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PeerJ. 2017 Mar 14;5:e3027. doi: 10.7717/peerj.3027. eCollection 2017.

Sympathy for the devil: a conservation strategy for devil and manta rays.

Author information

Earth to Ocean Research Group, Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University , Burnaby , British Columbia , Canada.
Shark Advocates International, The Ocean Foundation , Washington , D.C. , United States of America.
WildAid, San Francisco, CA, United States of America; Manta Trust, Dorchester, Dorset, United Kingdom.
Australian Institute of Marine Science , Townsville , Queensland , Australia.
Manta Trust, Dorchester, Dorset, United Kingdom; Environment Department, University of York, York, United Kingdom.
Manta Trust, Dorchester, Dorset, United Kingdom; Department of Biology and Environmental Science, Linnaeus University, Kalmar, Sweden; Blue Resources, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Project AWARE Foundation , Rancho Santa Margarita , CA , United States of America.
Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture & College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University , Townsville , Queensland , Australia.
Manta Trust , Dorchester , Dorset , United Kingdom.
National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research , Wellington , New Zealand.
Tethys Research Institute , Milan , Italy.



International trade for luxury products, medicines, and tonics poses a threat to both terrestrial and marine wildlife. The demand for and consumption of gill plates (known as Peng Yu Sai, "Fish Gill of Mobulid Ray") from devil and manta rays (subfamily Mobulinae, collectively referred to as mobulids) poses a significant threat to these marine fishes because of their extremely low productivity. The demand for these gill plates has driven an international trade supplied by largely unmonitored and unregulated catches from target and incidental fisheries around the world. Scientific research, conservation campaigns, and legal protections for devil rays have lagged behind those for manta rays despite similar threats across all mobulids.


To investigate the difference in attention given to devil rays and manta rays, we examined trends in the scientific literature and updated species distribution maps for all mobulids. Using available information on target and incidental fisheries, and gathering information on fishing and trade regulations (at international, national, and territorial levels), we examined how threats and protective measures overlap with species distribution. We then used a species conservation planning approach to develop the Global Devil and Manta Ray Conservation Strategy, specifying a vision, goals, objectives, and actions to advance the knowledge and protection of both devil and manta rays.


Our literature review revealed that there had been nearly 2.5-times more "manta"-titled publications, than "mobula" or "devil ray"-titled publications over the past 4.5 years (January 2012-June 2016). The majority of these recent publications were reports on occurrence of mobulid species. These publications contributed to updated Area of Occupancy and Extent of Occurrence maps which showed expanded distributions for most mobulid species and overlap between the two genera. While several international protections have recently expanded to include all mobulids, there remains a greater number of national, state, and territory-level protections for manta rays compared to devil rays. We hypothesize that there are fewer scientific publications and regulatory protections for devil rays due primarily to perceptions of charisma that favour manta rays. We suggest that the well-established species conservation framework used here offers an objective solution to close this gap. To advance the goals of the conservation strategy we highlight opportunities for parity in protection and suggest solutions to help reduce target and bycatch fisheries.


Charismatic species; Conservation planning; Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS); Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES); Elasmobranch; Extinction risk; International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs); Tourism; Wildlife trade

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare there are no competing interests. Opinions expressed herein are of the authors only and do not imply endorsement by any agency or institution associated with the authors.

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