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marine conservation

Longline Fisheries Threaten Mantas in Ecuador

Did you know that Ecuador has the largest giant manta population?

Illegal fishing continues to pressure Ecuador’s numerous protected areas and fisheries. Funding for conservation efforts on mainland Ecuador is minimal, and due to recent earthquakes, protected area managers have even fewer resources to carry out patrols that protect their marine spaces. WildAid’s work in Ecuador is more important than ever to prevent exploitation of its unique marine life as we celebrate World Oceans Day.

Machalilla National Park along coastal Ecuador is one of the world’s most important sites for manta aggregation as it is home to the largest population of Giant Manta Rays (Manta birostris), estimated at 1,500 individuals. It’s also home to five species of sea turtles, 20 species of whales and dolphins, hammerhead and whale sharks, and countless species of fish and coral reefs.

Listed by the IUCN as “Vulnerable,” the primary threat to manta species is unsustainable fishing. As manta rays have few natural predators, their recent decline is due in large part to direct human predation, driven by the growing demand for their gills or death as bycatch. Compounding matters, mantas are among the slowest to reproduce of all sharks and rays, usually birthing one or two offspring every few years. Their low reproduction rates mean that mantas cannot sustain or survive commercial fishing for long.

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Saving Whales in the Nexus of Art and Conservation

A Mother Listens - a humpback whale tail print (Bryant Austin)

In 2004, photographer Bryant Austin floated on the surface of the South Pacific observing a humpback whale and her calf. The five-week old, two-ton calf left his mother and glided within five feet of Austin, close enough that he put down his camera. The calf gracefully swam around him, giving the photographer his first close encounter with a whale. 

From his book Beautiful Whale, Austin says, “For the first time, I could see the true colors, fine details, and subtle tones of the humpback whale; all of the elements that make them real. I never would have dared to swim this close to a whale. I wouldn’t even have imagined the prospect of photographing a whale that approached me within five feet on his own terms.” 

Thus, this young whale and his mother inspired a seven-year journey to capture life-size images of whales and encourage people to protect them from human threats before they become extinct.

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