The Islands of Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida are synonymous with wonderful coral reefs, amazing surf breaks, peace, and tranquillity. For diving and snorkeling enthusiasts, it’s also the place where one can have unforgettable encounters with majestic manta rays.
Located within the Coral Triangle marine biodiversity hotspot, Nusa Penida Marine Protected Area (NP MPA) is situated approximately 32 kilometers (km) off the Southeast coast of Bali Island. As a popular tourist destination, NP-MPA receives some 200,000 tourists annually.1
NP MPA is host to a highly diverse coral ecosystem (with 296 species of coral and 576 species of reef fish), and is home to marine megafauna, including the mola mola (ocean sunfish) and manta rays that can be seen year round with some certainty. In 2015, NP-MPA’s manta-specific dive spots attracted approximately 3,5003 divers or snorkelers.
In 2014 in recognition of their value to Indonesian tourism and the threat of overfishing faced by the species, mantas were listed as a protected species within all Indonesian waters. The result was a ban on all fishing of manta species within Indonesia’s Economic Exclusion Zone. However, manta rays continue to face challenges to their survival. Nusa Penida’s manta population faces continuing threats from illegal fishing, as well as consequences from non- targeted and unsustainable practices such as bomb fishing. What’s more, tourism, the sector that initially promoted manta protection, has been shown to have negative implications for manta conservation. In NP-MPA, increasing visitor numbers at manta dive spots and low diver compliance with the manta code of conduct also raise concerns. During high season, divers commonly impede mantas from accessing their cleaning stations, thus disturbing an important behavior. High volumes of unregulated boat traffic increase occurrences of in-water strikes, injury and disturbance. Management efforts have not been able to keep up with the implication of the growing tourism sector.
These wonderful fish, despite being celebrities for sea lovers, are poorly known by scientists. What is sure is some of their populations are dramatically decreasing due to overfishing, pollution and other kinds of man-made disturbances.
Intense fishing pressure and growing international consumer demand have caused manta ray populations to decline by 30% worldwide, with some regions experiencing an 80% decline over the last 75 years. Many species of sharks have also declined by massive percentages, and obviously, this current fishing pressure is unsustainable.
The biggest key to a successful conservation project is working with all aspects of the community so everyone benefits by these animals being protected. No one wants to deny the fishermen more money to provide for their families, but from what we can gather it is not the fishermen making the money: it is the boat owners, and then ultimately the agents and middlemen. Many of the fishermen complain they are working too hard for too little, so perhaps it is time to readdress the balance; perhaps it is time to consider making more money from mantas and sharks by keeping them alive for all to enjoy, and dispersing the money made from ecotourism more fairly amongst all areas of the community.
One of the biggest issues we see on a daily basis here is water pollution. In a culture where rubbish is commonly thrown onto the ground or into the river system, the advent of plastic has been a disaster. Plastic bags are a major problem for marine life as they look a lot like jellyfish and accidentally get eaten. Plastics frequently get caught on coral resulting in it being broken or suffocated, and there are many documented examples of dolphins, sharks, mantas, turtles and other species of fish having drowned because of being caught in marine litter. Plastic collection and adequate disposal are urgently needed: a recent report found that approximately 30 million plastic bottles are used in Bali every month!
The Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Minister has declared the reef manta ray (Manta alfredi) and oceanic manta ray (Manta birostris) as protected fish species as they are facing an increased threat of extinction.
The decline has mostly occurred in areas where mantas are hunted by traditional fishermen in Nusa Tenggara waters such as in Alor, Flores, Lamakera, Lamalera, and Lombok. They catch around 900-1,300 manta rays annually.