Eco-Tourism

Manta and mobula rays are highly intelligent and social animals that have a broad appeal to divers and snorkelers. Providing encounters with these graceful animals offers a potentially lucrative and sustainable alternative to harvest in many areas. As a result, tourism has developed around seasonal manta and mobula ray aggregations in many parts of the world63.

A survey of dive operators in manta ray range states reveals that manta rays are frequently the #1 attraction to divers and are consistently ranked in the top three of marine life that divers most often ask to see. These operations bring millions of dollars in tourism revenue annually to their local communities.

In Western Australia’s shallow Bateman Bay on Ningaloo Reef, visitors come on snorkeling tours more eager to see manta rays than whale sharks64. Surveys conducted in the Maldives indicated that tourists are willing to pay the highest surcharge to see manta rays, even more than for turtles or sharks65. In Mozambique, diving, particularly to see whale sharks and rays, motivated 74% of tourists to visit the country66.

The ‘Million Dollar Manta’ In Yap, where dive tourism is based almost exclusively on manta ray encounters, the annual value of manta ray dives is estimated to be US$4 million. With an estimated local population of 100 manta rays, each living an estimated 40+ years67, each of these manta rays is worth as much as US$ 1 million over its lifetime! A dead manta ray in a fish market, on the other hand, brings a one-time income of US$40–$500 depending on the manta’s size.

$1Million Dollar Manta

Based on data from only seven locations, the value of manta ray dive tourism is estimated at over US$27 million per year. These figures do not account for revenue generated in many popular diving locations in Mozambique, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Brazil, Japan, Solomon Islands, Azores, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and Thailand. Global manta tourism may exceed US$50 million in direct dive-operation revenues annually, and with associated expenditures it may contribute as much as US$100 million. Additional opportunities exist globally for new tourism operations.

Manta ray tourism can provide ongoing sustainable income to communities for generations to come, while the gill raker trade represents short-term profits for a handful of foreign traders. Some poor fishing communities in India, the Philippines and Indonesia have shifted from hunting whale sharks to developing successful eco-tourism industries, changes that have revitalized these communities while also protecting these iconic animals. T he same opportunities exist for community-based tourism development centered on manta and mobula rays. Like whale sharks, manta and mobula rays offer significant tourism appeal, and present potentially large and sustainable financial benefits to coastal communities … if kept alive.

List of dive operators who contributed by responding to the Manta Diving Questionnaire

FIGURE: USES OF MANTA IN FISHERY VS. TOURISM VALUE

TABLE 5. INDUSTRY VALUES OF MANTA SPECIFIC ENCOUNTERS

LOCATION

SPECIES

ANNUAL REVENUE

Kona, Hawaii

Manta Sp.a

US$ 3.4 million1

Ningaloo, Australia

M. alfredi

US$ 1.8 million2

Nusa Penida, Indonesia

M. alfredi

US$ 3.5 million3

Palau

M. alfredi

US$ 2.25 million4

Republic of Maldives

Manta Sp.a

US$ 8.1 million5

Socorro, Mexico

M. birostris

US$ 5 million6

Yap

M. alfredi

US$ 4 million7