Saturday, December 13, 2014

Do Maui's Manta Rays need saving?

This is by far the biggest threat facing global Manta Ray populations - source.

No don't worry.

I'm not about to totally blast this and call it a scam.
Mark Deakos is certainly a good man who cares deeply, and the projects he is suggesting are certainly legit.

But of course there has to be a BUT! :)
Assuming that there are only so many people willing to invest only so much money into Mobulid conservation - is that the best way to invest those 75 grand?
Yes those Maui Manta Rays may be inconvenienced and some may even fall victim to accidental entanglements - but nobody is actively trying to kill them, and I really have a very hard time believing that the Hawaiian population is at risk of extinction like asserted, meaning that in reality, they also don't need to be "saved"!
Surely the real problems facing Manta Ray conservation are their continued wholesale persecution in e.g. the Subcontinent and Asia, and the challenge of enforcing local protections but also the CITES regulations in order to curb the totally unsustainable disgrace that is the gill raker trade - or not?
And when it comes to the Mobulids in general, surely the biggest and most urgent conservation challenge is to obtain the population data and the other science that are the prerequisites for a CITES listing of the Mobulas - and oh yes, I'm very much talking to you, slow hand clapping mobula fan!

I say, better send your money to the Manta Trust.
This is really the clearing house for global Manta and Mobula conservation, and Guy Stevens, DaMary, Shawn  & Co are probably best suited for conducting the required triage and directing any funds to where they are most needed - including to Deakos who is one of the project leaders!

Or am I missing something here?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you are absolutely right. Hawaii's manta ray populations must be some of the most well protected on the planet. The exctinction claim seems very far fetched.

Mark Deakos said...

Somebody forwarded this comment so I thought I would take the opportunity to respond. First off, I totally respect a healthy and honest conversation about the facts so my appreciation for expressing your thoughts and concerns. Everything we know about manta rays, at least the reef-associating, resident "Manta alfredi" species, suggests they are geographically isolated stocks, meaning each stock must be managed independently since they are not replenished by neighboring stocks. My preliminary data suggests that even Maui’s population is a distinct stock from the Kona population (genetics will confirm), meaning that even if the Kona population is well managed, Maui’s population could still be depleted. With only 300+ mantas in Maui and 180+ in Kona, their late maturity (maybe 10 years old) and females giving birth to only a single pup every 2-3 years, it doesn’t take much to deplete the stock. The real question we need to know (as with any population) is how many animals can be removed from the population each year for the population to sustain itself (same with fish, lobster, turtles, etc.). Nobody knows if the Hawaii manta populations are increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable. My data indicates that sighting rates have dropped by over 50% in the past 3 years alone compared with 10 years ago. Does this mean they are dying or just spending time somewhere else? I don’t know, but this is information we need to know to effectively manage the population. How does the loss of a cephalic fin affect an individual’s survivorship? I don’t know, but if 10% of the population is affected, we should find out. As for Hawaii's manta on the brink of extinction, I'm not sure where that quote was taken from, I certainly don't support that claim. Yes, they are heavily hunted in places like Indonesia and much work should and is being done in these areas by groups like Manta Trust, as you suggested. That being said, if we are going to tell other countries how they should behave and manage their marine resources, we need to clean up our own backyards and lead by example. Maui has lost 25% of it’s reefs in the past decade alone and there is no indication that the trend is going to stop with a massive push for coastal development and shoreline hardening with seawalls, both posing a serious threat to our reefs and the marine life that depend on them. The best use of our charitable donations will always be subjective but to say that we know Hawaii's manta ray populations are healthy and being sustained is premature at best. Once again, I very much appreciate an open dialogue and I do encourage you to support Manta Trust as they are also doing very good work. Aloha, Mark

Mark Deakos said...

It also maybe worth mentioning the revenue manta rays generate in Hawaii either directly through the manta ray snorkel and dive operations, or indirectly through marketing to tourists our beautiful resources here in Hawaii. Much like the whales, they are charismatic megafauna and capture peoples attention. So the $75K pales in comparison to the revenue the mantas generate state wide. It would take well over $200K to properly manage these populations. We all like to pick fruit from the tree but few people stick around to actually water the tree once in a while and then wonder why the tree eventually dies. The mantas currently represent much more than just mantas, they are the current face of Olowalu Reef, 1000 acres of what is the last few remaining healthy reefs in Maui. A Saddle wrasse probably wouldn't generate as much care and attention to protecting this reef as much as these gentle giants. So healthy manta ray populations in Maui serve as a proxy for much more than just manta rays, but an entire reef ecosystem.

Anonymous said...

It is incredibly disappointing that anyone would blast a legit conservation effort being lead by an obviously qualified scientist who has worked with this particular population of animals for over ten years. If you think that legal protection prevents bycatch and illegal activities I wish I lived in your utopia, but I think your view is very short sighted and quite frankly ignorant. You owe Dr. Deakos an apology.

DaShark said...

"It is incredibly disappointing that anyone would blast a legit conservation effort being lead by an obviously qualified scientist"

What part of
I'm not about to totally blast this and call it a scam. Mark Deakos is certainly a good man who cares deeply, and the projects he is suggesting are certainly legit.
did you not understand?

"If you think that legal protection prevents bycatch and illegal activities I wish I lived in your utopia"

What part of
Surely the real problems facing Manta Ray conservation are ... and the challenge of enforcing local protections but also the CITES regulations
did you not understand?

As for the utopia we live in.
Please check out our website - you can find it at the top of this blog, right-hand side.

DaShark said...

Hi Mark

Thank you for your exhaustive reply, very interesting!

First things first - you don't refer to extinction expressis verbis - but you state that the Mantas need saving, that the population is under serious threat and that it may drop beyond a point at which recovery may be possible, which obviously suggests the same.

Now, you state that different stocks need to be managed differently (true) which of course raises the thorny issue of what is the smallest taxonomic entity deserving protection which has been the bane of conservation efforts in e.g. limnology etc. From the gut, methinks the buck should stop at the species level - but of course a species is what a geneticist tells you it is, and with Will White et al continuing to split up those species complexes = describing ever new species, this issue will certainly require some soul searching - but not here and now.

Where I'm coming from is that at a time where global biodiversity is under severe threat and at the same time, funding becomes ever more challenging, we need to set priorities. It is a zero sum game, meaning that the resources (= man hours devoted to research and conservation, money etc) invested into secondary projects ultimately affect the outcome of other more vital endeavors.
That is a central theme of this blog.

I'm invested in shark research and conservation that is being plagued by widespread duplication of efforts, internecine fights and resulting squandering of resources.
With that in mind, I've always greatly admired (and envied!) mobulid conservation for its cohesiveness insofar as initiatives like the Manta Ray of Hope project and the Manta Trust have been able to reunite all the big names around the common cause and, I thought, direct global efforts ( and resources) towards where they were most needed.

With that in mind, the gist of the post is "Although this is legit, maybe there are more pressing issues in mobulid conservation. Best send your money to the global clearing house that will conduct the necessary triage and direct the funds to where they are most needed - including to you if that issue is being deemed to be urgent".
But maybe I'm wrong and there is no such coordination? If so, it would be a real shame!

Regarding the value of tourism Mantas.
I of course totally agree. If you care to peruse this link etc, you will discern that we run a micro-project that integrates tourism, research and conservation. 100% of the conservation effort is being funded out of cash flow, plus a levy we collect from the tourists. Much of the research is being funded through micro-grants by SOSF and SF (acting as global clearing houses) plus an enormous amount of pro bono work.

Maybe that (= locally generated user fees) could be a template worth exploring?
In my experience, provided that they are being educated, tourist are more than happy to contribute to conservation research. What is the involvement of the local dive operators that are ultimately profiting from the resource - would they be amenable to collecting such a levy, the more as it would not impinge on their cash flow?

Anyway, thank you for your reply.
Good talking, and godspeed!

Mark Deakos said...

DaShark,

Thanks for your exhaustive rebuttal!

Some replies below:

"methinks the buck should stop at the species level"

Not sure I agree here but it is a subjective topic. I personally think there is a top down and bottom up approach, both needed. You can conserve through laws and legislation but what seems to be working better in todays world is a community based approach where each community takes responsibility for their own backyard. It makes it more manageable and empowers the people, many whom are disappointed with goverment.

"It is a zero sum game, meaning that the resources (= man hours devoted to research and conservation, money etc) invested into secondary projects ultimately affect the outcome of other more vital endeavors."

Fundraising is an art that I have not mastered and many of the best scientists and those doing the best work, haven't mastered it either. It's a public relations game and I would bet that a majority of conservation funds provide very little benefit to conservation. So do your due diligence before you give money, as you are. My last 10 years of research have been mostly on blood, sweat, and tears, not through deep pockets so I can pretty much guarantee every penny for my campaign will be stretched to the max, most likely for equipment and not salaries.

"I'm invested in shark research and conservation that is being plagued by widespread duplication of efforts, internecine fights and resulting squandering of resources."

No duplication of efforts in Hawaii, I'm the only one doing this type of work here, at the moment.

"With that in mind, I've always greatly admired (and envied!) mobulid conservation for its cohesiveness insofar as initiatives like the Manta Ray of Hope project and the Manta Trust have been able to reunite all the big names around the common cause and, I thought, direct global efforts ( and resources) towards where they were most needed."

I work closely with Manta Ray of Hope and Manta Trust, we support each others work.

"Best send your money to the global clearing house that will conduct the necessary triage and direct the funds"

Not that simple, there are collaborative efforts in which groups share resources and expertise and independent efforts to do regional work. We all give and take.

"Maybe that (= locally generated user fees) could be a template worth exploring?"

I think it needs to be a global fee that is collected from tourists as they entire and leave the state, similar to places like Yap and Palau, which generates significant income for conservation. No company, whether you benefit from mantas or not, is going to want to be singled out to pay into resource protection. Personally I would think they would want to preserve their livelihood, but that's not the world we live in.

I would like to mention this: there are a number of great scientists doing extraordinary research and we are learning more and more about the stressors and what we need to do to sustain the resources every year. The problem is managing resources is about managing behavior and if you never change behavior, no matter how much discovery you get, the resource is depletted. Every conservation project should invest half of its budget on addressing behavior change but since social science is often viewed as "soft science", it is often dismissed as true science. Unfortunately, true change will only occur with behavior change and studies have shown that education alone does little to change behavior. I'm happy to say my work has a social science component to it. Community Based Social Marketing is my new hope for the future (www.cbsm.com).

Thanks for the healthy discussion and I look forward to your contribution to my campaign (www.savemauimantas.org)! ;-)

DaShark said...

Thanks Mark!

As this is an oldish post, I've re-posted a link to your comments here so people will hopefully read it and get more educated about your efforts.

Just one last comment.
I think it needs to be a global fee that is collected from tourists as they entire and leave the state, similar to places like Yap and Palau, which generates significant income for conservation. No company, whether you benefit from mantas or not, is going to want to be singled out to pay into resource protection. Personally I would think they would want to preserve their livelihood, but that's not the world we live in.

Possibly - personally I don't like the idea of bureaucrats managing those funds, the more as so much will be lost to admin.
We here in Fiji (and we're not the only ones) levy a fee ON TOP of the price of diving, meaning that such a fee has no incidence on the operators' cash flow.
Provided that it is being explained, tourists love it = besides generating funds, it is good marketing.

Good talking - thanks for the clarifications!