MantaWatch

West Manggarai and Komodo Creates 7,000 km2 Shark and Manta Ray Sanctuary

In a country where the environment is very often sacrificed in the name of “business”, finally we welcome very good news that demonstrates that in Indonesia there are politicians more interested in the future of this wonderful land than the desire to fill their pockets.

The district Governor of West Manggarai and Komodo has designated his district’s entire marine and coastal waters as a shark and manta ray sanctuary (Governor’s Decree No. DKPP/1309/VIII/2013). Fishing is now prohibited for manta rays, sharks, and other threatened species, such as turtles, dugongs and napoleon wrasse throughout the district’s 7,000 km2 waters that extend up to 12 nautical miles offshore. This announcement extends existing conservation management within Komodo National Park’s 1,000 km2 marine habitats to now encompass the entire district.

One of the main problems of marine reserves, especially the largest ones, is the difficulty of patrolling and law enforcing. In this case, the total prohibition of forcing can be put into effect even directly from land, instead of an expensive patrol at sea. This should make it harder for criminals and smugglers to carry on their trade.

Manta rays are listed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’ under the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List, and they have been declared under the CITES protection in March 2013, together with some species of sharks particularly overfished. With females only producing two to three pups every five years, slow reproductive cycles mean that manta rays are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation. The huge demand from the Chinese market, due to the legend that the gill rakers of these animals have an action of “filtering toxins from the human body” is driving many manta populations down to their extinction.

“Our district of West Manggarai and Komodo is recognized as a world class marine tourism destination. By prohibiting fishing for these threatened species, we can ensure they will remain for future generations to enjoy”, said Mr Sebastinus Wantung, head of the district’s Marine and Fisheries Agency.

Water around West Manggarai and Komodo hosts one of the world’s richest marine biodiversity, including more than 10 shark species, two species of Manta Rays, and an incredible diversity of marine and terrestrial wildlife. “Manta watching tourism is worth an estimated US$15 million to Indonesia’s economy every year, and West Manggarai and Komodo is one of the premier destinations. The chance to see a manta ray draws divers and snorkelers from around the world”, said Andrew Harvey, Director of MantaWatch, an organization involved in manta ray studies and conservation projects around the world. “I applaud the Governor’s visionary leadership. This is a fantastic example of how local governments and the diving industry can work together to achieve positive impacts for the environment and the economy.”

The West Manggarai and Komodo shark and manta ray sanctuary signals a growing trend towards governmental awareness in Indonesia of the tremendous economic value of these species, and the urgent need for improved management. West Manggarai is the second bold district to create a shark and manta ray sanctuary, and follows the designation of a 46,000 km2 sanctuary in Raja Ampat in November 2012. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries is working with scientists and NGOs to establish regulations that will grant national-level protected status to several endangered shark and ray species.

The West Manggarai and Komodo district government invited MantaWatch to provide technical and legal advice, and worked with more than 20 local dive centres to develop proposals for the shark and manta ray sanctuary. Divers are now helping to monitor the sanctuary’s impacts on populations of threatened species by sharing their encounters on MantaTrax, a social web application developed by MantaWatch to promote open and participative marine conservation.

See www.mantawatch.com for more information.

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Francesco Ricciardi is a freelance photographer and journalist based in Bali. PhD in Marine Biology and diving instructor, he uses his camera to uncover the wonders of the Indonesian marine and terrestrial wildlife. His website: www.francescoricciardi.com


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