Changing Planet

Indonesia Announces World’s Largest Sanctuary for Manta Rays

In this Oct. 18, 2011 photo, a manta ray swims off Raja Ampat islands, Indonesia. Photograph by Herman Harsoyo, AP

One of the world’s largest fishes gets a super-size sanctuary thanks to a decision by the Indonesian government to ban fishing for manta rays within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The move, hailed by conservation organizations and researchers, has resulted in the world’s largest protected area for these migratory animals. Indonesia’s EEZ stretches for almost 2.3 million square miles (6 million square kilometers). (Watch a video to learn more about manta rays.)

Two manta ray species, the reef manta (Manta alfredi) and the oceanic manta (Manta birostris), occur in the waters around Indonesia, and both are afforded protection under this new legislation.

“This decision was a crucial victory for manta ray conservation,” writes Andrea Marshall, director of the Marine Megafauna Foundation and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, in an email.

Marshall explains that Indonesia has some of the largest manta ray fisheries in the world, which feed the traditional medicine trade. “This single legislative act will help to curb declines in both species of manta in Indonesia and throughout Southeast Asia,” she explains.

The decision to protect manta rays was influenced in part by a 2013 study in the journal PLoS ONE looking at the economic effects of manta ray tourism versus manta fisheries.

Indonesia map
Credit: NG Staff

The study authors found that the value of a single live manta ray in Yap (map) in the south Pacific—an area with arguably the longest established tourism industry for manta ray watching—was roughly $2 million over the animal’s lifetime. The price of a manta ray in fish markets in Sri Lanka and Indonesia ranged from $40 to $200.

“As the world’s largest archipelagic nation, it is important for Indonesia to maximize economic returns from our marine resources,” said Sharif Sutardjo, Indonesia’s minister of marine affairs and fisheries, in a statement.

Placing a monetary value on animals and ecosystem services is not a new concept in the conservation world. And it can certainly be a convincing argument for protecting a species, says Marshall. (See “7 Species of Sharks and Manta Rays Receive International Protection.”)

“But economic benefits aside, it is vital for us to remember the larger significance of these animals,” she says. “The world would be a far lesser place without iconic marine giants like mantas, which should be protected as part of our ocean’s natural heritage.”

Follow Jane J. Lee on Twitter.

Jane J. Lee is a news writer and editor at National Geographic.
  • zoe

    manta rays are awesome and im happy their getting a break from hunting. they need to be helped.

  • Evi

    Proud to be Indonesian. I hope this decision will be implemented successfully.

  • GD Lite

    This is great news for the Mantas in that region. I simply hope there is some respect for the new legislation. It saddens me to see the great creatures of the planet being eliminated period, but the fact that most are eliminated for the all mighty dollar makes me ill to my stomach.
    It is about time that someone puts more value on these creatures alive than dead and gone.
    With more awareness, maybe there will be more such legislation in other areas soon as well.
    Share and be part of the solution instead of the problem – aka silent majority.

  • Winard Iswin

    Please support this effort, thank u.

  • Mary-Anne Nowick

    Thank you Indonesia ! It is about time some one took care of where they live. Animals fish etc should be shared and spared

  • sharoz lama


  • Tam Warner Minton

    Thank you, Andrea Marshall, for your dedication, study, and love of these incredible animals. You have been a major driving force for their salvation. You are an example to all of us that one person can truly make a difference.

  • Jilian Lepine

    They should make a documentary on the rays! Love them!!

  • Henri BARDON

    Wonder how the Indonesian government will enforce it ? This is a great decision provided it is backed by legitimate enforcement and information campaign as Indonesia is a poor country where even $40 in the pocket is much more than the potential economic benefit over the life of a manta that the average Indonesian will not comprehend

  • michele

    as a long time diver and lover of Indonesia this is great news.. I am seriuously considering going to Yap… the law works 🙂 thank you

  • chris

    I visited Flores last September (2013)
    Go and see the manta rays while scuba diving. Visit Labuan Bajo (West end of Flores Island). Go out on a 4 day/3 night diving expedition (lots of dive companies run them). there are two excellent places to view many manta rays. One is ‘Mana Alley’ in the SW of the Komodo Park. the dive trip will also take you to Rinca island for a close up (safe!) look at the Komodo dragons

  • priyabrata biswas

    This initiation is really remarkable and opens a new era for conservation of sea species. After all we need to contribute to maintain the ecological balances of our earth by conserving every species that form the beauty of life. Indonesia is one step ahead for the cause.

  • Danuarta

    Great Job,
    Come to Indonesia to explore and protect our biodiversity

  • Emma Woolsey

    That picture was amazing! And also you help me wih my studys
    because I have to do alot of research on animals in science thank you so much! That description is super duper helpful
    and I also read that article of the hreat blue whale it wss truely amazing.

  • John

    nat geo , commendations on your conservation works , you are on the cutting edge ,you’re photography is awe inspiring !,keep up the good work!

  • LAiyang Mendome Takarenguang

    wow ….. looks like a dragon!
    Nice shoot,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

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