Natural Capital Valuation and Protection of Marine Megafauna – Update on Manta Ray Protection

Photo by: Ray Van Eden

Photo by: Ray Van Eden

In a post last year I pointed to the action by the Indonesian government to make its entire 6 million square kilometer exclusive economic zone a sanctuary for manta rays as an example of growing recognition by governments of the ecosystem service value of natural capital.

The threat to mantas through hunting was highlighted in a haunting new documentary, Racing Extinction, which debuted worldwide on Discovery Channel earlier this month. The film followed the efforts of photojournalist/ marine conservationist Shawn Heinrichs to document the manta hunts in Lamakera, in a remote region of Indonesia. Heinrich learned that the hunts have a long tradition in this area, but until recently the number of mantas taken each year was relatively small. It was only in the last decade that the traditional hunting was transformed into a large-scale commercial fishery, fueled by the demand for manta gill rakers as an ingredient in Chinese medicine.

When the first images of a giant manta lit up the screen, a hush fell over the stunned crowd…Even the most hardened of the manta hunters were transfixed by beauty of a world they had only witnessed from the other end of a harpoon shaft. I noticed a row of small children, their wide eyes soaking up the images on the screen. For these children, a seed was planted and a brilliant transformation was already taking place.  Continue reading

Natural Capital Valuation and Protection of Marine Megafauna

Photo © Fabrice Jaine

I’ve noticed a number of positive and interesting developments as of late in the area of marine species protection, pointing to an increasing recognition, by policymakers, of the value of natural capital and associated ecosystem services, particularly the value arising from ecotourism.

In February of this year, the Government of Indonesia granted full protection to manta rays within its nearly 6 million square kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ), making it the world’s largest sanctuary for manta rays. This reverses the trend of the past three decades wherein Indonesia has had the dubious distinction of being home to the world’s largest fishery for sharks and rays. Why the reversal? It seem that studies showing that the ecotourism value of a manta ray is an estimated $1 million over its lifetime, as compared to the onetime value of several hundred dollars for its gill rakers and meat played a key role in persuading policymakers to take action to protect the iconic species.

A few weeks later, the President of Palau announced that the country’s entire 200 nautical mile EEZ will be declared a marine sanctuary and closed to commercial fishing and seabed mining.  This follows a move a few years earlier to declare Palau a shark sanctuary. In explaining the reasoning behind the moves Palau’s president noted that a dead shark is worth several hundred dollars, whereas a live shark is worth $1.9 million in tourism during its life span, and that his country will promote scuba diving, snorkelling and ecotourism as an alternative income to commercial fishing. Continue reading