By Jason Schwartz
Indonesia’s minister of fisheries has announced that his country’s seas will become the largest refuge for manta rays in the world. Indonesia’s two species of mantas now have full protection in the entirety of the country’s waters, an area of about 2.3 million square miles.
Mantas, which can grow to twenty five feet across and live up to thirty years, are very important to coastal ecosystems. Their slow reproduction rate and easiness to catch (despite their size), make them particularly vulnerable to overharvesting threats. In March of 2013, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) granted increased protection to mantas. Member nations, including Indonesia, are now expected to take action to guard the big, winged cartilaginous fish.
This protection is a huge step, showing Indonesia’s commitment to CITES and mantas. Up to now, mantas have been heavily overfished in Indonesian waters; their gill rakers are used in Chinese medicine. Fished manta rays get between $200 and $500 at market. However the purported health application of their body parts, which is actually a modern advent to Chinese medicine, has no scientific basis.
In addition to CITES, what seems to have tipped the scales is proof of mantas’ value to Indonesia’s tourism. Indonesia’s manta tourism industry is the second largest in the world, valued at $15 million a year. Valuation techniques used by a coalition of conservationists led by Conservation International showed that mantas’ value to global tourism was over $100 million a year. Each manta was worth $1 million over its lifetime.
When the Indonesian government compared that with the price mantas got at market, they were faced with a no-brainer.
With these new protections, its beautiful coasts, islands, and reefs, and its wealth of mantas, Indonesia is poised to become the greatest destination for manta lovers on the planet.
Of course, now the hard part begins. Implementation of such a large-scale project—which includes working with local communities and fishers, monitoring, and managing—is no small task. And mantas are migratory, making their protection in Indonesia only part of the solution. But this is a huge development, and one we love.