On 21st February, 2014 the government of Indonesia declared the entire Archipelago as a Manta Ray Sanctuary. This new protection for these gentle giants of the marine world is a great win for conservation and diving tourism in the extensive island nation. There is approx 5.8 million square kilometers of ocean in Indonesia.
This decision has also been made in light of growing regional support in key marine tourism destinations, for protection of the species – with recent provincial decisions in Flores and Komodo and the Raja Ampat regencies to announce local sanctuaries.
Recognising that the recent CITES listing will work to limit the trade and that the benefits of Manta Ray tourism mean they are more valuable alive, than dead, the government has not only made a smart decision for conservation, but also a wise economic choice for tourism.
Komodo National Park is already a hotspot for manta viewing in Indonesia due to the protection afforded by the national park status.
Greg Heighes from Dive Komodo, a PADI Dive Boat operator, estimates that manta tourism, both diving and snorkelling, is worth at least one million dollars per annum to the local economy.
“Manta’s are loved by all, because of their gentle and curious nature. There are few wildlife experiences that equate to swimming with a manta ray in the ocean!”
“Diving and snorkelling with manta rays is our most popular and highly requested product, and plays a big role in supporting the diving industry here, as well as the livelihoods of local tourism boat operators. Many of these local operators have converted from fisheries to serve the tourism market.”
“Manta watching tourism is worth an estimated US$15 million to Indonesia’s economy every year. The chance to see a manta ray draws divers and snorkelers from around the world,” said MantaWatch director Andrew Harvey. “I applaud the Governments visionary leadership, this is a great example of how governments and the diving industry can work together to achieve positive impacts for the environment and the economy.”
Manta rays are slow to mature and reproduce, meaning that they are very vulnerable to over fishing. The recent CITES listing confirmed that the scientific basis for their protection was valid and that action is needed to prevent their decline.
A lot of work still needs to be done to make the newly enacted law effective and accepted throughout the archipelago. Conservation groups will work to teach fishermen, businesses and enforcement officials about the benefits of the new law.
MantaWatch is a not-for-profit marine conservation company based in London, United Kingdom that is working actively in Indonesia to protect threatened manta rays by applying technologies and education to support local conservation actions.