The South East Pacific is home to the largest documented population of Giant Manta Rays in the world, with over 650 individuals having been identified in Ecuador. Although protected in Ecuador, these rays are believed to migrate seasonally into Peru, where their presence is poorly studied, and they receive no protection at all.
In 2012, we started researching manta occurrence in Peru, together with partners The Manta Trust and WildAid. Our research revealed a manta ray aggregation zone in Peru coinciding with 4 important fishery areas, leading to bycatch and intentional capture of this species. Many of the captured individuals were pregnant females, suggesting the discovery of an important reproduction area!!
Mobulids (manta and mobula rays) in Peru are used in typical dishes. To prepare these dishes, the meat is consumed dried and salted: a process that leads meat to lose 70% to 80 % of its weight in water, and that stimulates excessive harvest and exploitation. Artisanal fishermen earn an average of only US$0.33 per kilo of manta meat.
Our team is therefore working to promote alternate livelihoods that can promote manta conservation, while increasing fishermen income and enhancing sustainable development of local communities. That’s how, thanks to support from Project AWARE, we’re starting a project to promote awareness and sustainable ecotourism with mantas, by empowering and building capacity for artisanal fishermen to offer ecotourism trips to observe manta rays in Peru.
In the following year, we’ll be developing workshops to raise manta ray awareness among artisanal fishermen, plus workshops to build capacity regarding business and tourism management. We’ll then select 10 artisanal fishermen, and together we’ll define marketing strategies for tourism services, assess and provide necessary infrastructure, and support them to formally register and implement their services.
We hope ecotourism development will indicate mantas as a viable source of supplemental income. And, because Ecuador has already enacted national protection for mobulids, we hope to contribute in creating the world’s first multinational, regional effort to protect these very vulnerable migratory species.
Stay tuned to our following blog posts, as we share project updates and stories with local artisanal fishermen! Do you have ideas or suggestions for this initiative? Feel free to share your comments with us… and help us strengthen this project!