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Mozambique: Inhambane Film on Manta Rays

The UK’s public broadcaster the BBC on 11 November transmitted a documentary on the work of Inhambane-based researcher Andrea Marshall, who has discovered that there are two types of manta rays. The documentary, "Andrea: Queen of Mantas", will be the first to show the rays since it was confirmed that the two types of manta exist. Centuries ago sailors called mantas "devil-fish" because of their horned and cloaked appearance. Mantas are cousins of sharks with a wingspan that can reach 7 metres wide.

The southern coast of Mozambique has one of the world's largest populations of mantas. Off the coast of Inhambane province the mantas visit cleaning stations where small fish nibble at the mantas skin to remove infected and dead cells.

Andrea Marshall, who is Director of the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Megafauna, carried out an experiment using GPS satellite navigation to prove that mantas swim 700 miles across the ocean in 60 days.

According to Marshall, recent research shows that the population off southern Mozambique has decreased over the last seven years. Marshall told AIM that this "could be related to environmental changes or variation or, more alarmingly, could be due to human influence of some kind such as the rise in water-based tourism or directed fishing pressure".

Marshall laments that manta rays are not protected in Mozambique, "despite being a unique and valuable resource that presents a point of difference for Mozambican tourism". A particular cause for concern is the rise in the local shark finning industry, as manta ray cartilage and branchial filaments are highly valued in Asia and are used in Chinese bogus medicinal products.

For Marshall, this lack of protection is the largest threat to manta rays in Mozambique, and she believes that "all of the current information, including Mantas' international conservation status, combined with their economic value suggests strongly that these rays should be officially protected and populations in the region managed according to their respective needs".

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