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Marine Life & Conservation

Giant Manta listed as Endangered

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The conservation status of the giant (or oceanic) manta ray (Mobula birostris) has been uplisted today to Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. An endangered listing is reserved for species with grave conservation concerns. Today’s announcement serves to confirm what we have long suspected – this gentle marine giant is finding it hard to cope with intensifying anthropogenic pressures around the globe. The giant manta ray now joins over 16,000 endangered species to be assessed with this serious threat level. At this stage, 30% of sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction.

The announcement marks the end of a devastating two decades for this species. Targeted for their gill plates – which they use to filter feed on small zooplankton from the water column – the unrelenting and increasing demand for their body parts has fueled both existing and emerging target fisheries. The relatively new Asian-based trade seems to be impacting the giant manta more than other species of manta ray, with the unsustainable harvesting decimating their populations across the globe.

Giant mantas in a marketplace in Indonesia; Photo by Dr. Andrea Marshall

Dr. Andrea Marshall, co-founder of the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), who lead-authored this newest assessment for the IUCN, has been involved in their assessments since 2003. “The giant manta ray is a classic example of a species that is quickly succumbing to human-induced pressures. When we first assessed manta rays in 2003 there simply was not enough information on the species to determine their conservation status and they were listed as ‘Data Deficient’, but on each of the subsequent assessments, their conservation status increased steadily from Near-Threatened, to Vulnerable and now to Endangered. Their current status is a direct result of unsustainable pressure from fishing, which now threatens to destabilize their populations across the globe.”

To curb the burgeoning trade in their body parts to Asia and to encourage more comprehensive conservation strategies for their populations around the world, the giant manta ray was listed on two of the most important global conservation treaties, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) in 2011 and the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2013.

Sadly, their numbers have continued to decline. “Manta rays simply cannot withstand such pressures on their populations,” Dr. Marshall explains. “They have an extremely conservative reproductive strategy. They reach sexual maturity relatively late in life, they give birth to a single offspring every few years in the wild, they do not look after or defend their young and the offspring themselves are vulnerable when they are small and may not survive. In other words, as a species, they simply cannot reproduce fast enough to build back their numbers once they are depleted.”

This iconic species is not only extremely important from an ecological perspective, giant mantas also provide vast economic benefits to tourism industries around the world. “Interactions with manta rays are highly sought after by dive and snorkel tourists globally and contribute millions of dollars to tourism economies each year, particularly in developing nations. At this pivotal time, recognizing their economic value may help to encourage the protection of this enigmatic and now endangered species” explained Dr. Stephanie Venables, a Senior Scientist and manta ray expert at MMF.

The giant manta ray was only formally described (the process of gathering enough scientific evidence to provide a taxonomic description of a newly discovered species) by Dr. Marshall and colleagues in 2009. At the time it was one of the largest species to be described in our oceans and the announcement was met with excitement around the globe. The discovery was covered by the BBC that year in the first-ever documentary on manta rays.

“It is such an honor to have been able to study and describe this species. The realization that the giant manta ray is now in danger of extinction is a hard pill to swallow”, Dr. Marshall admits. “We are still busy learning about this extraordinary creature and we have only scratched the surface. There is so much more we need to understand, but at this stage, we have put that all aside in favor of protecting the last remaining populations of giant mantas across the globe.”

For more information on the work of the Marine Megafauna Foundation visit their website by clicking here.

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Louis Hagger, second place winner of the See You at the Sea Festival Film Competition (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-large, chats to Louis Hagger, second place winner of the See You at the Sea Festival Film Competition.The See you at the Sea Festival was an online film festival created by young people, for young people.

Louis’ film – Uncovering Cornwall’s Little Known Oceans – can be seen here:

Third in a series of six videos about the competition. Watch the first video HERE with Jenn Sandiford – Youth Engagement Officer with the Your Shore Beach Rangers Project and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust – to find out more about the Competition. Each day this week we will be sharing one video in which Jeff talks with the young contestants about their films and what inspired them.


For more information please visit:

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Marine Life & Conservation

Save the Manatee Club respond to harassment case

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began an investigation this week into an incident of illegal manatee harassment on the Homosassa River, in which perpetrators scratched the word “Trump” into the algae on a manatee’s back. The politically-charged message caught the attention of the nation. Save the Manatee Club believes the case also reinforces the need for stricter regulation and increased education regarding the dangers manatees face from harassment and close human interaction.

Legally, “harassment” includes any act that potentially injures, annoys, or disturbs the manatee, or causes a disruption of its natural behavior – such as handling it long enough to scrape five large letters into its back. The offender(s) in this case clearly prevented the manatee from escaping while they did their work. Even worse, the manatee may have been in a sick or stressed state – too weak or unable to get away.

Touching or petting a manatee in the water or aboard a boat can cause the animal to become habituated to approaching people or watercraft. Throughout Florida, guides, tourists, and the general public have been told, however, that it’s okay to touch manatees, as long as it’s “passive,” or with one hand only, or the manatee approaches you first. Unfortunately, this ill-informed approach to passive observation can lead the average swimmer, diver, paddler, or boater to believe that all manatees are fair game to touch.

A manatee being harassed.
Swimmers harass a manatee by chasing, touching, and grabbing it.

Save the Manatee Club is calling for a change in the regulations and public education on interacting with manatees to a true “hands-off,” 100% passive observation as recommended by the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. Prohibited actions must expand beyond chasing, riding, or poking and include touching and petting. These rules are already in place for whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals, but not yet for imperiled manatees who face many other threats, from watercraft collisions to the loss of vital habitat.

While some manatees are conditioned to human interaction, the vast majority of manatees tend to seek food, rest, and warmth away from people. Disturbance can drive manatees away from warm-water sanctuaries, often with lethal consequences. These areas must be expanded to protect wintering manatees from cold temperatures and harassment.

The public outrage following this incident has shown that people care about the well-being of manatees and support a hands-off policy. Some caring tour operators have voluntarily chosen to adopt this hands-off passive stance and are still successful in offering quality experiences observing manatees. But there are still far too many harmful harassment encounters occurring each and every day.

It is time to follow the lead of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission and stop allowing this harassment to continue unabated. Save the Manatee Club has aggressively and consistently advocated for stricter policies and increased sanctuaries, but this disgusting letter-scraping incident further confirms that more protections are needed. All human-initiated contact with imperiled manatees needs to stop.

For more information about the work of Save the Manatee Club visit their website by clicking here.


Anyone with knowledge of the incident is encouraged to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). This hotline can also be used to report manatee harassment or to report injured, sick, orphaned, entangled, or dead manatees.

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