Murdoch University study finds Ningaloo’s manta rays likely to hit endangered list

January 20, 2012

The popular manta rays that attract nearly 12,000 visitors to Ningaloo Marine Park each year are under serious threat of hitting the endangered list, a study co-authored by Murdoch University has found.

“Manta Ray of Hope: The Global Threat to Manta and Mobula Rays” is a joint initiative by experts from international conservation organisations Shark Savers and WildAid, Murdoch University, and other leading researchers. It details the worldwide decline in the manta and mobula species as overfishing continues and the demand for their gill rakers increases. The gills of manta and mobula rays are dried and boiled for preparation as a health tonic that is purported to treat a wide range of ailments.

The Murdoch University field station in Coral Bay has been the home to WA manta ray research for the past six years. Frazer McGregor, who leads the research team as part of his PhD project, said added to the increased demand for rakers is a lack of protection for the rays in Australian waters.

“While the rays aren’t killed in our waters, they are sadly not protected from fishing beyond the bounds of Ningaloo Marine Park. Fisheries WA and DEC are not doing enough to protect them – they should be protected within all Australian waters,” he said.

He also said more needs to be done to regulate manta ray tourism, a $2million industry in Ningaloo and Coral Bay.

“Even within its safe zones manta rays are facing increasing pressure from unregulated tourism. We’ve been trying to get a code of conduct introduced for the tourism industry so there are strict guidelines about how to behave when interacting with them, but the government just won’t take the next step and implement formal legislated rules of interaction.

“They are one of the most sought-after underwater attractions but few people realize they are slowly declining in numbers globally. These rays can take ten or more years to reach sexual maturity and typically produce only one pup every two to three years. A great white, which is widely considered to be one of the world’s most vulnerable marine species, may produce as many pups in one litter as a manta ray does over its entire lifetime.”

Director of Murdoch University’s Coral Bay Research Station, Dr Mike van Keulen, said “Manta rays are an iconic feature of the Ningaloo marine environment, more important for tourism in Coral Bay than whale sharks. Their slow growth and low reproductive capacity, coupled with migrations through areas where they are fished, means that manta rays are particularly vulnerable. They run the risk of being fished to death in some parts of the world and loved to death right here in Western Australia. There is an urgent need to better protect them and that includes developing a better understanding of their life history and migration patterns.”

Photos courtesy of Manta Ray of Hope / Shark Savers / WildAid

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