VICTIM NO.2 : RAYS
One of the earliest memories of Rays for the millennial generation or GenZ comes from Finding Nemo. Though Mr Ray appears briefly, the magnificent creature captivates us for that moment.
Batoidea, commonly called rays, are cartilaginous fishes who are close relatives of the shark. They have flat, disc-like bodies and wing-like pectoral fins that extend above their heads. They generally have five gills and long slender tails.
Rays reproduce in many ways, some undergo internal fertilization, which conserves their energy and protects their eggs from predators. The Skates are oviparous (egg-laying) and the rest are ovoviviparous, which means, that the eggs remain inside the mother's body until they are ready to hatch.
They have a cosmopolitan distribution, living in all kinds of geographical areas. Stingrays prefer shallow coastal waters whereas Manta rays live in the open sea, but it also puts them at a higher risk of being fished or getting entangled in nets.
During monsoon, the enormous amount of plastic waste that enters the ocean accumulates in areas of high plankton concentration. Fishing gear (nets, lines and other equipment lost or abandoned) are by far the most common entangling objects. So, the feeding station of rays, especially the Manta ray, becomes an imminent danger.
Every year divers and snorkelers find more rays entangled in fishing lines, or discarded and broken fishing nets, called 'ghost nets'. Those spotted by divers may or may not get freed, but a hundred others that go unnoticed die a slow and painful death.
Unfortunately for Manta rays disentangling themselves is harder, because they can only swim forwards. So, the net digs into their skin, muscles and eventually into their vital organs causing permanent damage or death.
Manta and devil rays also fall victim to shark-nets which are used to reduce shark attacks on humans and the Mobulid rays are extensively fished for their gills to make ancient medicine.
In India, researchers like Divya Karnad and Mayuresh Gangal have reported an 86 per cent drop in catches of rays like guitarfish and wedge fishes due to overfishing and bycatch.
Their populations are declining because of human greed and carelessness. Conducting proper research and surveys will help us to right steps towards their conservation and protection.