Over the last decade mobula and manta rays have become threatened by an unsustainable fishery with the potential to drive populations to extinction. The meat of mobulid rays (mantas and mobulas) is worth little; however the gill plates, their specialised feeding apparatus used to sieve planktonic food from the water have become highly sought after in Asian markets as a medicinal tonic to treat a wide variety of human ailments. This rapidly increasing demand has already had worrying effects, with fishermen and field scientists in range nations reporting sharp reductions in catches despite increased fishing effort. In some locations manta ray populations are experiencing declines of up to 88%.
In March 2013, both manta species were granted legally binding international level protection under Appendix II of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora). Whilst this is a vital first step for manta rays, it is crucial that the legislation, which will come into force September 2014, is implemented and enforced to effectively protect these animals. In addition, measures are needed to ensure that other mobulid species are not increasingly targeted to fulfil any market shortfall and to encourage the protection of all devil and manta ray species on a national and/or international level.
A Global Action Plan for the conservation of devil and manta rays is in place to control and decrease unsustainable mobulid fisheries worldwide. This project, specifically, will develop and implement the collaboration, educational programmes, materials and awareness campaigns necessary to achieve this goal. The project team aims to work with policy makers, national governments and trade officials, as well as local communities and NGOs in the key mobulid fishing nations such as in Sri Lanka, India, Philippines, Indonesia and Peru. The goal is to diminish mobulid fisheries and associated trade in range states, decrease demand for mobulid products particularly in China, the world's largest market for gill plates, while providing opportunities to involve, raise awareness, and educate the general public across key target nations.
This project will increase awareness by government and policy makers for the need to control mobulid fisheries in key range states and improve the knowledge and skills of trade officials to monitor gill plate trade through training, workshops and by developing educational resources. Improved monitoring of mobulid populations and associated trade will provide some important data to support the listing for Mobula species on Appendix II at CITES 2016 and to update mobulid listing on the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species.
Working closely with local NGOs the project will educate communities in key fishing nations about the need to protect these species and raise awareness of alternative, non-consumptive use of devil and manta rays. Through an online manta Identification programme we will encourage active participation by the general public to support long-term monitoring work and by using online campaigns the project will increase the social media community and outreach capacity to support conservation of these charismatic species.