Nations meeting at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) approve Ecuador’s proposal to list the largest living rays on CITES Appendix II
Update: March 14, 2013,
In an historic vote during the plenary session, five species of sharks and two species of manta rays will now be subject to international trade regulations, a move that could save these threatened species from collapse.
The required two-thirds of the 177 CITES member governments voted to protect these animals—the oceanic whitetip and porbeagle sharks, three species of hammerhead sharks, and the two species of manta rays—marking an increase in the number of sharks protected by CITES from three to eight species. -Ed
During the CITES meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, 178 from countries around the world met to vote on a proposal put forward by the Ecuadorian Government to protect manta rays, one of the world’s largest fishes. Manta rays, which were only recognized as two distinct species in 2009, were listed for the first time by experts as globally threatened species vulnerable to extinction, in recognition of the increased threat they face around the world.
Manta rays are worth an estimated $73 million USD in direct revenue and $140 million USD to the overall marine tourism industry annually. The estimated value of a single manta ray to the eco- tourism industries of certain areas of the world over its lifetime is up to 1 million USD. However, the demand for manta ray gill rakers is on the rise and one set can fetch up to $700 USD per kilo (2.2 lbs).
Despite this, they are protected in less than a dozen range states worldwide, and as migratory species, have no protection within their larger home ranges or in international waters. Many populations of manta rays across the globe are in swift decline as a result of targeted fisheries for their gill rakers, a body part used in Chinese health tonics.
Recent research headed by Dr. Andrea Marshall, director of the Marine Megafauna Foundation and lead author of the IUCN Red List conservation assessments for manta ray species, demonstrated that manta rays have conservative life history strategies, bearing only a single offspring every 2-3 years on average in the wild.
“Manta rays are amongst the least fecund of all elasmobranch species, with extremely conservative life history traits, most notably their small litter size,” said Dr. Marshall. “As low productivity species, these beautiful rays are highly vulnerable to human-induced pressures; unregulated and unsustainable fishing can quickly wipe out entire populations.”
To curb increases in unsustainable fisheries for Manta species globally, particularly shifts from subsistence to trade fisheries, it is imperative that manta rays be protected at national levels and local populations managed carefully. However, this CITES listing for manta rays will provide the framework for the increased protection of remaining global populations by restricting unsustainable international trade. The CITES Appendix II listing requires at a minimum that exports be derived from sustainably-managed fisheries that are not detrimental to the status of the wild populations that they exploit.
Manta rays are not species that can afford to be exploited. A CITES Appendix II listing was desperately needed as a precautionary approach to avoid the over-exploitation of these species, according to Dr. Marshall. “Those of us studying wild populations of manta rays are seeing first hand substantial declines in their numbers across the globe. This is a real and pressing issue.” The Marine Megafauna Foundation congratulates Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador for this timely proposal that will help in safeguarding these exquisite and economically important species.
In addition to the proponents of this proposal, many Range States including the European Union, Australia, United States, Mozambique and South Africa all took the floor to convey their support for the Manta proposal. South Africa used key studies from the Marine Megafauna Foundation to highlight the importance of this proposal and voiced their personal interest in the matter since they are concerned about the population they share with Mozambique. The host country, Thailand, also voiced support for the proposal. Days before, a division director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Mr. Vinit Rungpheung spoke publicly to the importance of manta rays to Thailand’s lucrative dive tourism industry.
The global eco-tourism industry is constantly expanding and public demand for interactions with large charismatic marine species, like manta rays, is on the rise. This non-consumptive, sustainable activity directly depends on the conservation and management of vulnerable megafauna species. Revenue from tourism continues to heighten the value of individual animals. Over their lifespan, what a single manta ray is worth, is of greater magnitude to the tourism industry than its small, finite value as a fished resource.
The manta ray proposal passed receiving 80.67 percent of the vote. “This is a fantastic move in the right direction,” said Dr. Marshall. “While manta rays face significant threats worldwide, there has been tremendous support and momentum for their conservation recently. The Appendix II CITES listing is a major step toward our shared goal of the global protection of these iconic species.”
CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora is an intergovernmental agreement signed by 178 countries. It aims to ensure that international trade does not threatened the survival of wild animals or plants in their natural habitats.
The March 11th vote marks the first international agreement to protect all species within the genus Manta, although this decision will only be formally adopted at the concluding CITES plenary on Thursday 14 March 2013.
CITES focuses only on international trade and not domestic trade or subsistence fisheries. A CITES Appendix II listing does not ban the take or international trade of manta rays, but requires that range states 1) produce a scientific assessment showing that the trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species or regional populations and 2) demonstrate that manta rays have not be acquired against domestic law or against the provisions of the CITES convention.
There will be an 18-month delay in the implementation of the Appendix II listing for manta rays to enable Parties to resolve technical and administrative issues.
Listing on CITES promotes regional and international cooperation as exporting and importing countries are required to work together to ensure sustainable trade.
Range States with legislation prohibiting the catch and/or trade of Manta species include: New Zealand, Ecuador, the USA (Florida, Hawaii, Flower Garden Banks), Guam, Maldives, Yap, Indonesia (Raja Ampat), the Philippines and Mexico.
The Manta listing on CITES was proposed by Ecuador and co-supported by Brazil and Colombia. Conservation groups actively supporting the manta ray proposal included: Marine Megafauna Foundation, Proyecto Mantas Ecuador, PEW Environmental Group, Shark Advocates International, Project AWARE Foundation, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Humane Society International, Wildlife Conservation Society, WildAid, Shark Savers, the Manta Trust and the Shark Trust.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Press release from the Marine Megafauna Foundation, edited and amended by Christopher Bartlett.