They swoop in circles and fly through the water like giant kites in the sky: manta rays are one of the most graceful living things. These ocean angels are also one of the most endangered.
But there is good news on the horizon: Indonesia is to establish the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary. It will protect an area of 2.2million square miles of the Indian Ocean by law from fishing; an area which is part of the Coral Triangle, the world’s most bio-diverse waters, roughly between Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. At approximately 10 times the size of the UK, the sanctuary is a substantial drop in the ocean.
On the eastern edge of Indonesia, lies an archipelago of tiny islands known as Raja Ampat. Located in the centre of the Coral Triangle, the region is deemed to be an epicentre for biodiversity – especially in regards to fish species, boasting over 1500 species.
The biggest achievement for the region to date is that of the creation of Indonesia’s first Shark and Ray Sanctuary, which prohibits the fishing of these species across an area of 46,000 km². With the help of the Conservation International, WildAid, The Nature Conservancy and the Coral Reef Alliance, the sanctuary officially became regional law in February 2013. It was the first of its kind in all of Indonesia and the Coral Triangle, and a huge accomplishment for a country that boasts the largest shark and ray fisheries in the world.
The Regency Law states that all shark species are protected in Raja Ampat waters, as well as all rays in the families Pristidae (sawfishes), Rhinidae (shark rays/guitarfish), Rhyncobatidae (wedge or shovelnose rays), Myliobatidae (eagle rays) and Mobulidae (manta and mobula rays). It also goes as far as to include all dugongs, cetaceans, and sea turtles as protected species in Raja Ampat waters. This means that no destructive practices can take place involving any of these species in the waters of the Sanctuary, which provided it is enforced, is excellent news for them all.
The sanctuary is sure to have an enormously positive impact on the whole area, but there is no doubt that it will affect the local mantas tremendously. Not only is Raja Ampat a magical place for an array of marine life but it just so happens to be a manta hotspot with incredibly unique characteristics. In the South Misool Region there is a site that boasts to be the only known place where both species, oceanic mantas (Manta birostris) and reef mantas (Manta Alfredi), are not only found on the same site, but are also found to be interacting with one another! Another incredible element is the number of black morph mantas in the area, of both species, a sight that is not witnessed in every population. Finally one of the most magical things to be witnessed is the sheer number of heavily pregnant females of both the oceanic and reef variety. This means only one thing it is very possible that nearby lies one of the best kept manta secrets, the place where a manta gives birth. It still is yet to be seen in the wild but we are all keeping our fins crossed and our eyes into the blue waters of Raja Ampat for a chance to see one of the biggest manta mysteries unveiled
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