Welcome to our latest Members Update!
Things might be winding down for the year, but December has been jam-packed with activities for our team around the world. This month, we have updates on our attendance at a recent conservation policy conference in Monaco, the launch of our Strategy & Action Plan, and an awesome manta festival held by our partners in Peru. We also have something a little festive to close-out the year, which we’re sure you’ll enjoy!
SHARKS ON THE ROCK
Written by Bex Carter (Head of Fundraising & Communications)
Last week I teamed up with Isabel Ender (Manta Trust’s Head of Conservation Strategy) to attend the latest meeting of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) - an important conservation policy conference, held this year in the beautiful ocean-city-state of Monaco. Animals don’t neatly fit into a world of human-defined borders, so CMS is all about governments agreeing to work together to conserve species that migrate through multiple countries as part of their natural range.
Within the wider conference, we were taking part in a meeting specifically between members of the Sharks Memorandum of Understanding (Sharks MoU). The Sharks MOU was created to facilitate international coordination among governments for the protection, conservation and management of sharks and rays, through multilateral, intergovernmental discussion and scientific research. This includes manta and devil rays, so Isabel and I were there to represent the Manta Trust and our flappy, flat-shark friends.
The venue was breathtaking! The Oceanographic Museum is a truly spectacular building that appears to grow out of the sheer cliff-face of the Rock of Monaco. It is equally stunning on the inside; filled with grand and fascinating historical items of natural and nautical wonder.
With Manta Trust being a Cooperating Partner to the CMS Sharks MoU, we participated at the event’s discussions and working groups. We also used the event as an opportunity to launch our ‘Global Conservation Strategy & Action Plan for Mobulid Rays’ to an audience of renowned marine conservationists, scientists and government representatives whilst they were all in one place (you can learn more about this document later in this Cyclone Update).
For the launch, Isabel and I were joined by our allies Sarah Fowler (Scientific Advisor to the Save Our Seas Foundation) and Daniel Fernando (Blue Resources Trust, and Manta Trust Associate Director). Together, our team ran a special side event to present our new strategy document and recent book, ‘A Guide to Manta & Devil Rays of the Worl'd’, to our conservation peers and associates. The event was very well attended, and we were delighted to receive so much positive feedback on our Strategy & Action Plan.
Of course, there was a lot more going on at this conference than just the launch of our strategy. Manta and devil rays are already listed under the Appendices of CMS, but many other endangered shark and ray species were being proposed for new or enhanced listing under the convention. The outcomes from the rest of the week were a mixture of very positive news, and a call for ongoing discussions on certain sharks and rays.
We were pleased to see the following eight additional shark species added to Annex 1 of CMS, which means they should now benefit from increased international cooperation to improve their conservation:
Bottlenose wedgefish/whitespotted wedgefish together with two lookalike species, the smoothnose wedgefish and whitespotted wedgefish/giant guitarfish
Oceanic whitetip shark
Smooth hammerhead shark
However, an agreement on the listing of blue sharks proposed by Samoa and Sri Lanka was not met. After many days of debate, the signatories agreed that the proposal should be resubmitted to the next meeting in three years time, after further assessments of populations of this species have been undertaken in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. While at first that may seem frustrating, rather than going for a vote and the proposal being declined, this gives our colleagues from the wider shark-conservation community the chance to gather more evidence showing that the blue shark truly deserves higher protection under CMS.
The week really was an eye-opening and fascinating experience. Now, more than ever, migratory species are in need of a collaborative, global approach to conservation. So it was extremely encouraging to spend a week sitting in a room full of passionate representatives from countries and NGOs around the world, deciding how we can pull together to make a positive difference for sharks and rays.
LAUNCHING OUR CONSERVATION STRATEGY & ACTION PLAN
Despite growing protective measures, manta and devil rays remain extremely vulnerable to exploitation. Whether it’s targeted and bycatch fisheries, unsustainable tourism, or environmental changes, there remain a lot of outstanding threats to these animals.
Last week the Manta Trust publicly launched The Global Conservation Strategy & Action Plan for Mobulid Rays - an important milestone in addressing these threats. Over a year in the making, and funded by the Shark Conservation Fund and Save Our Seas Foundation, this document outlines what actions need to be taken to ensure the long-term survival of these incredible species. Whilst global in scope, the strategy also highlights how the Manta Trust fits into it all, and the areas where we believe we can be most effective as part of the wider conservation effort. Ultimately, our hope is for this document to serve as a powerful resource not just for the Manta Trust, but for all the governments, NGOs, scientists and managers that are playing a crucial role in conserving manta and devil rays.
If you’d like to check out the Strategy in more detail, it is freely and publicly available to download from our website.
MEET THE TEAM - STEFANY ROJAS
We want to introduce you to the passionate people around the world that make up the Manta Team. For our latest edition, we’re featuring the fantastic Stefany Rojas, who heads-up the Peru Mobulid Project.
Tell us about your first manta ray encounter.
"In 2012, I was finishing college and started working on a project to evaluate fisheries in coastal communities in northern Peru at a local NGO. My role was to identify the different species of mantas and devil rays that were captured in Peru, because their meat is consumed a lot in traditional dishes such as "tortilla de raya". As you can imagine, it was not a very nice way to meet these great creatures, but it was what prompted me to want to work for their conservation in my country.
In 2014 I travelled to Mexico to visit the Yelapa mantas project with Dr. Josh Stewart, and at the same time, train myself in the data collection whilst onboard. I was very excited because it was going to be my first encounter with a LIVE manta, but luck was not on my side in this trip; I returned to Peru without seeing them, but with a lot of new-found knowledge to help me replicate this work in my country. A few months later I participated in a boat trip in Zorritos (northern Peru), and it was there that I finally saw my first oceanic manta ray ALIVE for the first time. The emotion I felt is indescribable, and at the time the only thing I kept repeating to myself was that I would fight to the end for their protection.”
How did you get involved with the Peru Mobulid Project?
“I worked for four years on mobulid conservation projects until national protection for oceanic manta rays was achieved in Peru in 2015. The next year, I decided to apply for the Manta Trust volunteer program in the Maldives, and this was one of the most enriching experiences of my professional life. I learned a lot about mantas with the MMRP, and my passion for them took-off! I realised that there is so much we still don’t know about these giants, and that to continue investigating them and taking care of them was something I wanted to dedicate myself to. I enjoyed three months in the Maldivian paradise, and I returned to my country full of energy and motivation. In 2017, Manta Trust trusted me to become the Project Leader of the Peru Mobulid Project.”
What is the most surprising thing you have learnt about manta rays?
“What amazes me most about manta rays is that although they are a large size, they feed on the smallest things that exist in the ocean, the plankton…that they are totally harmless and at the same time vulnerable to different types of fisheries.”
What is the most challenging part of your work?
“The most challenging part of my work is to bring together all the key players under the same objective: to care for and conserve the existing mobulid species in Peru. There are three groups of key stakeholders that my work revolves around:
The government. It is necessary to continue training government representatives to improve the standard of data collection and to encourage them to create effective management measures for these species.
The fishermen. It is necessary to make them understand that the capture of these species is not sustainable and that ultimately, fishing communities will be most affected by the depletion of important marine species.
The local community. Which consumes mobulid meat in traditional dishes.”
What legacy would you like to leave in your field of research/conservation?
“For all Peruvians, especially those from coastal communities, to know what manta rays are, that they exist in our country, and that they are protected at the national level. That it is not necessary to travel thousands of kilometers to see them and enjoy them. Many countries make large amounts of money through ecotourism with manta rays; this reality is not far from being fulfilled in Peru, but it is necessary to educate all those involved before this happens so that it will be carried out in a responsible manner.
The important thing about my work is that manta and devil rays are already positioned on the map, and more and more people are paying attention and continue to investigate more about this group of fish.”
If you could ask people to do one thing to help - what would it be?
“Let us all look at the ocean and give it the importance it deserves. Being a generator of life on our planet, I think it is important to be empathetic with the ocean and act responsibly. Also, that they get involved in the different conservation projects that exist in the world. Getting funding for research is very difficult nowadays, so if you have the opportunity to support important scientific research, do it! That way you can help to solve more mysteries.”
MANTA FESTIVAL IN LOS ORGANOS, PERU
Stefany Rojas, Project Leader for the Peru Mobulid Project, tells us about her involvement in the recent Manta Festival held in Los Organos in Peru - a special event to celebrate the oceanic manta rays that visit their local waters.
Los Organos is a coastal community located in northern Peru. The main activity of this town is fishing, but in recent years tourism has also increased in the area. Each year more people come to enjoy its beaches, its landscapes and its great biodiversity.
The oceanic manta ray (Mobula birostris) is a flagship species for Los Organos, and is an iconic animal found along the Peruvian coast. Previously this species was fished to be used in traditional dishes such as “Tortilla de raya”, but since 2015 manta rays have been nationally protected. This is thanks to the collaboration of the government and local and international NGOs, including the Manta Trust.
This year a special festival for manta rays occurred in Los Organos. The festival aimed to raise awareness in the local community of manta rays and the threats they face. As part of the event, a life-size manta ray sculpture was created using plastic waste with the support of a local artist, Pascual Mimbela.
The Manta Festival was held in the main square of Los Organos, and involved a variety of activities; making manta ray masks out of recycled material, puzzles, a commitment to the ocean poster and the unmissable game of "pin the parts on the manta". Through these games people could learn more about the principal characteristics of mantas. It was an afternoon full of fun and learning. On the day of the festival, kids also participated in a drawing contest. The best drawings from the contest were awarded, and each of the participants could explain what their drawing was about and talk a little about the threats that exist to manta rays.
All of the plastic and garbage used was collected by the local school students during beach clean-ups and separation of waste at home. This relied on the participation of teachers and parents, not just the kids. The importance of this activity was for people to realise that plastics and garbage thrown in the ocean will affect marine animals. We need to change our habits to ensure a clean and safe environment for marine species and our future generations.
The sculpture was transferred to the “Mundo Hippocampus Aquarium”. This aquarium is an obligatory stop-off for all visitors to Los Organos, and the local schools visit them year after year as part of their school excursions. Everything that could have been trash is now a piece of art that can be seen by everyone; plastic waste transformed into a beautiful manta ray sculpture, whose mission is to continue educating each visitor one by one. In this place, everyone can learn about the main characteristics of this incredible species, in addition to knowing its biology, ecology and conservation efforts.