Manta rays join Red List of Threatened Species

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November saw the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group (SSG), adding the Giant and Reef manta rays to its Red List of Threatened Species.

The IUCN SSG, a worldwide network of scientists co-chaired by SFU biologist Nick Dulvy, has declared both the Giant manta (Manta birostris) and Reef manta (Manta alfredi) 'Vulnerable' with an elevated risk of extinction. Intense fishing fuelled by international demand is wiping out these iconic species by the hundreds.

Manta ray populations have declined by up to 80% in some areas over the last 75 years and by at least 30% globally.

Manta rays only give birth to one offspring every two years so they are very vulnerable to overexploitation, but at the same time migrate long distances, spending long periods of time out at sea making management difficult.

Dulvy said: "They are a long-lived species with little capacity to cope with modern fishing methods and globalised demand from rising human populations."

In addition Chinese medicine uses the gill rakers and filter-feeding system and demand for this has been driving down populations.

The IUCN specialist group is calling for international conservation treaties to protect manta rays, increased monitoring of trade and exploitation and legislation to prevent fishing pressures.

"We can save manta rays — the solution is in our hands," says Dulvy.

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