Conservation through Research, Awareness and Education

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CITES Victory… a Ray of Hope for Mantas!

The 11th March 2013 may go down as a pivotal day in the history of marine conservation! Both species of manta ray have successfully gained approval for protection under Appendix II of CITES, joining five species of shark in a clean-sweep victory in Bangkok!

Guy Stevens and Mary O'Malley with Miss Scuba International at the CITES conference.

After a week of campaigning in the Thai capital, years of prior work and a last minute delay in the voting process, this afternoon saw 178 nations begin to choose sides over the manta ray proposal.

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) offers a legislative lifeline to threatened fauna & flora.  It is the only internationally binding treaty that requires its member nations to sustainably manage and control the trade of products sourced from species protected under its three listings.

Despite initial opposition, the 178 member nations overwhelmingly voted in favour of the proposal, securing an 80% majority – well over the 2/3 majority needed for mantas to gain protective status. This included the host nation Thailand, who saw a lot of media attention earlier in the week after voicing concern that proposed controls in manta products would harm their unrelated ornamental fish trade.

“Today, at the first time of asking, the world’s nations have overwhelmingly voted to regulate the trade in these vulnerable animals, a vital step towards the sustainable use and conservation of these magnificent species globally” said Guy Stevens, Founder and Director of the Manta Trust.

A listing on CITES appendix II will mean that trade in manta rays is regulated to avoid over utilisation.

“This is a great day for manta ray conservation efforts and a great day for our team, who have been working extremely hard towards this moment for the last three years. But most importantly, this is a great day for the manta rays, whose future survival is a little more secure!”

The stakes couldn’t have been higher when entering the conference. Manta rays have been facing global population declines of up to 86% due to a growing market for their gill plates – the appendages they use to filter their planktonic food from the water. Falsely claiming to be part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the gill plates are used in a tonic that supposedly removes toxins and ailments from the body, however there is no scientific evidence to support this.

However the manta rays saving grace has come from its value in eco-tourism. These charismatic and intelligent animals sit high on the bucket lists of many scuba divers and snorkelers, who flock in their droves to the few known manta hotspots in the hope of encountering the world’s largest rays. Studies have valued manta tourism at over $140 million USD per year, whereas the gill plate trade may total a merger $5 million USD per year in comparison – a value that would rapidly decrease if the trade continues and manta populations are allowed to crash.

In addition to their value in tourism, an identification guide made by the Manta Trust and the PEW Environmental Group can account for their success. This guide provides Trade Officers with a simple and practical method of distinguishing manta gill plates from those of related species, thereby providing an effective method of controlling the trade.

Successful approval for listing under Appendix II now means that the trade in manta gill plates must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.

The decision will be finalised after the plenary sessions of the conference conclude at the end of this week, with the legislation coming into force in 18 months time.

Shawn Heinrichs, leader of The Manta Ray of Hope project added “Having witnessed first-hand the wholesale slaughter of these gentle giants in shark fisheries across Southeast Asia to satisfy escalating demand for their gill plates, today was a huge ray of hope that the world can rally to put an end to this senseless killing and conserve these incredible and vulnerable species.”

On behalf of the rest of the Manta Trust team and our friends and colleagues from the Manta Ray of Hope campaign, Shark Savers, WildAID, Shark Defenders, PEW Environmental Group and Marine Megafauna Foundation, we would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that supported and championed our cause!

On this historic day for elasmobranch protection both species of manta joined Oceanic White Tips, Scalloped Hammerheads, Great Hammerheads, Smooth Hammerheads and Porbeagles in gaining protection on appendix II of CITES, Freshwater Sawfish were accepted onto appendix I by consensus!

“Today, through CITES, the world’s nations demonstrated that if we work together for the common good of our planet, its species and our future, we can make a difference.” Guy Stevens.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Mantas made it through the plenary sessions of this conference without opposition! This listing stands officially!

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