Though the outlook may appear grim, manta and mobula ray tourism offers sustainable and profitable alternatives. The value of manta ray tourism based on data gathered from only seven sites is estimated to be US$27 million in direct tour operator revenue, and US$50 million per year when associated tourism expenditures are included. The many other current manta and mobula tourism sites around the world are expected to yield a further US$50 million per year, and other aggregation sites have yet to be exploited for tourism. A total estimated annual tourism value of over US$100 million per year compares favorably to the estimated market value of US$11million per year for the global gill raker trade.
Populations are currently stable, at best, around tourism sites or within marine reserves where manta rays are protected. Regionally, several nations and states have passed laws specifically prohibiting the landings of manta and mobula rays. The United Nations’ Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) recently listed the giant manta ray (M. birostris) as a species of international concern, but there are no binding international protections for any manta or mobula species, nor are they currently regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The general public, policy makers, and even those in the ocean conservation field are largely unaware of the growing trade in gill rakers and its impact on manta and mobula ray populations throughout the world. If action is not taken immediately, these rays face imminent regional extirpations and broad-scale global depletion.
We recommend that range states immediately place a moratorium on all directed manta and mobula fisheries, and mandate measures to reduce bycatch until proper population studies are conducted. We recommend further that China and other importing/consuming countries place and maintain moratoriums on imports and sales of gill rakers, unless it can be proven that such imports are not damaging ray populations.
BY THE NUMBERS
|US$100 million||The expected global tourism value of manta and mobula rays|
|US$11 million||The estimated global value of the gill raker trade|
|US$1 million||The estimated tourism value of a single manta ray over its lifetime, ALIVE|
|US$40 – 500||The estimated fisheries value of a single manta ray, DEAD|
|94,000 & 3,400||The estimated global landings of mobula and manta rays (respectively) documented in fisheries|
|600||The number of Manta birostris identified in the largest documented aggregation site|
|16||The maximum number of pups a manta ray produces over her LIFETIME|
|14||The maximum number of pups the vulnerable Great White Shark produces in one litter|
|Zero||Locations where manta or mobula rays have been fished sustainably|