Conservation through Research, Awareness and Education

UK Registered Charity Number: 1145387


Project Goals:

The State of Mobulid Rays in the Philippines is a multi-year project with the goal of  building a comprehensive country level picture of manta and mobula ray distribution, fishing, and trade pressures through diver surveys, marketplace data collection, and community level investigation. Currently, the information that we have for mobulid rays in the Philippines is very deficient. Year one of the project aims  to build a network of researchers and citizen scientists to begin to identify and map what we do know, i.e. the research that is taking place, areas where mobulids are being fished and sold, and sightings by divers. This broad level work will identify where more in-depth investigation, collaboration, and development of policy recommendations is needed.

Why this is important:

It is abundantly clear from the recent Manta Ray of Hope report that country and species level data is desperately needed to deepen our understanding of the status of both manta and mobula rays as well as the increasing pressures exerted upon these highly vulnerable species that by all indications are disappearing from the oceans at a concerning rate. Without this more specific data it is very difficult to argue effectively for greater national and international level protection and fisheries management.

While manta rays are officially protected from fishing in the Philippines, mobula rays are not even though they share the same life history characteristics that make them very vulnerable to overfishing. Initial investigations and reports from researchers, fisher folk, and diver operators here in the Philippines indicate that landings of mobula rays are increasing and that there has been a significant decline in sightings of rays across most of the known aggregation sites in the country over the last decade. There is inadequate enforcement of the ban on manta fishing and indications that the new target fisheries are on the rise to supply the trade in gill plates. Not only does this trend have severe implications for the species and the ecosystem health in the country, but it may also led to economic hardship for coastal communities who rely on elasmobranchs for income, food security, and tourism opportunities. Since mobulid rays have such high vulnerability to fishing pressures due to their life history strategies, reports of increased landings need to be confirmed and acted upon swiftly if the remaining populations of these rays are to survive within this region.

Project Overview:

The Philippines is an archipelago with more than 7,100 islands. It is an ocean nation with territorial seas that are more than seven times its land area. More than 60 percent of Filipinos live in coastal areas with more than 2 million making their living directly from ocean resources and fish being the main protein source for the majority of the country. The Philippines is located at the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’ and is considered one of the most biodiverse oceanscapes in the world. It is home to both manta ray species and many species of mobula rays (often commonly called Devil Rays).

Rays have been fished traditionally in some areas for centuries, however it is the suspected increase in landings  to supply the gill plate trade that is most concerning. Most of this catch is illegal, unregulated, and unreported. The Philippines has an excellent Fisheries Code, however, it has struggled to implement the act, especially the Municipal Government level, which has responsibility for waters within 15km and where the majority of fishing takes place. According to catch data this is reported, it is from Municipal waters that most rays are being landed. To date studies and research on rays has been limited to just a few areas in the country. This project aims to increase our scope of understanding of the situation throughout the country. One of the keys to moving management, monitoring, and protection measures for mobulid rays forward is building a multi-scale knowledge base about the distribution, exploitation, and trade at the international, regional, country, and local levels.

The project is designed to work with a wide network of researchers, students, divers, and fishers incorporating ‘citizen science’ methods, engaging a diverse network in conservation awareness, and working to build a supportive constituency.

An integral part of the project is working with students and professors throughout the country to map landings and markets selling rays and to carry out the on-the-ground research surveys. Not only will this allow us to cover more of the country over time, it creates hands-on opportunities for students to learn applied research skills and get them involved and excited about conservation work. Data collection at markets is very important to understand which species are being impacted and the socio-economics of the trade in ray products.

Working with local dive operators, divers, and tourists is also a key component of this project. Long renowned as a one of the best diving areas in the world, accessing diving is becoming easier in the Philippines and recent years has seen a massive growth in awareness about marine issues and people eager to support conservation initiatives. Ray sightings are important draws for many dive operations and there is increasing concern that rays are harder to spot. The project aims to build an interactive map of reported sightings by divers and photos to add to the Manta Trust’s ID gallery and database. This in-water data is essential to understand distribution of species and begin to identify individuals to better estimate population status. It is also an opportunity to engage a concerned constituency, understand the importance of rays to tourism economics, investigate ways to capitalize on tourism opportunities with healthy ray populations, and build support for ray conservation. Working with local researchers and building trust with fishing communities is also important as we collect data to characterize ray fisheries. Since conservation regulations have an impact socio-economically for fishers it is important that the research is participatory and transparent so regulatory solutions and/or opportunities that are arise from tourism can be community-led.

Main Objectives:

  1. Identify species and numbers being landed at key sites and investigate the supply chain through market surveys.
  2. Build a national  mobulid ray sighting and identification map populated by divers.
  3. Create fisheries profile including catch effort, gear types, fishers’ observations, and socio-economics.
  4. Training and involvement of diverse groups in marine conservation.
  5. Creation of outreach materials to disseminate findings and raise awareness.

Partners & Sponsors:

Without the support of our partners and the generous sponsorship received we would not be able to achieve our work in the Philippines. We are therefore very grateful to these organisations:

Save our Seas Foundation LogoLAMAVE Project Philippines

© 2017 Manta Trust