Monday, March 17, 2014

MCAF helps support a brighter future for manta rays in Peru

This post is one of a series on projects supported by the Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF). Through MCAF, the Aquarium supports researchers, conservationists and grassroots organizations all around the world as they work to address the most challenging problems facing the ocean.   

Photo: M. Harding

The southeast Pacific Ocean supports a significant population of giant, oceanic manta rays (Manta birostris). These gentle giants are fully protected from harvest in Ecuador, but are highly threatened due to bycatch and overfishing in the neighboring waters of Peru. With support in part from the Aquarium’s Marine Conservation Action Fund (MCAF), an international team of scientists is working to change the fate of this species in Peru. The team, which includes staff from Planeta Oceano, the Manta Trust and WildAid collaborated with local fishermen and students to gather fishery landings data on mantas and their relatives, the mobula rays.

Kerstin Forsberg

Peruvian biologist Kerstin Forsberg, director of Planeta Oceano, presented the results of this research during a guest lecture at the Aquarium in the fall of 2013. Forsberg noted the team’s data showed that the majority of the captured mobula rays were juveniles and that several of the landed mantas were pregnant. Harvesting the rays before they can reproduce is not sustainable, given the already low reproductive rate of these species. Therefore, the team is using their findings to support a proposal for national protection of mantas and mobulas.

Protecting these species could prove to be a boon to the Peruvian economy. Research published last year in the journal PLOS ONE showed that over its lifetime, a live manta ray is worth up to $1 million to the tourism industry and only $40 to $500 dead. With the value of manta tourism in the global spotlight, Forsberg and Planeta Oceano are working with fishermen to build an ecotourism industry around these animals. Their pilot effort, which recently won a highly competitive award from Project Aware, will empower 10 artisanal fishermen to lead tours to view mantas in Peru. This approach will both increase the fishermen’s income and support manta ray conservation. With the steadfast efforts of manta advocates such as Kerstin Forsberg, there is hope that Peru will one day follow the lead of countries such as Ecuador, Mexico and most recently, Indonesia, in banning the targeted harvest of manta rays.

Read about Kerstin Forsberg’s visit to the Aquarium and her workshop for the Aquarium’s Marine Biologist in-Training students here.

To learn more about the efforts of Planeta Oceano to protect manta rays see Forsberg’s recent article for the Ocean Health Index.

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