The road to conservation of marine mega fauna never is an easy one. Their migratory nature and other (mostly economic) interests in a region make it difficult to succeed in reaching agreement for conservation measures. This was also the case for the Peruvian giant manta rays; the Manta Birostris.
Only since the beginning of 2016 the giant rays have gained nationwide protection in Peru. The event made sure regional protection for these majestic animals was achieved, since earlier Ecuador passed the same legislation to protect mantas in its waters too. Planeta Oceano, together with other NGO's has done crucial working in reaching this conservation success.
When earlier last year a population of manta rays was discovered in Peru the manta became nation wide news. After many months of efforts to involve local communities researching the rays this breakthrough made that things started to roll for Planeta Oceano. Finally, the government agreed with the protection and to collaborate with plans to start researching the mantas more and explore ecotourism for these animals in the North west of Peru.
This portfolio contains images of the Peruvian giant mantas, the area in which they are found as well as the conservation efforts by Planeta Oceano that are ongoing at this very moment.
As mentioned, the key driver behind all this is Planeta Oceano. The NGO is working hard to conserve and restore coastal marine environments by engaging stakeholders like the local communities, but also governmental organizations and other NGO's. We followed its interns and volunteers on the beaches, inside schools and on the sea to document their work.
With Planeta Oceano's dedication and guidance a group of fishermen currently is starting up their ecotourism tours for viewing the mantas and other wildlife in the sea. Many already provide necessary data for the ongoing research efforts of the organization. Sightings of manta rays are recorded and relayed when they are observed. Mantas that get entangled are now released. In case a manta has been accidentally killed in a fishing net then fishermen are urged to share samples for DNA research.
The Manta Club program is focused on Peru's new generations. Making schoolkids more aware of the manta rays and their place in the marine ecosystem should enforce strong committment to the conservation of this species. Volunteers and interns of Planeta Oceano visit schools to talk to the schoolkids about manta rays. Periodically interns measure the knowledge of these schoolkids to assess the programs success. School teachers are happy with the opportunity to teach the kids about the Peruvian wildlife with teaching material provided for Manta Club. Older schoolkids can even join the organization during visits to fishermen to talk about their relationship with the sea and the animals that live in it.
In the meantime Zorritos, which is at the hart of the foraging area of the Manta Rays is turned into Manta Capital by local artists. The son of one of the fishermen has create some amazing murals showing what this town cares about; the mantas.
But, manta rays are not the only giants that inhabit the marine environment around Tumbes. Seasonally giant humpback whales and whalesharks frequent the area. Humpbacks come here to mate and to give birth to their offspring. While mother and calf pairs use these waters for resting and nursing, other whales participate in boisterous heatruns to make up which male is able to mate with a female.
Whalesharks gulp up thousands of liters of plankton rich seawater in the thick green inshore waters, much like the mantas do. Just like mantas they are ramfilter feeders, which means they swim for hours on end with open mouth to filter food from the seawater. The actual filtering of plankton is done using filter pads while the water is pushed out through their gills.
That the work of NGO's like Planeta Oceano is far from over is to be seen in the area. Starting up ecotours from scratch is a longterm process, but the potential is there and the willingness too. Also more is to be learned about the mantas and the way they use these waters, so research is expected to continue in the near future.
I feel that NGO's in the North of Peru have more to worry about though. Artisanal fishermen complained more than once during our visit about the offshore corporate steered fishing fleets that empty Peru's waters. Fish that do not seem to be destined for Peruvian markets are taken from the Pacific and end up in fishmeal or fishoil. Usually it is destined for foreign markets like (as all too often) China's. Such overfishing by large industrial fishing fleets offshore, but also the oil and gas industry are known threats to marine wildlife. Lastly, new construction work along the shoreline show a growth of tourism in the Tumbes area with potential negative impact on its wildlife.
The fires on two big platforms offshore from Zorritos burn bright through the night, while a big tanker awaits her filling on offshore moorings closeby. The oil and gas field off Tumbes is so rich that already new plans have been made to invest in more platforms. In the meantime proposals for making marine reserves in the oil rich area are opposed by oil companies in fear of loss of their investments. With a history of corruption it is not unlikely to think that decisions for development in the area are not taken with all perspectives in mind. Needless to say, a disaster like the oil spill of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico would be devastating for both wildlife as for the many thousands of locals that make their home along the Pacific shoreline.
With a growing ecotourism sector that is going to be able to prove its value I hope decisions for further development of the Tumbes coastline are taken with its wildlife in mind too. I am sure that NGO's like Planeta Oceano are able to make the voice of the Giant Mantas heard in these debates..
Please also find this blogpost about our time in Tumbes.
Update 03-20-2017 - Images of this portfolio were published in the April edition of Duiken Magazine.