Friday, May 1, 2009
Legislature approves bill protecting manta rays in Hawaii waters
House and Senate conferees Thursday approved a measure that would prohibit knowingly capturing or killing manta rays within Hawaii waters. The proposed measure, House Bill 366, would only allow manta rays to be taken for educational, scientific, management and propagation purposes, requiring a person or organization to apply for a special "take" permit from the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Representative Denny Coffman (District 6 – North Kona, Keauhou, Kailua-Kona, Honokohau), a freshman lawmaker, introduced the measure to ensure that Hawaii laws help to preserve the state's ecosystem and protect from extinction one of its many natural marine resources. Currently, there is no law protecting the small, distinct populations of Hawaii manta rays, including around 150 manta rays in Kona, Hawaii and 300 in Maui County.
"This is a prevention measure," said Rep. Coffman. "We don't have a huge problem with people capturing and killing manta rays yet, but why wait until our small populations slowly cease to exist?"
These majestic creatures are susceptible to overfishing and are killed for their dried gill rakers in order to produce traditional Asian medicine as well as for food. There is no immediate threat to the manta population in Hawaii. However, new demand for manta rays has already threatened local populations in Indonesia, Mexico and the Philippines. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an authority on species extinction, has classified manta rays as a species threatened with extinction in the near future.
Because of their sweeping wings that can span up to 12 feet and breathtaking beauty, people are naturally curious about manta rays. This encourages the growing popularity of capturing these rare and exquisite creatures for display in national and international aquariums. Manta rays have low reproduction rates, reaching sexual maturity after 10 years and producing pups one every two or three years, making replacement of captured manta rays through natural reproduction a long process.
"Protecting manta rays in Hawaii is also beneficial for our ecotourism," Rep. Coffman noted. "The manta ray diving industry in Kona brings in around $2.5 million annually. There aren't many places in the world where you can see manta rays in their natural habitat."
The bill will go to the House and Senate for final full floor vote and then to the governor for signature.