Many species of marine animals are being put in danger of extinction by overfishing. Sharks and manta rays are particularly at risk as they generally have slow growth rates, late maturity and long gestation periods. As sharks and rays producing far fewer young than other species, overfishing can have a devastating impact on their population over a short time period.
To protect these beautiful creatures, an international consolidated conservation action plan is needed.
This is where the good news comes in! On the 14th September 2014, five shark species and both species of manta ray were listed for international protection under CITES Appendix II.
What is CITES?
CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an agreement between 179 countries, including Singapore, which seeks to protect endangered fauna and flora by ensuring that international trade in over 35,000 species is legal, sustainable and traceable.
What is Appendix II?
The species covered by CITES are listed in three appendices, according to the degree of protection that is required. Appendix II includes species that are not necessarily threatened with imminent extinction but in which trade must be controlled to ensure their long-term survival.
What marine species does Appendix II cover?
The five sharks included in the latest listing are:
- Oceanic White Tip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus)
- Porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus)
- Scalloped Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini)
- Great Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran)
- Smooth Hammerhead shark (Sphyrna zygaena)
Both manta ray species included in the latest listing are:
- Oceanic Manta ray (Manta birostris)
- Reef Manta ray (Manta alfredi)
Why are manta rays threatened?
Manta rays are fished for their flesh, their fins and more recently their gill rakers. The Chinese medicinal trade uses gill rakers as ingredients, even though the gill rakers have been scientifically proven not to offer any medicinal benefits.
Unfortunately for the mantas, their behaviour and biology makes them very vulnerable to fishing. Regulation is considered necessary by CITES to ensure that manta populations are not reduced to a level that threatens their long-term survival as a species.
What can we do to help?
It is important that the fishermen are given a worthwhile alternative to catching mantas, for example, switching from commercial fishing to tourism.
Mantas hold a greater value as a tourist attraction to the economy than being fished. We can help by visiting well-managed manta hot spots and encouraging others to do so to boost this economy and alternative life style
Also, avoid purchasing any product that contains ingredients that have come from sharks and rays, such as fins, gill rakers (sometimes sold under the name fish gills) and jaws or saws. By limiting the demand for such products, we can reduce the incentive for fishermen to remove sharks and mantas from their natural environment.
How is S.E.A. Aquarium helping?
To help protect and conserve manta rays, scientists still need to learn more about their population dynamics, movements, biology and social behaviour.
Over the next 12 months, Conservation International and S.E.A. Aquarium will team up to tag 30 mantas around a number of Indonesian islands, including Bali, Raja Ampat, Berau and Komodo.
The data gathered will provide a deeper understanding of their life history which in turn will be used for making the appropriate decisions involved in protecting these beautiful creatures.
September is Manta Month at S.E.A. Aquarium. Learn more about these graceful creatures at the Aquarium.