18 Mar 2023 | 05:55am IST
A transnational journey to save the Manta Rays
Manta Rays, which are highly intelligent sea species, are killed on Indian sea shores and smuggled to China for its gills, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Ironically, these same gills for which Manta Rays are being hunted for supposed health benefits, are equally harmful to health due to the presence of toxic metals, Green Oscar-nominated investigative documentary on Manta Rays, Peng Yu Sai revealed. The film made by Goan environment film maker Malaika Vaz along with Nitye Sood, was screened recently at the Goa-CMS Vatavaran Film Festival & Forum. Nitye Sood speaks to Cafe about the film
Shashwat Gupta Ray
Green Oscar-nominated investigative documentary Peng Yu Sai created
ripples at the recently held Goa-CMS Vatavaran Film Festival & Forum. The
documentary follows the illegal trade route of Manta Rays from the sea shores
of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nady to India-Myanmar border and culminates in Hong
Kong and Guangzhou in China.
and our investigation into the trade in began with a chance encounter - when my
co-producer Malaika was travelling along the east coast of India looking for
fishing cats. She happened to come across what locals called “flat sharks” in a
little fishing village, being sold in the local market,” the film’s co-producer
Nitye Sood said.
That’s when the documenting of this story
began. Vaz and Sood found that large numbers of Manta Rays were being caught
along the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu coast.
started filming this story, we had no idea where it would lead us. But as the
scale of the trade became clear to us, and the number of Manta Rays being
caught along a vast stretch of India’s east coast became apparent - we quickly
realised that we wanted our film to create a tangible impact,” he said.
The first and
foremost objective of this documentary was to create awareness about the trade
in Manta Rays - since many Indians do not know these animals exist, and even
less are aware that they swim in our very own waters.
“But - we
also wanted to go beyond creating awareness. Manta Rays are listed under the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and we wanted
to get them protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act,” Sood said.
both the film makers partnered with Wildlife Trust of India, and with the help
of funding from the international conservation organisation they were able to
conduct a baseline survey on Manta Ray landings in six Indian coastal states.
This data was then used to create a policy proposal which is currently under
review at the Ministry of Environment, Forest & climate Change (MoEFCC),
Government of India.
are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
(CITES) and we wanted to get them protected under the Indian Wildlife
Protection Act,” he said.
of making this film was entirely based on following the leads they got.
“We got in
touch with the Manta Trust and were able to join one of their research
expeditions which allowed us to film these magnificent animals underwater.
Through one of their partners we got a tip off about the manta gills that were
confiscated by the Indian army at the Myanmar border in Manipur and we rushed
to the north eastern state to document that part of the story,” Sood said.
“And in China
and Hong Kong they got in touch with local activists and conservationists who
helped us track down the large dealers in Manta Ray gills,” he said.
revelation of the film is perhaps the fact that Ironically, the same gills for
which Manta Rays are being hunted supposedly having health benefits, are
equally harmful to health due to the presence of toxic metals.
“This is one of the aspects of this story that
really struck us. The fact that consuming these gills has harmful health
effects and impacts women and children the most, just adds greater urgency to
put an end to the trafficking of these oceanic gentle giants.”
When asked about how the
illegal trade can stop, he said, “Sustainable fishing practices and proactive
support in finding alternative streams of income for local communities can go a
long way in ensuring the livelihood of fishermen as well as the survival of
many endangered species. And on the consumption side, with greater awareness
hopefully the demand for these products will reduce,” he said.