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Manta Rays Killed for their Gills

Could a superstitious belief that has no proof that it works bring the Manta Ray to extinction?

If we as a global community continue to allow the killing of manta and mobula rays for their gills this could be a reality in our future.

According to conservation organizations Shark Savers and WildAid, researchers have found through intensive study that the purchasing desire of manta and mobula gills has risen considerably in the last decade. Why? The reason is tied mainly to traditional Chinese Medicine.

 photo by Marcelo Simoes

The Manta Ray of Hope Project has been following the sale of Manta Ray body parts for decades. In the end of the 20th century they started to notice that Asian markets were showing an increase in manta ray body parts available to the public for sale. In a report that the organization released in January, 2012, Chinese markets were showing an ability to sell the gill rakers of the manta ray and mobula ray for up to $500 per kilogram. Known in China as peng yu sai, traditional Chinese doctors Manta_Ray_Of_Hope-Gills2believe that the thin filaments of the gills have the ability to do healing acts like increase immune system function as well as cure cancer, male kidney problems, fertility issues, skin ailments, throat issues and chicken pox. Unfortunately for the well-being of the manta rays this has caused increased hunting despite the lack in proof that the gills of the mobula and manta rays have any health benefits whatsoever. In fact, it was reported that the official traditional Chinese medicine reference does not call for manta ray gill in any of the 6,400 remedies given. Even though there is no proof of gills offering health benefits it is estimated that over 60,000 kilograms of gill is sold every year, pulling in an estimated $11.3 million.

Beyond the tragedy of losing a creature that has shown itself to be intelligent and caring, the manta ray does have other positive effects for human beings that should be considered. It offers us an immense ability to create an ongoing income through tourism, much more than the $11.3 million coming in from their gills. Studies found that scuba diving companies around the world bring in around $100 million annually based on tourism that is centered solely on manta ray activities.

Unfortunately at this time there are no concrete numbers on the population estimates of manta rays, so we aren’t sure exactly how many have been lost through the Manta_Ray_Of_Hope-Gillsyears. But in some areas around the world it is being seen that catch amounts of manta rays has dropped by 50% in the last sixty years. For example, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has eleven manta and mobula rays on their Red List of Threatened Species, but only six have sufficient numbers data. This lack of knowledge has resulted in minimal international protection.

That is until now. Hopefully with the increase in research showing the importance of these beautiful creatures, the understanding that medicinal usage that isn’t founded should be brought to a stop…before it is too late.