Manta rays, which were only recognized as two distinct species in 2009, were recognized as globally threatened, migratory species in November 2011 for the first time on the IUCN redlist and the Convention for Migratory Species Act in recognition of the increased threat they face around the world.
Andrea outlines an epic year in conservation history:
Tofo Beach, Mozambique May 14th 2011: I was nervous and my palms were sweating. After about 12 months of research, writing and draft amendments, I submitted the new manta ray conservation assessments to the IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group for approval. With great care I, and other manta rays specialists from around the world, had put forth a recommendation to have both recognized species of Manta elevated to vulnerable to extinction. Despite the sobering reality that in fact the situation was actually very grave, I was thrilled at the possibility to have gathered enough information to show that manta rays need more protection and management.
Simon Frasier University, Canada June 14th 2011: After one of the longest waits of my life, the verdict finally came back…and it was positive! Relief surged through me. All of the tension of the last year melted away as I reflected on what this meant. Ecstatic doesn’t even begin to cover it. Manta rays are now rightfully listed as the vulnerable species that many of us knew they were all along. While the listings highlight a real cause for concern, their new status as vulnerable species also means that we may be afforded more leverage to do something about it!
Case and point: CMS.
Quito, Ecuador June 20th, 2011: The CMS focal point in Ecuador replies favorably to a proposal prepared by our office for the inclusion of both species of Manta on Appendix I & II of CMS. For interest sake, CMS Appendix I, is reserved for species that are threatened with extinction and obligates CMS Parties (currently numbering 116) to strictly protect the animals, conserve and restore their habitats, mitigate obstacles to their migration, and control other factors that might endanger them. CMS Appendix II includes migratory species that would significantly benefit from international co-operation for which CMS encourages global and/or regional agreements and concerted action. I could not believe our luck, they wanted to propose manta rays for both Appendix I & II! Things were looking up. A few short weeks later, Ecuador, with secondary support from Peru, submit the first EVER proposal for the inclusion of Manta birostris to the CMS secretariat.
Bergen, Norway Nov 25th 2011: Convention of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.
After moving testimony, careful debate and deliberation, focal points from around the world unanimously vote to protect the giant manta, Manta birostris, approving the nomination for Appendix I & II listing. For the record, CMS (http://www.cms.int/) is an intergovernmental treaty formed under the United Nations Environment Program with conferences taking place only every three years. The November 25th decision marks the first international agreement to protect the giant manta ray. It is also the first time a ray species has been listed on CMS and is one of the only times a shark or ray species has been approved for both Appendix I & II level protection. While Manta alfredi was ultimately not proposed for CMS listing by Ecuador, this species faces similar threats internationally and many Parties voiced their support for their listing at the next Conference of the Parties, in 2014!
I learned a lot this year about what it takes to change the world. The first lesson is that it is NOT easy. This challenge was fraught with complications, red tape and impossible deadlines. I still have no idea how we navigated through the process relatively unscathed. The second lesson is that NOTHING is achieved without collaboration. The entire process was about people coming together to achieve something for the greater good, in this case, for mantas. Everyone played their part and contributed where they knew how. But, perhaps the most significant lesson is that even the IMPOSSIBLE can be achieved with dedication and passion. When the idea of CMS listing this year was first proposed, it seemed like a pipedream. This final lesson may serve me best in future challenges. Nothing is outside our reach. Nothing.