The Long Swim to Freedom

It’s been a highly successful week with regards to the freedom of countless animals globally, and the laws which have determined their fates. Monday 11th March marked the end of animal testing for cosmetics in the European Union – a massive breakthrough which hopefully will in turn be followed by other nations. Items purchased in Europe, from toothpaste to shampoo and soap, will no longer have to equal the endurance of animal suffering for our consumptive needs. Across the globe in Thailand, steps are being taken to stop the brutal trade in elephant ivory. And after much pressure from conservation groups, such as Project Aware’s ‘Extinction is Not an Option’ campaign, the CITES committee has declared more protection  for five species of sharks along with manta rays and a species of sawfish. Their transferal to the Appendix II listing will hopefully ensure a less dire future for oceanic whitetips, porbeagles, three species of hammerheads and mantas. Freshwater sawfish have been moved to Appendix I, the last of the sawfish to be placed at the highest protection rating, where trade is completely banned globally. All in all, a huge step forward in marine conservation and the freedom of  many fascinating but fast-vanishing species.

Ray

A manta ray majestically glides below our feet off a jetty in Olhuveli, the Maldives, 2007 . Each night these gentle giants came to feed here, an air of serenity and grace surrounding them. It felt like such an honour to witness these creatures so closely, and everyone was as mesmerised as if they’d seen a mermaid in the depths.

I’ve got to say that manta rays are one of the most enchanting species I’ve been lucky enough to encounter in the wild; the photo above shows one of many dancing under our feet in the paradise islands that are the Maldives. Gliding along close to the surface of the water, as they brushed past each other their fins came slightly out of the water and they appeared to be giving one another ‘high fives’ at certain points; they knew they were putting on a good show! If that’s not a good ambassador for marine conservation I don’t know what is!

Protection of marine life is more vitally important than ever before. Sharks play a crucial part in the delicate oceanic food chain; a healthy ocean relies on these animals to keep the ecosystem in balance. Overfishing, bycatch and finning have depleted numbers of an animal which does not have the capacity to breed or grow fast. Trade in Manta Rays, particularly for Chinese Medicine, has threatened these peaceful, slow moving creatures. With new measures in place, there is now a fighting hope for these species, and in turn, the ocean itself.  New steps to regulate trade and enforce licensing will hopefully bring the numbers of  threatened species now placed on the CITES list, perhaps even prompting more species to be added.

As the diving-orientated conservation charity Project Aware emphasises, the intriguing nature of sharks and mantas can bring in numerous tourists to certain areas – a huge incentive to keep them in the oceans rather than rid of them. As a diver I agree that a peaceful co-existence and appreciation of these important megafauna is key to their survival. Who would want to travel afar to dive somewhere completely devoid of wildlife? Where once amazing creatures roamed, now sits a dying ecosystem due to humankind’s demands? No.

Extinction is not an option.

Project Aware – CITES shark decisions.

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