Fiji's bid for CMS protection of manta and devil rays



Posted on 26 June 2014  | 
Manta ray, Manta birostris, over table corals. Manta rays are the largest rays and are closely related to sharks. These harmless fish have a short tail, a flat body, and no stinging spine. Rays have no bones, only cartilage. Mantas are very acrobatic; they can even leap from the water. Phoenix Islands, Kiribati
© WWF Canon/Cat Holloway Enlarge
Fiji has taken a significant step towards protecting manta rays, a species related to the shark, in waters throughout the Pacific last week.

Fiji, one of the countries that have signed up to the international Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), proposed that reef manta rays and nine different species of devil rays should get enhanced global protection under the Convention.

“We are delighted the Fijian government has taken this decisive action,” said Ian Campbell, WWF’s Global Shark Initiative Manager.

“Fiji has really stepped up to the plate on a global scale. Rays are often overlooked when it comes to protecting endangered species, yet these are some of the most endangered species on the planet facing a realistic possibility of extinction.

“If Fiji’s proposals are successful, then a significant step will have been taken to protect species synonymous with the South Pacific. Reef mantas, alongside sharks & turtles, are iconic species in the region, and are a huge draw for the world’s diving community.

“At WWF we will be doing all we can to assist Fiji in getting these conservation measures agreed & passed.”

In total, 33 species were proposed as requiring special protection, including polar bears, the lion and the red-fronted gazelle. Fiji was one of 14 countries to nominate animals needing protection.

Manta rays belong to the same family as sharks because their skeleton is made of a material called cartilage. Cartilage is similar to bone but lacks the chemical that makes bone hard.

They feed by trapping planktons and other food through a suction motion and thus somewhat behave like vacuum cleaners of the ocean, maintaining the health and functions of marine ecosystems.

But more needs to be known about their role in the ocean environment but because they have a low reproductive rate, overfishing threatens their existence.

Reef manta rays are thus listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their migratory habits mean they need protection across a range of waters so the proposal from Fiji for their protection on CITES is worthy of applause.

Ends..
Manta ray, Manta birostris, over table corals. Manta rays are the largest rays and are closely related to sharks. These harmless fish have a short tail, a flat body, and no stinging spine. Rays have no bones, only cartilage. Mantas are very acrobatic; they can even leap from the water. Phoenix Islands, Kiribati
© WWF Canon/Cat Holloway Enlarge
Spotted eagle rays, Aetobatus narinari hunt for crustaceans and small fish hiding among coral reefs. Fiji
© WWF Canon Enlarge

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