The are the gentle giants of the ocean, weighing as much as 1400 kilograms. But an emerging market in Chinese medicine for gill rakers is threatening global populations of giant manta rays.
Now, amid increasing international efforts to curb the decline, the federal government will today protect the species – found predominantly in the tropical waters of northern Australia – under national environment law.
An investigation last year found the main driver of the manta ray’s decline is rapidly increasing demand from Chinese and other markets for gill rakers – thin filaments that rays use to filter food from water – to be dried and boiled as medicines.
The group’s report found gill rakers were fetching on average $US251 a kilogram in Guangzhou in southern China, where 99 per cent of the world’s product is sold. Targeted fishing of rays occurs predominantly in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Peru and China.
The report says local traders are spruiking gill rakers as a way to boost the immune system, while others claim it can treat ailments like chickenpox and even cancer.
Under the protections, the giant ray will be listed as a migratory species, making it an offence to take, trade, keep, or move the species from Commonwealth waters. Fishers will now also have to report any interactions with a giant manta ray as is the case with other protected species such as dugongs and whale sharks.