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State of the Ocean: Hunting Manta Rays in Indonesia

There is a serious problem occurring in the world’s oceans, yet for a vast majority of the world it goes unseen.

Indonesia is home to millions of fishermen who depend on the bounty of the ocean to not only feed their families, but to make a living as well. It is deeply rooted in Indonesian culture, and one that is not easily transformed.

Recently, there has been a shift in the fishing communities to hunt manta rays – partly for the food that the meat provides, but more notably for the prized gills, commonly sold to countries like China for medicinal remedies that have not been scientifically proven. For a majority of the fishermen in Indonesia who are poor with little other resources available to them, hunting the mantas are their only option for survival.

And with the increase in demand for their gills, the methods in which fisherman use to hunt them evolve, swapping pontoons and paddles for diesel engines.  It increases the speed in which a fisherman can hunt, but it just as rapidly diminishes the number of mantas in the ocean.

The supply just cannot keep up with demand.

One prime example of this fishing practice is in Lamakera, a small village on one of 17,000 islands across Indonesia. With the increased demand for manta gills, Lamakera had almost completely decimated the manta populations.

However, there is still hope.

In 2014, Indonesia declared the largest manta sanctuary in the world, spanning nearly 6 million square kilometers of ocean, including the waters off of Lamakera.

This sanctuary is a huge win in preserving the ecology of the oceans around us. Yet it provides an equal challenge for the fishermen of Lamakera. When there are few other means of income, it is not a cut and dry solution to simply stop fishing. Other means of livelihood must be established in its place, posing an economic and cultural shift across villages and the country.

Slowly but surely though, this shift if happening, but there is still work to be done. Through education, trust, and respect for long standing cultural institutions, the local communities are at the forefront of lasting change across the country.

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