February 25, 2013

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It’s big business, a big vote, and a big moment for sharks and mantas.

The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, takes place beginning next week in Bangkok, Thailand – March 3 to 14.

At this critical meeting, governments will debate adding five species of sharks and two species of manta rays to the treaty. A positive result will limit international trade of shark fin and meat and manta gill rakers and help reduce the threat of over fishing facing these species.

The oceanic manta (Manta birostris) and the reef manta rays (M. alfredi) are among the ocean’s most charismatic wildlife. Manta rays are typically found in tropical and subtropical waters, although oceanic manta rays can be found in temperate waters. With oceanic and reef mantas reaching up to 9 meters and 5 meters, respectively, these gentle giants have enormous ecotourism value.

Manta rays are assessed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable globally. Manta rays bear only one pup on average every two to three years, which makes them highly vulnerable to overexploitation. They are killed as bycatch and in targeted fisheries throughout the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In recent years, manta ray fishing has expanded in many places throughout their range, primarily in response to the emerging international market for their gill plates.

Photo: (c) Michael Braunstein, National Geographic

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