Indonesia is now the world's largest sanctuary for manta rays, after officials were persuaded by evidence that the gentle giants known for delighting tourists are worth more alive than dead.
The government on Friday announced that manta rays within the archipelago's 5.8 million square kilometers (2.2 million square miles) of ocean will be protected from fishing and export. It will take time and cooperation at multiple levels to enforce the ban on poaching in the biggest global shark and ray fishery.
Conservationists point to simple economics as an incentive. According to a study published last year in the online journal PLoS One, a manta ray is worth up to $1 million over the course of its long lifetime, thanks to tourists willing to pay generously for a chance to swim with the curious creatures that glide gracefully through the water by flapping their wide wings, almost as if flying.
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