Swimming with manta rays is one of the highlights for any scuba diver and can be a valuable source of money and jobs for local people. The latest estimate for the value of manta ray tourism has been put at USD140 million a year. Just 10 countries account for 93% of the value and manta rays offer a clear opportunity for many more countries to boost their diving tourism market.
The estimate was given in a study published on the PlosOne science website. It was undertaken by volunteers associated with the WildAid, Manta Trust and Shark Savers NGO’s.
The study looked at 23 countries which have a suitable manta ray diving industry and they estimated that the direct value of the manta rays could be placed at $140 million dollars. This was made up of $73 million value of tourists to dive operators or diving hire operations and the remainder being associated with accommodation, food and other hospitality services.
Ten countries account for almost 93% of the global revenue estimate, specifically:
- the Maldives,
- United States,
- Federated States of Micronesia
- and Palau.
Japan was most advanced in seeing the financial benefits of manta ray diving with $11.4 million generated from 3 dive locations. Indonesia was not far behind with $10.6 million were estimated from 11 sites in four key locations.
Manta ray watching and diving has grown in popularity recently and quite suddenly. This has led to financial benefits for local people but there is also a need to boost the management of the industry. The study revealed that a number of established manta ray dive operators are now concerned about over-crowding in some locations and some operators have reported that the number of manta ray sightings have dropped in those areas possibly due to disturbance.
The survey seems to show that the annual value of manta ray tourism is much greater than the $5 million a year produced from the manta rays fisheries.
In the case of Indonesia the survey shows that the $10.6 million a year from tourism greatly exceeds the $450,000 that is raised from the sale of manta ray gill plates.
The value of not catching manta rays for consumption but to use them as an attraction in their natural habitat is even more demonstrated by using the value of each manta over their lifetime. The authors of the study looked at the manta ray destination of Yap, one of the most established manta ray resorts that have a ray population of about 100. Using the formula that is applied to sharks the authors found that each manta ray in Yap was worth $1.9 million over its 25 year life span. This compares with about $200 paid to Indonesian fishermen who land a large manta ray.
Manta rays are a very valuable resource that countries should be seeking to protect and conserve. They offer a long-term and sustainable income for many coastal communities. By educating local fisherman on how to reduce manta ray by-catch and developing manta ray watching these wonderful creatures of the sea can have a secure future.