Since 2011, alongside partners WildAid and Shark Savers, The Manta Trust has been a part of the Manta Ray of Hope Project, a global level assessment of the threat to manta and mobula rays (mobulids).
Research conducted through this project uncovered the rapidly escalating threat to these rays due to increased demand for their gill plates in Asian markets and brought it to the attention of the world. We believe that cooperation and coordination of efforts is essential to ensuring the long-term conservation of these majestic and extremely vulnerable animals. To achieve this goal The Manta Ray of Hope Project brings together a team of passionate and likeminded people. We are proud of our achievements to date, but we know we still have a long way to go if these animals and their habitat are to be truly protected for future generations.
What is the Manta Ray of Hope?
While researching the shark fin trade in 2008-9, researchers and undercover field investigators began to notice an alarming increase in the presence of gill plates from manta and mobula rays in dried seafood markets in Asia, and increased targeting of these rays in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. In addition, a 2002 report by Dr. Heidi Dewar documented a dramatic increase in manta ray landings in the Indonesian village of Lamakera, Nusa Tenggara Timur Province, reportedly in response to an emerging market for their gill plates for use as a ‘health tonic’ in China. No focused research on this gill plate market had been conducted and updated data were urgently needed.
In 2009, the same researchers began preliminary investigations in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Indonesia and Sri Lanka to determine the extent of mobulid trade and fisheries and their impacts on these species. The team confirmed that a targeted manta and mobula fishery was active in Lombok, Indonesia, with trade routes pointing to Surabaya and Singapore and final destinations in Hong Kong and China. Interviews with fishermen and buyers in Lombok and Lamakera, and with dealers in Singapore all indicated that manta and mobula catches had declined in recent years, especially the large manta rays that are most highly valued in the gill plate trade.
In 2011, in response to these new findings, the team launched the Manta Ray of Hope Project to assess the full scope of the mobulid fisheries and trade, and to spearhead a cooperative global effort to save manta and mobula rays.
Who are Manta Ray of Hope?
Investigative journalists, Paul Hilton and Shawn Heinrichs, initiated the project and built the impressive Manta Ray of Hope team of scientific advisors, contributors and collaborating organisations, which includes the world’s foremost manta and mobula ray experts, conservation organisations and dive operators. As key project partners, Shawn and Paul recruited WildAid and later Shark Savers to the cause, along with initial funding partners Silvercrest Foundation, Hrothgar Investments and private donors. When The Manta Trust was established 2011, we naturally became a key project partner. The core Manta Ray of Hope team now consists of The Manta Trust Associate Directors, Shawn Heinrichs as Co-Project Lead, Paul Hilton as Lead Investigator, and Mary O’Malley as Co-Project Lead, as well as Guy Stevens, Chief Executive of The Manta Trust, as Lead Scientific Advisor.
Documentation produced from this project and its assessment of mobulid fisheries include a comprehensive report, Manta Ray of Hope: The Global Threat to Manta and Mobula Rays, a short film of the same title, and additional media resources to expose the problem and raise awareness for the urgent need to conserve manta and mobula rays before it’s too late. Further collaboration has led to publication of the peer-reviewed article The Global Economic Impact of Manta Ray Watching Tourism, and additional manuscripts on mobulid fisheries and mobulid gill plate markets are going through the peer-review process. The findings from these investigations have contributed to the addition of Manta birostris to Appendix I and II of the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in November 2011 and the listing of the Genus Manta on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) in March 2013, as well as proposals for legal protection for mobulid rays in key range states.
Now that the Manta Ray of Hope team have brought the issue of manta fisheries and the gill plate trade to the attention of the world, the interest in manta and mobula ray conservation has soared and this important issue now has a platform from which to reach new levels.
Recently, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and the Save Our Seas Foundation established the Manta and Devil Ray Network, a collaborative initiative, which aims to formulate a Global Conservation Strategy for Mobulid Rays and coordinate and pool the efforts of scientists, conservation organisations and governments to execute this strategy. The Manta Trust and our Manta Ray of Hope partners are playing an important role in this initiative.
As The Manta Trust provides its scientific expertise and continues to assess the extent of mobulid fisheries via our projects throughout the world, WildAid, focuses on tracking gill plate markets and utilising its extensive media and celebrity networks in China to address the demand for mobulid gill plates at its source. Importantly, we will continue to work together using novel media concepts and channels to communicate ongoing conservation work and the urgency of mobulid conservation to the public, governments and conservation community.
To learn more about The Manta Ray of Hope Project visit their website.