Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Magazine article Geographical

I'm a Geographer

Article excerpt

Manta rays are an iconic flagship species: for me they're one of the main representatives of the elasmobranchs, which include sharks and rays. They're the smartest of the rays: they have this big brain-to-body size proportion. Now we're facing such a critical situation for sharks and rays globally - it's one of the most threatened groups there is on the planet - conservation of giant mantas is a real eye-opener for the conservation of sharks and rays and marine environments more generally.

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The fishermen we were working with [at Planeta Oceano] were keen to talk about giant manta rays. They would sometimes talk about how the rays would interact with fishing nets. It was something that immediately sparked our interest, because at that time - around 2011 - giant manta rays were completely disregarded in Peru. The fishermen knew they were there, but they were seen as a species you'd accidentally harvest and then put back. The general community didn't know, at some points, that manta rays even existed. If you look at pre-lnca ceramics and pre-lnca culture, there are potteries that show giant manta rays. So they were part of the culture but had somehow been forgotten.

Manta rays in Ecuador have been protected since 2010. But they were migrating into Peruvian waters and being harvested there. The harvest was mostly accidental, but occasionally intentional. Fishermen weren't very dependent on the species - it wasn't something that was extremely reliable. Maybe in a year we'd find something like a dozen mantas that had been harvested. The mantas didn't really generate an economic value: it wasn't a very high value meat.

We noticed that eco-tourism was probably the most long-term solution we could have for the conservation of the species. In the case of conservation, you need things to be self-sustainable. And if you want things to be self-sustainable, on one side you need to incorporate the community and the population; but on the other, you need things to work economically in the long-run. A lot of these market-based approaches are really important. Otherwise, you can't get funding forever to be doing things.

There's no fixed situation for every challenge. Everything has pros and cons and everything has to be well-managed. In the case of eco-tourism, it is a long-term solution because there is a market in northern Peru - a growing market, I'd say - of tourists in that area. It's one of the most important coastal destinations in the country, even more because there's a proposal for a Marine Protected Area nearby. …

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