While conducting a decade long investigation into the global shark fin trade, we began to notice another heart-wrenching trend in fish markets around the world – manta and mobula rays being sold for their meat and gill-rakers. In fact, in just one small fishing port in Indonesia, we documented up to a dozen mantas and mobulas lined up in the street. Repeat visits to this market revealed the same grizzly scene, time and time again. Similarly, in a fishing port in Sri Lanka, we counted 23 dead mobula rays in one morning, and according to the fishermen, mobula rays were landed here every day. We had never seen so many mobula rays in one place – either dead or alive. Further investigation led us to the traders where we discovered a row of sacks, each containing gill-rakers from about 100 manta and mobula rays. On the roof, we were shown the gill-rakers from a recent catch of hundreds of mobulas being dried prior to export. We also learned that often manta and mobula cartilage is used as filler in shark fin soup.

We had to know what was driving fishermen to target mantas and mobulas. Our research and discussions with marine scientists and traders revealed that the gill-rakers were increasingly being used in Chinese medicine as a health tonic and a belief that gill-rakers cool the blood. Demand for gill rakers now reached across oceans, giving rise to unsustainable manta ray fisheries off the coasts of Mexico and the Philippines. As these manta populations tumbled, the governments of Mexico and the Philippines that had once made it illegal to capture and kill mantas, in the face of fisheries pressure, lifted the bans.

Through our research, we believe that demand for manta and mobula gill-rakers is rapidly approaching a critical inflection point. Whereas the shark fin trade has sadly become deeply entrenched, both culturally and economically, there maybe time to intercept and head-off the gill-raker trade before it becomes completely entrenched. With this realization, we have set out to tell this story in the hopes of driving real change before it is too late.

"Manta – Ray of Hope" takes the viewer on a breathtaking journey to some of the most remote and exotic places on earth, to personally experience the magnificence of these rays. Through the eyes of naturalists and researchers, the people who know these animals best, we begin to unravel the mysteries of the manta. We experience their joy of new discoveries and also their pain, watching mantas they know fished in front of their very eyes. We then go deep undercover, from the remote fishing villages to the bustling cities, to better understand and expose the trade that is threatening their very future. And, we challenge the medicinal health ‘claims’ that are driving this destructive trade. Finally, as a ray of hope, we meet those who are making a difference, from scientists, to politicians, to local businessmen, and learn how we all can make a difference for these magical creatures too.