In Brief

Why Manta Rays Generate More Money Alive Than Dead

Manta ray swimming
Manta rays keep clean with the help of "cleaner fish" that nibble parasites and dead skin off their bodies. (Image credit: Jaine FRA, Couturier LIE, Weeks SJ, Townsend KA, Bennett MB, et al. (2012) When Giants Turn Up: Sighting Trends, Environmental Influences and Habitat Use of the Manta Ray Manta alfredi at a Coral Reef. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46170. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046)

Protecting manta rays makes monetary sense, new research shows. Worldwide, manta rays drive $140 million (U.S. dollars) in tourism-related revenues, according to a study published last week in the journal PLOS ONE. The animals are a big draw for snorkelers and divers in areas like the Maldives, where tourists are willing to pay more to see rays than sharks or turtles.

This study suggests the animals are worth more left alive in the ocean than in the market place, where they are desired for their meat and gill rakes (cartilaginous structures that protect the gills), used in Chinese medicine. The authors calculate a single ray in an area of Micronesia brings in $1.9 million over its lifetime in tourism revenue, whereas rays in a Sri Lanka market cost about $41 each. A more conservative estimate from the Maldives puts the long-term value of individual rays at $100,000 each from tourism.  

Due to their worldwide decline, manta rays were recently listed under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which increased protections for the animals. Sharks were also listed, and sharks are also worth more alive than dead, another study found. 

Email Douglas Main or follow him @Douglas_Main. Follow us @livescience, Facebook or Google+

Douglas Main
Douglas Main loves the weird and wonderful world of science, digging into amazing Planet Earth discoveries and wacky animal findings (from marsupials mating themselves to death to zombie worms to tear-drinking butterflies) for Live Science. Follow Doug on Google+.