During the upcoming meeting of the Conference of Parties for the Cartagena Convention, COPS, later this year in Aruba, consideration is being given to better protect the giant manta ray in the Caribbean. This is reported by Nature Today.
Manta rays are very charismatic animals found in the waters of the Dutch Caribbean. They are highly valued by divers and snorkelers and are also important for healthy oceans as they help circulate nutrients. However, manta rays are threatened by various human activities.
The Caribbean is home to two species of manta rays: the giant manta ray (Mobula birostris) and the Caribbean manta ray (Mobula cf. Birostris), which will likely be officially described in the coming years, as well as several species of devil rays. Manta rays are the largest species of rays and pose no danger to humans.
Manta rays are filter feeders, consuming microscopic food (plankton), including fish larvae, krill, shrimp, and planktonic crabs, which they filter through their gill plates. They play a crucial role in maintaining healthy oceans by regulating plankton levels.
The animals move between the ocean surface, deep-sea, and coral reefs, creating a valuable ecological connection by transporting nutrients.
Manta rays are threatened by various human activities. One of the biggest threats to these animals globally is overfishing. They are often targeted because of their gill plates, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
In addition, they are also threatened by bycatch, entanglement in fishing nets and lines, habitat loss, and pollution. Bycatch and entanglement are likely the two biggest threats in the Caribbean.
Manta rays are the largest species of rays, they have long lifespans, around 30 to 50 years, and reproduce slowly. The age at which giant manta rays can first reproduce is estimated at about 9 to 12 years old, and manta rays only have one pup at a time. The slow life cycle and slow reproduction make manta rays extremely vulnerable to extinction.
Hope on the horizon
In the Dutch Caribbean, protected marine areas, such as the Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary, help protect manta rays and devil rays. The species is also listed on various regional and international lists, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), and the International Shark Strategy adopted by the Dutch government in 2019.
In addition, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with France, has formally submitted a proposal to include the giant manta ray in Annex II of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol, a regional agreement for the protection and sustainable use of coastal and marine biodiversity in the wider Caribbean region.
If approved during the upcoming Conference of Parties for the Cartagena Convention this year in Aruba, this measure provides a legal framework for the highest level of protection for the conservation of the giant manta ray.