The Australian coast boasts several celebrities of the ray community, for example an exceptionally old black manta ray known as Taurus, and his even more spectacular conspecific: a unique pink manta ray that was named Inspector Clouseau, in reference to the Pink Panther cartoons. These conspicuous sea creatures attract a lot of media attention and are a major draw for tourists. At the same time, the Red List classifies manta rays as vulnerable to extinction in the wild, threatened mainly by the fishing industry. The value of a dead manta ray on fish markets in different countries varies between $41-200, a small sum compared to an estimated $100,000-1.9 million that can be generated by each animal throughout its lifespan through manta ray watching tourism. Efforts have therefore been made in certain countries, such as Indonesia, to protect rays and to promote manta ray watching tourism. Shifting from unsustainable fishing to tourism however is not easy. Another difficulty with ecotourism in general is the fact that there are no international regulations to ensure the sustainability of activities labeled as ecotourism. Badly managed tourism can have negative impacts, not least through disturbing the animals when the sites get too crowded. For this reason, scientists suggest to examine the impacts and to establish a code of conduct for each species affected.
Sources: O’Malley, Mary P., Katie Lee-Brooks and Hannah B. Medd, “The Global Economic Impact of Manta Ray Watching Tourism”, PLOS ONE, (2013).