In July 2009 National Geographic Magazine (NGM) published a article on a unique feeding aggregation of manta rays at Hanifaru Bay in the Maldives. I photographed the feature and the text featured the scientific work of Save our Seas Foundation manta ray scientist Guy Stevens.
The decision by us (Thomas Peschak & Guy Stevens) to publish this feature about Hanifaru in NGM was not taken lightly.
In 2008 the site and its manta rays enjoyed no official protection and the island of Hanifaru was earmarked and licensed for commercial development.
It was through the NAT GEO article and the associated publicity that Hanifaru was proclaimed a marine reserve in 2009 and the development plans were stopped.
Of course we knew that the article was going result in more visitors to Hanifaru. However well regulated marine tourism can be the manta rays and the marine environments saving grace.
The greater the economic value of each living manta ray, the greater the incentive to look after them. This is especially important at a time when Manta ray gill rakers are becoming more and more popular in traditional Chinese medicines and prices paid to fishermen are on the increase.
One of us (Guy Stevens) has spent much of his time since the marine reserve proclamation working closely with the Maldivian authorities to ensure that regulations and a policing strategy would be in place for the 2010 season.
Despite consistent pressure and much to our disappointment the wheels of bureaucracy did not turn fast enough to ensure the implementation of the necessary management and policing in time for the 2010 season, resulting in an unsustainable level of tourism at the site.
The Save our Seas Foundation offered the government sponsorship of a patrol vessel specifically to police the marine reserve for the 2010 season and beyond. However the offer was not taken up due major political restructuring in the Maldives. The government however has indicated that they would take up the offer of the patrol boat in 2011.
We are currently in the Maldives and have just witnessed and documented equally high tourism pressures on another manta dive site (Manta Point - Lankan) further to the south, where many hundreds of divers visit this site per day. While it was visually shocking to see 100 divers surrounding a few manta rays at once, if the tourists are respectful and consciences, their impact can be minimal. In fact for well over a decade this location has been one of the most visited manta ray dive sites in the world and despite these heavy levels of tourism and zero official regulations, manta rays have continued to frequent this cleaning station in consistent numbers.
However there is a limit to the manta ray’s tolerance in the face of ever increasing tourism pressure in the Maldives. Therefore it is important that pro-active steps are taken to ensure the sustainable management of marine tourism at these economically and ecologically important sites.
We are about to leave for Sri Lanka to continuo our documentation of a large-scale fishery for manta rays and mobulas. Photographing and surveying the fish markets, walking along rows and rows of dead rays and watching gill raker after gill raker being hacked out of the carcasses, really puts the realities of tourism vs. fisheries impacts into perspective.
To see photographs from Manta Point Lankan and Sri Lanka visit
Thomas P. Peschak & Guy Stevens
Save our Seas Foundation
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19 Nov 2010 - 15:14