Saturday, 19 January 2013

News from Peru

This following press release summarises work carried out by a collaborative team of which I am and active member. In Jan/Feb 2014 we are planning a tagging expedition to the region. If you would like to be part of that expedition, please email me here. To download the original press release (with images) from my site, click here. Press Release joint collaborative project for mantas and mobulas, Peru. Development of a conservation project in the north of Peru has made significant inroads into understanding the human impact on manta and mobula populations in the region; but ‘there is still a long way to go’, say the leaders collaborating on the project. Peruvian conservation NGO Planeta Oceano, shark and ray conservationists Shawn Heinrichs and Mary O’Malley, and British manta conservationist and Manta Trust project leader Mark Harding formed a team in late 2011. The project aims to collaborate closely with fishing communities to identify risks to internationally threatened species of manta and mobula rays that are found off the coast of Peru’s Northern provinces and to investigate a possible migratory link between manta rays in Peru and Ecuador. Northern Peru is host to an aggregation of Oceanic Manta Rays (Manta birostris), a highly vulnerable species that is believed to take 10 or more years to mature and gives birth to only one pup every two to five years. Peru also holds a considerable population of mobula rays, species that are close relatives of the mantas and also of international conservation concern. Both rays are sometimes used in the local food dish ‘Chinguirito’. Oceanic mantas are reported by fishermen to migrate with the seasons to and from Ecuador where Mark Harding was the first person to begin researching these mantas back in 2005. This regional population of these rare and iconic animals is considered to be one of the most significant in the world. Planeta Oceano’s director Kerstin Forsberg says “We are turning up regular and exciting aspects of the behaviour of mantas and mobulas in the region, and also learning a great deal about the trends followed by the fishing communities there. This could be the key to conserving these species as well as helping local communities to develop more lucrative tourism revenue from the rays. Giant Mantas are a greatly sought after ‘megafauna’ (marine version of Elephants and Lions) and people will travel from all over the world to come and see them. We have already identified one regular aggregation point for the mantas and we know the likelihood of more sites existing is really high. However the most exciting thing we have found is that pregnant females and also juvenile mantas are present along the northern coastline. Manta rays have been part of Peruvian culture since pre-Incan times, showing on artwork made between 200BCE - 600CE, so to be working with these rays and to discover that Peru could be an internationally significant nursery site is very exciting”. Neighbouring Ecuador has spearheaded international conservation for Giant Mantas starting with national protection in 2010 throughout Ecuador’s waters and followed by their 2011 proposal to list the Giant Manta on the Convention on Migratory Species, an international treaty that encourages nations to cooperate to protect severely threatened animals that migrate across national borders. Success at CMS encouraged Ecuador, along with Brazil and Colombia, to propose Manta rays for international trade protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in 2012. This March in Bangkok, Thailand, the 177 countries that are party to this binding international treaty will vote on the proposal. Mark Harding says, “With a high likelihood that Peru shares the same Giant Manta population with Ecuador, as well as being host to a nursery site that could be critical to the survival of this important manta population, we hope that Peru will join Ecuador by implementing protective measures for Giant Mantas whilst they are in Peruvian waters and supporting the CITES proposal this March”. This project is already attracting international attention and we are pleased to announce the recent grant from the New England Aquarium support this work. Collaborators continue to look for further funding as the future plans for the project are considerable. Guy Stevens, director of international manta conservation group, The Manta Trust says “We know so little about the lives of these beautiful ocean giants, so projects like this are extremely important to the global understanding and conservation of these charismatic animals, especially in the face of the increasing global threats now faced by these species. Unfortunately, in today’s commercial world our marine resources must earn their protection, as simply attempting to gain protection based purely on intrinsic values alone will not work. Science is the tool which enables conservationists, nations and the international community to make informed and worthwhile decisions which can help curb the growing pressures exerted upon our planet’s oceans and their inhabitants, paving the way for a more sustainable approach to the utilisation of our natural heritage. This multifaceted approach to the conservation of these species in Peru will be the key to its continued success.”