In a matter of days, officials from countries around the world will have an historic opportunity to protect a record number of sharks and rays – including oceanic whitetip sharks, hammerhead sharks and manta rays – from the unsustainable international trade that threatens their survival.
International trade in wild plants and animals is worth billions of dollars a year and in too many cases, threatens species survival. In the case of sharks – sought after for fins, meat, oil, teeth and cartilage – regulation is sorely lacking for almost all trade and is a key driver in species decline.
Manta and mobula rays span the tropics of the world and are among the most captivating and charismatic of marine species. However, their survival is severely threatened by growing fisheries pressure driven by demand for the gill rakers that the animals use to filter feed. Both the giant manta and reef manta face an uncertain future. Global manta and mobula ray populations are currently unknown. What is known, however, is that these species are slow to mature (8-10 years+), are long-lived (40 years+), and reproduce very slowly. A manta ray will give birth to as few as a single pup every two to five years. These characteristics make manta and mobula rays extremely vulnerable to overfishing, regional depletion and local extirpation.
Now globally threatened and exceptionally vulnerable, intensified fishing pressure in warm waters around the world is quickly pushing mantas to the brink. The gill rakers of manta rays are traded internationally, primarily to China and Singapore, for use in an increasingly popular Asian health tonic. This trade goes on unregulated and unmonitored. Yet the long term economic benefits from manta tourism greatly outweighs the short term returns from fishing. Globally, the annual value of manta-based tourism has been estimated at more than US $75 million.
During the 16th meeting of Conference of the Parties to CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 3 – 14 March, delegates will consider 70 proposals affecting more than 300 species, including the world’s most vulnerable sharks and manta rays. Project AWARE Foundation is calling for a surge of support from scuba divers and shark advocates worldwide.
Project AWARE has rallied support for sharks with nearly 150,000 scuba divers globally to date. “Scuba divers have been a powerful voice when it comes to making strong, persuasive arguments for change. Divers represent a unique and significant economic group that demonstrates the value of healthy, thriving shark and ray populations,” said Ania Budziak, Project AWARE’s Associate Director of Science and Policy. “It’s the healthy shark and ray populations that support tourism, which in some coastal communities, territories and states around the world, underpins entire economies. So CITES action is key, not only to keep shark populations healthy, but also to long-term economic benefits that are not yet fully realized.”
Before the CITES meeting, shark and manta ray advocates can help amplify the call to protect these exceptionally vulnerable species. Project AWARE Foundation is urging the dive community to take the following steps:
- Sign the petition urging CITES member countries to give sharks and manta rays much needed protections.
- Send a letter direct to CITES authorities urging them to vote “Yes” for sharks and rays.
- Spread the word. Download the “Extinction is NOT an Option” sign, take a picture and post it to the Project Aware Facebook wall of support.
“Project AWARE staff will be on the ground in Bangkok during the conference. We’ll be working with our partners, meeting with CITES delegates and helping influence the votes this March,” said Budziak. “Scuba divers have stood by sharks on the CITES campaign trail since 2010, we’ve taken every meaningful opportunity available to put sharks and rays front and center on government agendas. We’ll do what it takes to be sure sharks and rays have a voice at these critical meetings.”
Strong off the recent success to secure the European Commission’s vote to close loopholes in the EU shark finning ban and armed with petition signatures from more than 120,000 divers and shark advocates worldwide, Project AWARE and partners will push for the two-thirds majority vote necessary to secure a brighter future for vulnerable sharks and rays this March.
Only a few days remain before the CITES meeting. Add your voice of support now at: www.projectaware.org/CITES
Mantas Last Dance by Shaun Heinrichs
The time of the manta rays is over, lost to greed and exploitation by humans. Hannah is a wanderer, a sea gypsy, a manta ray reincarnate as person, lost to the world. Alone and searching for a time long past, she gives herself up to the sea, slowly walking into the waves and drifting into the dark abyss. In a dream-state, she awakens falling through water, bubbles and lights.
An manta glides gracefully from the darkness and approaches her, brushing close to her hand and face…and she smiles. Other mantas appear and she is united with her lost family at last. A dance begins with Hannah and the mantas emulating each others movements, a dance they have done a thousand times before.
We must act now to protect manta rays or they will be lost forever!
A special thanks to Singer/Song Writer Terra Naomi for generously sharing here beautiful song “If I could Stay”. Download at iTunes: http://goo.gl/MiBMJ
Our passionate message is – Yes! You can make a difference! We must act now to put a stop to the Manta gill trade and we can make this happen at the CITES meeting in early March. Concerned CITIZENS can sign this petition, asking this governments to vote in favor of manta ray conservation:
Read about the Making of Mantas Last Dance here: http://www.bluespheremedia.com/2013/02/mantas-last-dance/