We manta rays really are gentle giants, reaching lengths of 23 feet (7 meters) and 6,600 pounds (3000 kg). But all we eat are plankton, the tiny plants and animals floating in the ocean. And we don’t have a stinger on our tail like stingrays. Our only defense is our size, but as you’ll find out, it’s no match for humans.
I face so many threats living in the ocean including pollution (especially plastic), ghost nets, and being fished by fishermen, to name a few.
I’ve heard things are going poorly on land, but at least you’re not swimming around in and eating garbage! I mean that literally—junk food is nothing compared to the microplastic I ingest everyday.
Microplastic are small bits of plastic. Some pieces are grinded down from larger pieces, and some are manufactured that way (like microbeads in beauty products).
I eat plankton, the tiny plants and animals that live in the sea. The microplastic floats around with the plankton. I filter the seawater around me through my gills, and have finger-like gill rakers on my gills that trap the plankton, which I then swallow.
Each gulp of water brings probably thousands (or more!) microplastic bits in which I swallow. This plastic bioaccumulates in my body, which means that little by little the plastic builds up in my body over time.
You, as humans, carry several pounds of plastic in your body. Even human babies are born with plastic in their bodies.
It’s ironic, the very structure that keeps me alive—my gills—helps me to breathe oxygen from the water around me, and also helps me filter out the food I eat— may lead to my downfall.
You see, me and my manta ray friends’ gill rakers are used in a new controversial Traditional Chinese Medicine formula created in modern times. Some TCM formulas date back 2,200 years but not this one. This means now that manta rays are being hunted exclusively for our gill rakers.
We weren’t always well-liked by fishermen in the past because we manta rays would get caught in their nets and ruin them. They nicknamed us “devil rays” because of that and because our curled up head fins look like devil horns.
Phew, don’t get me started on the dangers of fishing nets to manta rays. If we do get caught in a fisherman’s net there’s no guarantee that we’ll get set free in time to survive.
And there’s something called ghost nets which also lead to many manta rays and other large sea creatures dying. Ghost nets are fishing nets that fishermen have abandoned at sea. Many times they are made of a semi-transparent material called monofilament which looks nearly invisible underwater to most sea creatures.
Once tangled in one, it’s likely that the animal, like a sea turtle, shark or dolphin will die without getting enough oxygen. Sea turtles and dolphins need to get oxygen from air and sharks need to swim constantly to move water over their gills to breathe.
How can you help? You can visit the websites below and donate your time or money. Or just learn more about me and my manta ray friends and spread the word about our plight.
Please vote and let legislators know the health of our oceans matter to you (and me especially!).