03:03 PM

Giant Manta Ray Proposed for Listing


Contact: Haley McKey, 202-772-0247, hmckey@defenders.org


Reef manta ray, also imperiled, denied further consideration


WASHINGTON (January 12, 2017) – The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed to list the giant manta ray as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. NMFS now has until November 10, 2017 to determine if the species will receive a final listing decision. However, the agency denied the equally imperiled reef manta ray any further consideration for listing. Defenders petitioned NFMS to list both the giant and reef manta ray species and to designate critical habitat on November 10, 2015.

Both species of manta ray are threatened by overfishing, fisheries bycatch and climate change impacts and both have experienced drastic population losses over the past few decades. Manta rays were listed in Appendix II at the 2013 Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and are listed in Appendix I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). 

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife Senior Staff attorney Jane Davenport:

“We’re pleased to see that the National Marine Fisheries Service is taking the plight of the giant manta seriously; we are concerned, however, that the agency has not proposed any actual legal protections for the species. We are disappointed that the agency did not propose to list the reef manta ray. Defenders of Wildlife will continue to fight for protections for reef manta rays and we will review the negative determination for this species and the science underlying it carefully.

“Both species face serious threats. Climate change is changing the distribution of their planktonic prey and damaging the health of their coral reef habitats. Microplastic pollution is a growing threat to these filter feeders. Manta rays are also victims of an all-too-familiar exploitation, where a big animal is killed for a small, but very lucrative, part of its body. The trade in manta ray gill plates has exploded in recent years, and low reproductive rates means that these slow-growing populations simply cannot keep up with the insatiable demand. When you add the thousands of manta rays that are killed as bycatch in nets meant for other fish, you get two species on the brink of crisis.

“Endangered Species Act protection would provide increased legal safeguards for manta rays to help ensure their survival, and would restrict the entry of manta ray gill plates into the United States. The United States should be a leader on conserving both species. Defenders of Wildlife will continue fighting to bring an end to the wasteful gill trade and all other threats to manta rays.”





Overfishing and the gill plate trade

·         Manta rays are large, filter-feeding fish that live in temperate, tropical and sub-tropical waters. They are related to skates and sharks.

·         Manta rays are victims of overfishing due to the increasing trade in their gill plates, which filter plankton out of the water as the rays use their horn-like fins to funnel water into their large mouths.

·          This filtering process has likely led to the unsupported, recent belief that eating dried and crushed manta ray gill plates detoxifies human blood and aids in curing everything from chicken pox to cancer. These false medical claims have led to one pound of manta ray gill plates being worth more than $300. A mature giant manta ray can yield up to 15 pounds of dried gill plates.

·         As other valuable fish stocks become depleted, fishermen are now targeting mantas not only for their gill plates but also as a cheap substitute or filler in shark fin soup.

·         Significant bycatch of mantas also occurs in purse seine, gillnet, and trawl fisheries targeting other species.


Loss of coral reef habitat


·         Manta rays live around the world in tropical to temperate waters. All mantas rely on coral reefs, which make up only 0.2 percent of the marine environment, but house 25% of all marine life.

·         The fish species that live around reefs provide “cleaning stations,” where they help rid the rays of parasites. Coral reefs also serve as important feeding and breeding locations for mantas.

·         As coral reef habitats are severely degraded due to climate change, manta rays are losing these vital habitats. Climate change also affects the amount and distribution of oceanic plankton in the ocean, which manta rays feed on exclusively.


Slow reproduction

·         Some manta rays don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re 15 years old, and even then they only typically have one pup every two to five years. This means that manta populations cannot bounce back from the decimation caused by overfishing. Manta rays are being pulled from the oceans faster than they can reproduce.

·         Even with the strictest protections, it will take decades for manta rays to recover from the unsustainable overexploitation they have experienced.


·         ESA protections would help ensure manta rays’ survival, especially by helping to ensure that the US is not a marketplace or a transshipment point for the manta ray gill plate trade. For National Marine Fisheries Service listings, endangered species get legal protections but threatened species do not, unless the agency issued a final species-specific rule enumerating which of the ESA's protections will apply, and in what circumstances.



Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.