Steve Irwin was not killed by a manta ray! That’s right; the kooky, antipodean croc-wrangler met his demise after a freak encounter with a stingray. Steve was unlucky, and I guess it was only a matter of time considering his escapades. Unfortunately he has given all rays, including manta rays, a bad name.
Let’s play a quick game of fact or fiction:
-Manta rays are the biggest of all rays. Fact.
-Mantas eat plankton and have no stinger. Fact.
-Manta rays can swallow a man. Fiction – even if you ended up inside their cavernous mouth, they wouldn’t be able to swallow you as their oesophagus is too small.
-Mantas and their cousins, the mobula rays, are being actively hunted and need our help. Fact.
Unfortunately manta gill plates are highly valued in the Chinese Medicine Trade. It’s a similar trade to shark finning, yet even seasoned divers often don’t know much about it. There are many commendable projects working to stop this destructive practice and ensure the longevity of the species. And there are many global hotspots where manta rays aggregate:
One way which we can support their protection is to champion the manta tourism industry. But tourism can be a double edged sword for the natural world. If you are planning on swimming with mantas – which you really, absolutely should, please take a moment to read the following tips. You can also download In-Water Instructions and Code of Conduct diagrams for Divers and Snorkellers from The Manta Trust website.
-They are friendly, but please don’t hug them, or touch them in any way!
– Give them space; don’t dive towards them, or swim frantically at them, even if you think you are about to get a Nat Geo quality photo.
– Choose a responsible operator. How can you tell? Ask them if they have a code of conduct and support manta conservation.
– Reduce and refuse. Be mindful of the amount of plastics you buy. As filter feeders, mantas are very susceptible to water pollution and most lesser-developed nations have limited waste management systems – meaning trash ends up buried, burned or in the ocean.
If you want to do more, then financially support one of the excellent projects that are racing against the clock to stop the killing. ‘A New Day in Lamakera’ is coalition of conservation organisations and professionals, including myself, working at one of the biggest manta rays fisheries in the world, in Lamakera, Indonesia. Since 2014, our dedicated and talented team has been working alongside the community to support its evolution and to create an entirely new relationship between the community and their vulnerable marine life, by using a combination of research, education and by providing essential alternative livelihoods.
Lamakera in remote Indonesia is featured in the biggest eco documentary of the decade, Racing Extinction. If you haven’t watched it, watch it. If you it touched you, then please support this cause by donating via WildAid’s website.
Anyone who has swam with a manta knows what a soulful experience it can be. Now, more than ever, is our time to make our voices heard and protect the natural world. Think about the legacy you would like to leave for the next generation and don’t expect someone else to do it for you.
This guest blog is brought to you Jo Marlow an advocate for manta rays, marine conservation and a future of our seas (which may or may not involve mermaids!). Team up with her at ClearOceans for underwater inspiration and how we can treat it a little better.