A new ruling in Indonesia proclaims six million square kilometres of ocean as a manta sanctuary providing full protection for these iconic animals. Image: Shawn Heinrichs for WildAid/Conservation International

A new landmark ruling gives manta rays in Indonesia a bit of safe swimming space ... six million square kilometres of it! The Manta Trust, WildAid, Blue Sphere Media, the Indonesian Manta Project and Save Our Seas are today (February 21, 2014) celebrating the signing of a new regulation creating the world's largest manta sanctuary, encompassing a massive six million square kilometres of ocean. The Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Pak Agus Dermawan, signed the agreement in Jakarta at an event attended by the Ministry of Tourism, national and international NGOs, and global media.
Sarah Lewis, Indonesian Manta Project Leader praised the decision: "Manta rays thrive in Indonesian waters and it is one of the only places in the world where divers and snorkelers can encounter both species [Manta alfredi and Manta birostris] at the same time and place. Realising the value of a living manta ray as a sustainable source of income through tourism, Indonesia's forward thinking move to legally protect its manta rays will not only ensure the survival of this vulnerable species but will provide economic benefits for many local communities for generations to come. Coming from one of the world’s largest manta fishing nations this news marks a milestone for manta conservation and awareness not just nationally but on a global scale."
Manta rays are regarded as one of the most charismatic marine species in the world, and in recent years manta ecotourism has grown in popularity. A peer-reviewed study led by WildAid, The Manta Trust and Shark Savers estimated that manta ecotourism generates USD$140 million in annual revenues globally (and USD$15 million per year in Indonesia alone), making the species vital for many Indonesian communities that rely on ecotourism for their livelihood. However, manta rays are highly threatened by targeted fisheries, which annually generate USD$400,000 in comparison. Although there is clear evidence that stocks are in decline, these fisheries continue to increase their fishing efforts, posing a huge threat to the survival of ray populations.

“The landmark ruling gives manta rays in Indonesia a bit of safe swimming space ... six million square kilometres of it! ”

Indonesia's manta rays are targeted for their gill plates which are sold as a medicinal tonic. Image: Shawn Heinrichs for WildAid/Conservation International

So why are manta rays being fished? The species are targeted for their gill plates, which are sold as a medicinal tonic on the Asian market. However, there is no historical foundation in traditional Chinese medicine and no scientifically proven health benefits of manta ray gill plates. Research carried out by WildAid and Manta Trust’s Manta Ray of Hope Campaign revealed the growing threat to manta and mobula species due to this growing market and these organisations remain heavily involved in the continued conservation of the species.
The Manta Trust and the Indonesia Manta Ray Project continue to research and monitor the Indonesian population. The project aims to map manta ray distributions throughout Indonesia, whilst conducting research into the ecology and biology of these populations. A large aspect of the project is to examine the scale and impact of manta fisheries, working closely with the local community to increase awareness and support of alternative, sustainable incomes. Recognising that manta rays are a vital source of revenue for many communities, the Indonesian Manta Ray Project also surveys their current and potential contribution to eco-tourism.

2014 02 21 Swimming With Manta Rays
In recent years manta ecotourism has grown in popularity across their tropical, sub-tropical and temperate range. Image: Shawn Heinrichs for WildAid/Conservation International

Source: WildAid
Images: Shawn Heinrichs