Jon Hanson, via Wikimedia Commons
A giant manta ray swims through the water off Hin Muang, Thailand.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is celebrating "30 Days of the Ocean" in the month of June, and in honor of the organization's hat-tip to life undersea, we take a look, this final June weekend, at some of the organization's captivating marine life snapshots. Here, the eyes of a queen conch (
) peek out from under its shell in La Parguera, Puerto Rico.PHOTOS: 30 Days of the Ocean
Robert Schwemmer, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries
Kelp and sardines, just doing what they do, off Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.Whales Get Fishing Tips From Peers
This school of permits contains 60-80 individuals, each more than a foot long. The school was observed in the Dry Tortugas, Florida.PHOTOS: Shipwreck Hunt Turns Up 'Tar Lilies'
A Caribbean spiny lobster strolls on the sea floor. This photo was shot during a 2010 NOAA expedition in the U.S. Virgin Islands to map underwater habitats and the marine life they support.Deep-Sea Methane Ecosystem Found in Atlantic
DNA testing confirmed that the eggs pictured here were those of a loggerhead turtle, a marine reptile species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The testing was done by NOAA's Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, in Charleston, S.C., the only lab in the country dedicated to forensic analysis of marine species.PHOTOS: Sea Turtles From Shell to Surf
This manta ray coasts over a reef, in the process inviting much smaller fish to clean parasites and other debris off of it. Manta Rays are the largest type of ray in the ocean.The World's Biggest Manta Ray Sanctuary Created
Make way for the balloonfish, also known as a porcupine or spiny puffer fish. As its name suggests, it will swell up like a balloon when attacked.VIDEO: Flushed Fish Invading Oceans
Robert Schwemmer, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries
Off the California coast, a group of elephant seals sleeps in the sun on a sand dune on Active Point, San Miguel Island, part of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
With its distinctive reddish and white stripes, its gracefully flowing fins, and its menacing spine, not many fish can embody the beauty, mystery, and danger of the ocean quite like the lionfish. Although it's native to the Indo-Pacific region, lionfish were introduced to the Atlantic and are now found along the U.S. coast, from North Carolina to Florida, and in the Bahamas and Caribbean. The lionfish spells trouble for the balance of ecosystems and fisheries it invades, as it can out-compete native species for food and space. It lacks predators, has a voracious appetite, reproduces quicly, and is spreading fast.
The government of Peru has passed a resolution that bans fishing of giant manta rays in its waters and requires fishermen to release any accidentally caught mantas immediately back into the ocean. Peru joins a dozen other countries with manta protection laws, including its northern neighbor, Ecuador; between them, Peruvian and Ecuadorian waters hold the largest known population of the species in the world.
The move follows years of efforts by environmental organizations such as Planeta Océano, WildAid and The Manta Trust to advocate for the species’ protection and also promotemanta tourism, and comes eight months after Peruvian fishermen caught a 1-ton manta with a wingspan of 23 feet.
Found mostly in tropical and subtropical waters around the world, giant mantas are especially vulnerable to over-exploitation because of their low reproductive rate: They produce one pup on average every two to five years. They are declining throughout their range not just because of accidental capture in nets but also as a result of targeted fishing for their meat and for their gill plates, which filter out plankton as they swim and which are sold in China as a culinary delicacy and a medicinal cure-all.
In the words of a recent article in the New York Times, retailers there “claim that the gills are a time-tested panacea for modern ills, that they can increase the amount of breast milk, detoxify the blood, cure chickenpox, heal tonsillitis and clear a smoker’s lungs.”
WildAid estimates that the Chinese trade in manta gill plates is worth up to $30 million a year, and has found that it more than doubled between 2010 and 2013, likely in response to declining availability of large shark fins. However, a WildAid campaign may be nudging China toward adopting a ban on the gill trade, reports the NYT.
In the meantime, countries such as Peru are taking steps to protect the mantas in their waters — and, while lamenting that the new ban does not also cover the similarly threatened mobula rays, the Peruvian move has been warmly welcomed by the organization’s CEO, Peter Knights.
“Manta rays reproduce very, very slowly, and can be impacted by even limited fishing,” he said. “Peru’s new level of protection is vital to their survival and paves the way for the development of a sustainable manta ray tourism industry, which globally generates $140 million every year.”