July 05, 2016

The South East Pacific is home to the largest documented population of Giant Manta Rays in the world. Protected in Ecuador, these rays are believed to migrate seasonally into Peru, where their presence was poorly studied, and they received no protection at all.

In 2012, Planeta Océano (the marine conservation non-profit I founded and direct) started researching the occurrence of this highly vulnerable species in Peru, together with partners Manta Trust and WildAid. By assessing landings and conducting on-board observations, we discovered that manta ray distribution in Peru coincides with important artisanal fishery areas, leading to bycatch and intentional capture.

manta ray fins.

We documented the harvest of Giant Manta Rays in Peru, including pregnant mantas. Because of this species’ extremely slow reproductive rates – giving birth to one pup every two to five years on average after reaching maturity at ten or more years – its populations are unable to withstand continued fishery pressure. We then developed market surveys, thanks to support from the New England Aquarium. Mobulid meat in Peru is mainly used in typical dishes, such as “chinguirito” or “tortilla de raya”. Although these local dishes are common, artisanal fishermen earned an average of only US$0.33 per kilo of manta meat.

Fishermen confirmed that their monthly income depended little on this species, and that it was not a reliable resource to encounter and harvest. We later joined efforts with fishermen to start researching manta spatial ecology and population, and thus identify critical habitat areas and periods of visitation. We are now building a collection of photo-identification images in order to better understand this population in Peruvian waters.

And in particular, we set out to promote the Peruvian government to enact national protection for mantas. After over 2 years of pushing for policy, manta rays were finally granted legal protection in Peru. Through a Ministerial Resolution enacted by the Peruvian government on December 31st 2015, it is now prohibited to capture, retain, commercialize or consume this iconic and vulnerable species in Peruvian waters. This achievement attained front-page news stories and allowed to showcase manta ray conservation in a country where mantas had been previously disregarded and severely overlooked.

However, legislation is not enough to protect threatened species. Working together.To ensure community engagement in manta conservation, we’re also empowering artisanal fishermen to offer ecotourism trips to observe manta rays in Peru, with support from Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund and Project AWARE. This initiative aims to raise appreciation regarding mantas alive rather than harvested, while increasing fishermen income and enhancing sustainable development of local communities.

And, we’re spreading community awareness on manta ray conservation by working with Northern Peru’s Marine Educator’s Network, a teacher-lead network focused on strengthening marine education in Peru, which Planeta Océano founded in 2009.

With these comprehensive efforts, we hope to contribute to protect this vulnerable migratory species. But ultimately, engage communities to conserve and sustainably manage their marine environments.

Building upon this initiative, and with support from Ocean First Education, Planeta Océano is currently researching shark and ray fisheries in northern Peru in order to propose new recommendations, such as size limits, for sharks and rays in our country.

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