SCOTT SMITH: (1-718-220-3698; ssmith@wcs.org)

STEPHEN SAUTNER: (1-718-220-3682; ssautner@wcs.org)

Major Manta Ray Trader Caught in Indonesia 

WCS’s Wildlife Crimes Unit assists Larantuka District Police in arrest

NEW YORK (July 17, 2015) – The Larantuka District Police, the Government of Indonesia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)’s Wildlife Crimes Unit (WCU) announced today the arrest of a trader of sharks and rays in Indonesia, home to the largest shark fisheries on earth.

Manta rays are increasingly targeted for their gill plates — the pre-branchial appendages that filter the plankton on which they feed.  These gill plates are in demand in Chinese markets for use in making a health tonic. The total trade is valued at $30 million annually.

The arrest took place on July 3, 2015, in Larantuka — a small city near Lamakera in East Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, and involved the shipment of 290 manta plates weighing 15 kilograms.

Lamakera is an important fisheries landing area for mantas and sharks. The suspect allegedly purchased the plates from local fishermen and traders.  In hunting the mantas, the fishermen claimed that the animals were accidentally trapped in their fishing nets.

.The suspect, initialed SYA, confessed to being in possession of an additional 100 kilograms of manta bones and 400 kilograms of manta skin.

Manta skins are made into fried snacks, while manta bones are used as a basic ingredient for soup and because they are believed to increase the calcium level in mothers’ milk. The growing trade in these items is depleting manta populations.

An investigation revealed that in June 2014, SYA owned 50 kilograms of manta plates, 200 kilograms of manta skin, and 1.4 tons of manta bones. All products were sent to a manta exporter in Surabaya, East Java.

There are two species of manta and both (Manta alfredi) and oceanic (Manta birostris) are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Under Indonesian law, trafficking manta rays, their parts and by products is punishable with a penalty of up to 8 years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of USD $150,000.

Manta rays are large, long-lived, plankton-eating cartilaginous fishes and are relatives of sharks. Oceanic mantas can reach up to seven meters in length from wing-tip to wing-tip, and weigh more than two tons. They have very low reproductive rates, giving birth to only one live pup every two years.   This means that they are highly vulnerable to over-fishing. A growing tourism trade based upon manta-watching is estimated to be worth $140 million annually, with Indonesia as one of the top ten destinations.

In February 2014, the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), with technical input from a coalition of conservation organizations, including Conservation International (CI), the Manta Trust, and WCS, banned the hunting and trade of manta rays throughout Indonesia.

Vice President of WCS Field Conservation Programs Joe Walston said, “By banning the trade in manta rays and through this arrest, Indonesia is sending a strong message for traders to beware. WCS is pleased that its Wildlife Crimes Unit can support the Indonesian authorities in protecting Indonesia’s remarkable biodiversity and its natural heritage for citizens today and for future generations.”

The Head of Public Relations at the Nusa Tenggara Timur Police, Police Adjunct Senior Commissioner Ronalzie Agus said, “The suspect confessed that he intended to sell manta plates to an exporter in Surabaya. We have imprisoned the suspect and will continue our investigation to unravel organized criminal groups dealing in manta plates.”

WCS has prioritized saving sharks and rays as part of a global commitment to promote the recovery of depleted and threatened populations of marine species, halt the decline of fragile marine ecosystems, and improve the livelihoods and resilience of coastal communities throughout the world's oceans.

WCS’s WCU is supported by the Save Our Species Fund. SOS-Save Our Species is a joint initiative of the Global Environment Facility, IUCN and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure the long-term survival and well-being of threatened species and their critical habitats for biodiversity conservation. WCS’s marine conservation work in Indonesia has been made possible through the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.


The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation also supported Conservation International with the policy process that led to the decision by the Government of Indonesia to protect manta rays in February 2014.


Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. VISION: WCS envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth. To achieve our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its Global Conservation Program in more than 60 nations and in all the world’s oceans and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people annually. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos, and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. Visit: www.wcs.org; http://www.facebook.com/TheWCS; http://www.youtube.com/user/WCSMedia  Follow: @thewcs.

The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society. More information is at www.macfound.org.