So much remains to be understood about the oceans and the life they harbour. The recent discovery of a juvenile Bentfin Devil Ray (Mobula thurstoni) in waters near Cape Verde by members of an SOS grant-funded team working for IUCN Member Fauna and Flora International (FFI) is a tantalizing reminder of that.
On the 31st of July, Denis Adriano, a ranger with FFI’s local partner, the Maio Biodiversity Foundation (FMB), discovered a ray in a fishing net on the beach of Praia Goncalo in the Parque Natural do Norte do Maio. "It was only about 80cm wide, so was likely a new-born" explains Jack Rhodes Project Manager with FFI’s Cape Verde shark project.
If it was a Bentfin Devil Ray, then the species had been described in waters off Senegal, but never before Cape Verde. “The discovery of a juvenile Bentfin Devil Ray means it is likely that the species is reproducing here.”
Unfortunately, the baby ray was already dead before Denis came across it, but thanks to his training as a participant in the shark project the team gathered valuable information from the specimen including photos and a DNA sample. Once the images made it back to the FMB office it was noted that it was in fact a species of Mobula ray. Subsequent expert analysis confirmed the hunch: it was a Bentfin Devil Ray – never before recorded in Cape Verde waters.
“The discovery of the juvenile ray shows the importance of basic elasmobranch field work needed in Cape Verde”, Jackson observes. “And it underlines the value of empowering local community members too – without his training Denis might have mistaken the juvenile for another species - the Sicklefin Devil Ray (Mobula tarapacana) which was previously the only Mobula known in these waters. The more we look the more we see”.
But the story doesn’t end there. Victor Stiebens the local project coordinator explains “soon after we were doing some exploratory underwater filming in the area when one of the cameras recorded some rays swimming in the depths. We are still waiting for verification but we hope this might be the same species.”
‘There are still so many new things to discover in the ocean, and in Cape Verde you do not even have to go to the deep and dark ocean. Here, new species just swim by you’ adds Victor.
This project works with Maio Island Marine Protected Area (MPA) enforcement partners and local fishers to monitor MPAs, identify and trial shark release techniques (watch a successful nurse shark release video here). It is also encouraging fisher collaboration in conservation which you can read about here.
The team is also mapping potential sites for shark and marine ecotourism, and developing new income opportunities for fishermen by involving them in participatory business planning while identifying pathways for micro-loans for the start-up of new business opportunities.
Protecting threatened species is critical for all our lives. Wildlife and nature supply us with so many basic necessities from food to fuel and shelter, but also inspiration in art, language and design to name but a few examples.
This news is just one example from one of 90 projects that are each delivering conservation results thanks to the SOS model - supporting good projects implemented by existing conservation actors.
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