray fisheries and subsequent depletion of some local manta ray populations. At the same time, manta ray eco-tourism is increasingly generating significant economic benefits for local communities across the globe, particularly in Maldives, Mozambique, and Hawaii. A new study estimates the worldwide value of manta-based tourism and filming at US$100 million per year.

The manta ray listing was proposed by Ecuador. The European Union, Senegal, Madagascar, Australia, United States, Chile, Mozambique, and Uruguay took the floor to express support for the proposal. The host country, Norway, also voiced support while suggesting that the similar reef manta ray (Manta alfredi) be listed at the next Conference of the Parties, in three years.

Notes to Editors:
CMS is an intergovernmental treaty formed under the United Nations Environment Program. . CMS Parties met this week in Bergen, Norway for the Conference of the CMS Parties which takes place every three years.

CMS Appendix I, reserved for species that are threatened with extinction, obligates CMS Parties (currently numbering 116) to strictly protect the animals, conserve and restore their habitats, mitigate obstacles to their migration, and control other factors that might endanger them. CMS Appendix II includes migratory species that need or would significantly benefit from international co-operation for which CMS encourages global and/or regional Agreements and concerted action among Range States.

In 2010, CMS completed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote conservation of migratory sharks, particularly the seven threatened species listed under the global CMS treaty: great white, whale, basking, shortin mako, longfin mako, spiny dogfish (Northern hemisphere), and porbeagle sharks. Twenty-five CMS Parties and cooperating non-Parties (such as the United States) have now signed the Shark MoU. Beyond more MoU signatories, next steps include finalization of an accompanying conservation plan and a meeting of the signatories.

Today Norway announced that it will rescind its reservations on CMS shark listings (except basking shark on Appendix I).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified both manta species as Vulnerable under the IUCN Red List.

Photo: (c) Steven Levin/Marine Photobank