NEW YORK, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- A U.S. conservation group says it applauds Indonesia for its decision to protect two of the world's largest ray species from fishing and trade in the country.
On Jan. 28 Indonesia's Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Minister declared both the giant manta ray and reef manta ray as protected species under Indonesian law.
The Wildlife Conservation Society has commended the Indonesian government, saying their decision represents a major advancement in efforts to conserve manta rays, which in 2013 were added to the list of species regulated under of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
"The listing of oceanic and reef manta rays on CITES last year was a great first step towards mitigating the threat to these magnificent animals from overfishing," Stuart Campbell, Director of WCS's Indonesian Marine Conservation and Fisheries Program, said in a release from the society's New York headquarters.
"But far more needs to be done, particularly at the country level, to reduce this fishing pressure. By fully protecting these fishes, the Government of Indonesia has demonstrated its commitment to these new CITES rules while offering real hope for these species' future in Indonesia and beyond."
Manta rays are among the largest fishes on the planet, which "wingspans" that can reach 23 feet. Long-lived -- reaching ages of 20-30 years -- they mature late, and give birth to generally a single pup every two years after a gestation period of one year.
That low reproductive rate makes them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing, the WCS said.