The sea is full of wondrous creatures, from huge basking sharks to swordfish swinging and slashing with their bills. One of the most majestic animals is the giant manta ray with its large ‘wings’ as it glides across the ocean floor. Mantas are considered a Chinese delicacy, with gill trade amounting to $30 million a year and 99% of it being accounted by the Chinese province of Guangzhou. The gills are also used in medicine to enhance blood flow, lower toxins, cure cancer and treat smallpox. No scientific evidence exists that manta potions are capable of doing these things.
In an effort to combat the illegal gill trade and protect giant mantas, Peru has passed a law that bans manta fishing as of December 31st 2015. The law not only prevents fishing but if any mantas are caught accidentally then they are to be released. Mantas can become tangled in nets and with Peru being home to the largest population it’s imperative that they are looked after.
Mantas reproduce slowly, giving birth to one pup every two to five years, so even a small amount of fishing has a large impact. There’s not a lot of information about overall numbers, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List carried out a study and found that regional populations have dropped by 80% during the last 75 years.
With the new laws, Peru has joined 12 other countries in the protection of manta rays. Ecuador has similar regulations due to the animals migrating between both countries. According to WildAid, an organisation that aims to stop illegal animal trade, “it’s a huge deal. With Indonesia and now Peru committing to protecting the species, two of the largest manta fisheries in the world are now closed. We hope that other nations where mantas are threatened by local fishers, particularly India and Sri Lanka will follow suit.”
This demonstrates a big step forward in the protection of marine life. Mantas are both beautiful and gentle and deserve to be protected as much as any other animal.