Manta rays are one of the most fascinating and unique ocean creatures. As the largest of all the rays, giant manta rays can reach up to 22 feet.
But we have been shocked to discover that Alibaba.com, the world’s largest business-to-business commerce website, with over 65 million registered users, is selling manta ray leather. We are asking you to sign a letter to the president and founder of Alibaba.com to urge this company to stop selling manta ray products.
Today, the world’s manta rays are in trouble, because fisheries are pushing many populations toward collapse. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies giant mantas and reef mantas as “vulnerable,” to extinction, and the trends for the majority of manta populations remain unknown.
What’s driving the development of fisheries for manta rays? These animals are prized for several body parts, including their skin, which is made into “leather,” their gill rakers (bony structures inside their gills), which are ground to a powder for traditional Chinese medicine, and their cartilage, which is used as a filler in shark-fin soup. Demand for manta ray parts continues to rise, even though there are available substitutes for manta ray leather, gill rakers have been found to have no medicinal qualities, and cartilage adds no flavor to shark-fin soup.
Only once these products are taken off the market and the overall demand from manta ray parts is reduced do these vulnerable animals have a shot at recovery.
In spite of their formidable size, these ocean giants are not to be feared: they are gentle plankton-feeders that spend their time gliding peacefully through the open ocean of the tropics. There are two species of manta rays, and the chance to see an individual in the wild draws scores of tourists each year to manta ray “hotspots” in locales such as Hawaii, Micronesia, and Mozambique.
Like their shark relatives, manta rays are long-lived and mature slowly. They give birth to live pups every two to three years. These characteristics make manta rays extremely susceptible to overfishing, because populations can be fished out faster than they can be replaced. And once a manta ray population is depleted, it may take decades for full recovery to occur.