Saturday, 17 September 2011

Paradise Lost?

We have drawn another manta season in Ecuador to a close. This year proved to be another incredible migration event, albeit after a late start, and whatever we lacked in action in July, the mantas certainly made up for it in huge numbers later on in the season. My team collected over 100 ID's in just two days in early august and the action did not slacken off at as the month wore on. The incredible experiences we had however were not without concern. We noted at high number of mantas with fishing gear trailing all over them and much of the gear had been stuck on the mantas for a long time. Some of the lengths of mono filament or braided lines were embedded deep into the flesh of the mantas and barnacles grew heavily on some of the trailing lengths. It is difficult to judge how much this affects the mantas, but it is bound to affect some of their ability to feed, to migrate, to reproduce. At the very worst, some of these injuries could be killing mantas as they get tangled up and eventually drown. Isla de la Plata is just one place along the Ecuadorean coast where this mass migration of mantas can be found. However it is the best place to see them as there is a distinct lack of diving services along the entire coast of this small country. As we get to know more of the people in the area, it becomes apparent that even with this spectacular event, Isla de la Plata is only a shadow of its former self. One elderly resident of the area recalls twenty years ago when shoals of hammerheads and other sharks could be seen along the reef systems that hug the edge of this deep water island. With our studies into this population revealing that they might well migrate into waters where there is a directed fishery for them, coupled with the damage caused by indiscriminate fishing methods, the question has to be: How long will it be before this population dwindles? Will the biggest aggregation of Manta birostris known, become a victim of fishing practices before it has a chance to be properly saved, like the hammerheads that have disappeared from the area years before?

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