With their 18-22 foot wing span, gliding motion, and gentle
disposition, giant pacific mantas are one of the truly amazing
creatures to watch underwater. Mantas show curiosity and even
playfulness around divers – they will come back to find
a diver time and again, and float over the diver’s bubbles
attempting to get a tummy rub. A few lucky divers have even
been able to take rides on the mantas back by holding on to
the fins of parasitic remoras.
Twenty years ago, giant pacific mantas could be found around
every major reef in the Sea of Cortez. By 1990, mantas had
become victims to harpooning and gillnets, and their populations
have dwindled to close to nothing. Although traditionally
mantas have not been a targeted species, many become tangled
in nets intending to catch other species. Once in the nets,
the mantas are harpooned and thrown overboard to die. Today
because of dwindling populations of sharks and sportsfish,
manta ray is now often targeted and served at taco stands.
The Mexican government is slowly becoming aware of the Mantas’s
importance to tourism. At the Revillagigedo Islands, one of
the only places in the world you are still practically guaranteed
a manta encounter, over $2,000,000 is spent each year by tourists
wishing to see and photograph these gentle giants.
In June of 1997, because of the influence of El Nino, six
mantas entered the Sea of Cortez. For three weeks, divers
from all over the world photographed and watched these beautiful
one-ton creatures. The La Paz dive operations began to increase
their bookings and hoped the mantas would stay for the entire
summer. Unfortunately, a local fishing co-op heard about the
mantas and targeted and killed three of them. The remaining
three left soon after the killing.
In response to this episode and many like this, SeaWatch
started a petition to stop the killing and gathered over 3000
signatures. On January 1, 2000, the Mexican government issued
the “Mexican Official Standard Rules that Regulate the
Shark and Ray Fisheries in Mexican Waters.” This regulation
establishes special protection status for the Giant Pacific
Manta Ray, making it illegal to capture or kill them in Mexican
However, laws are meaningless without enforcement. Funds and
personnel are limited in the enforcement agencies, and consequently
manta rays continue to be senselessly killed both by gillnets
and targeted for meat.
In the complicated food chain of the ocean, it is difficult
to say exactly how the absence of mantas will impact other
species. But it is quite clear that tourists will be less
likely to come and dive in the Sea of Cortez without the likelihood
of an encounter with these amazing creatures.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Individuals can make a difference, if you see a manta ray
being killed, take a picture of the fishing boat and note
date and place of the killing and report
the information to SeaWatch.
the Guardianes Del Mar program, which will provide extra
sets of eyes and ears to enforce existing laws. It is crucial
that fisherman understand that Mexican laws will be enforced.
SeaWatch bring attention to the destruction of these gentle
giants by joining today.
Finally, encourage your friends not to eat manta ray at local
restaurants and taco stands.