Manta rays gliding through the ocean on their seven meter wingspan are a spectacular sight. Yet, these plankton-eating giants are easily tangled in fishing gear, and are targeted for local consumption and their gill plates, which are used in Chinese medicine. Globally the species is classified as Vulnerable with a suspected population reduction of 30% over the last 75 years, however localised declines can be as high as 80%.
Kerstin established Planeta Océano in 2009 to conserve marine life in the waters surrounding Peru. Working with coastal communities, Kerstin has built support for the protection of mantas, reaching over 200,000 people to date. Thanks to her team’s work, it is now illegal to capture, retain, commercialize or consume mantas in Peru.
Whilst a dead manta is worth $40-500 USD, manta ray tourism can bring in $1 million USD during the life of a single ray. For the first time in Peru, local fishers are being supported by Planeta Océano to develop responsible manta ecotourism. An association of entrepreneurial fishers has been setup and over 50 fishers have received training. With new income streams from tourism, fishers are starting to release incidentally-captured mantas with the knowledge that they are worth more alive.
KERSTIN’S project will:
- Strengthen capacity for community-based manta ecotourism, giving fishers in Peru the technical and financial support to become conservation ambassadors.
- Involve 100 citizen scientists with data collection and monitoring to enhance understanding of manta ecology in this region.
- Expand environmental awareness and education activities to inspire appreciation of rays among 700 youth in Peru and Ecuador.
- Ramp up efforts to reduce accidental by-catch, bringing together organisations for the first time to address the issue.
Why it matters:
- Peru and Ecuador are thought to host the largest population of giant manta rays on Earth.
- Tumbes, where Kerstin works, is home to turtles, whale sharks, dolphins and humpback whales.
- Mantas have a very low reproductive rate, putting them at greater risk of extinction.
“We are all part of this planet ocean… It depends on all of us to conserve it.”
Images: The Rolex Awards for Enterprise
Film footage: Pronto Prod, The Rolex Awards for Enterprise