The Manta Trust, WildAid, Blue Sphere Media, The Indonesian Manta Project and Save Our Seas are today celebrating the signing of a new regulation creating the world’s largest manta sanctuary, encompassing a massive 6 million square kilometers of ocean, enforcing full protection for Oceanic and Reef Manta Rays (Manta birostris and Manta alfredi) in Indonesia. The Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Pak Agus Dermawan, signed the agreement in Jakarta; the event was attended by the Ministry of Tourism, national and international NGOs as well as global media. Sarah Lewis, Indonesian Manta Project Leader: "Manta rays thrive in Indonesian waters and it is one of the only places in the world where divers and snorkelers can encounter both species at the same time and place. Realizing the value of a living manta ray as a sustainable source of income through tourism, Indonesia's forward thinking move to legally protect its manta rays will not only ensure the survival of this vulnerable species but will provide economic benefits for many local communities for generations to come. Coming from one of the world’s largest manta fishing nations this news marks a milestone for manta conservation and awareness not just nationally but on a global scale." Manta rays are regarded as one of the most charismatic marine species in the world. In recent years manta ecotourism has grown in popularity across their tropical, sub-tropical and temperate range. A peer-reviewed study led by WildAid, The Manta Trust and Shark Savers (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0065051) estimated that manta ecotourism generates USD$140 million in annual revenues globally; and USD$15 million per year in Indonesia alone, making the species vital for many Indonesian communities who rely on ecotourism for their livelihood. However, manta rays are highly threatened by targeted fisheries which annually generate USD$400,000 in comparison. Although there is clear evidence that stocks are in decline, these fisheries continue to increase their fishing efforts, posing a huge threat to the survival of populations. Manta rays are targeted for their gill plates, which are sold as a medicinal tonic on the Asian market. However there is no historical foundation in Traditional Chinese Medicine and no scientifically proven health benefits. Research carried out by WildAid and Manta Trust’s Manta Ray of Hope Campaign (http://www.mantarayofhope.com/downloads/The-Global-Threat-to-Manta-and-M... Rays.pdf) revealed the growing threat to manta and mobula species due to this growing market and these organizations remain heavily involved in the continued conservation of the species. Both organizations provided critical data and media in support of the 2013 CITES Appendix II listing of both Manta species, including The Manta Trust’s mobulid species identification guide. The Manta Trust and the Indonesia Manta Ray Project continue to research and monitor the Indonesian population, aiming to increase our knowledge base and understanding. The project aims to identify and map manta ray distributions throughout Indonesia, whilst conducting research into the ecology and biology of these populations. A large aspect of the project is to examine the scale and impact of manta fisheries, working closely with the local community to increase awareness and support of alternative, sustainable incomes. Recognizing that manta rays are a vital source of revenue for many communities, the Indonesian Manta project also surveys their current and potential contribution to eco-tourism. Guy Stevens, Chief Executive of the Manta Trust commented, "Manta rays are iconic species, they symbolize what is at stake if we choose not to protect our oceans and their inhabitants for our future generations. The Indonesian Government's decision to legally protect manta rays is a great step along the road to effective conservation of these increasingly vulnerable species. I applaud the government for this positive action and I strongly urge other nations to follow in their footsteps." “Indonesia's decision to protect manta rays will not only help the species, it will safeguard nascent manta ray ecotourism to generate many hundred times more revenue and jobs than the destructive gill trade,” said WildAid’s Executive Director Peter Knights. "We hope other nations will follow their lead."