Today myself and several volunteers went down to the beach at the crack of dawn to count the numbers of rays and sharks the fishermen were bringing in as well as measure the animals and assess their ages. According to the other volunteers it was a slow morning but we still counted around two hundred Manta rays and probably twenty or thirty Hammerheads- mostly juveniles that hadn´t reached sexual maturity. Hammerheads are supposed to only be caught accidentally and the government charges a one dollar tax on all Hammerheads caught. However, a juvenile hammerhead will still sell for around fourteen bucks so it´s really not a loss on the part of the fishermen.
Whatever your opinion of fishing practices, there´s no question that the fishermen in Puerto Lopez work hard for the money. Manta rays are incredibly heavy, often weighing as much as a person, but one fisherman was particularly good at carrying them from the boats on the edge of the water to the trucks on the beach. There was no question really as to why since he was in incredible shape. Frankly, he was maybe the sexiest black man I´d ever seen but he was drenched in manta ray blood; the white parts of his swim trunks were completely stained red from carrying the dripping carcasses. It was like something from a Bruce LaBruce movie.
About three hours into the morning´s haul a man with well combed hair in a blue polo shirt appeared on the beach and all the fishermen gathered around him. I couldn´t understand what he was saying, but another volunteer told me that the director of Machailla national park had put a ban on Manta ray fishing in Puerto Lopez and that it was effective immediately. The fishermen therefore would not let us measure the manta rays because they wanted to get them off the beach quickly. Since it was the last day we might see Mantas being brought in, I was assigned the job of going around and frantically photographing each one. Manta rays, even dead ones, are an incredibly brilliant shade of dark blue.
I´m only marginally aware of the threat of extinction to Manta rays but I was a little shocked that one man could make a decision that would so seriously affect the lives of these fishermen. Manta Ray fishing was a big source of income for these people and although they could start fishing for other catch, they would have to change their equipment and that might cost quite a bit of money. So I haven´t really made up my mind about this bold action for wildlife conservation on the part of the local government.
HALO WITH LLORONA