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October 2004 Vol. 30, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Manta Wars in Micronesia

from the October, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Divers travel to Yap to see mantas, where they are normally viewed year round. However, local politics are curtailing the chances of interacting with them. In March, Amy Adair (Albuquerque, NM) told Undercurrent that M’il Channel and the primary manta cleaning station had been closed due to “some sort of feud” between locals. Dive operators assured Undercurrent that the closure was temporary due to a dispute between villagers and a family claiming to own the area. Andrew Yatilman, manager of the Yap Visitors Bureau, said they were “working with the traditional chiefs and the two parties to resolve the issue.”

Apparently, that dispute has been resolved, but annually the mantas migrate to a channel on the other side of the island, called Goofnuw. There, villagers are demanding monthly access fees, which dive operators have been unwilling to pay.

In June, subscriber Donald Wehmeyer visited the Manta Ray Bay Resort with a group from Underwater Connections in Abilene Texas. Upon arrival, they were told that Goofnuw channel was closed and M’il was undivable due to summer storms. For the first of three dive days, they took Wehmeyer’s group to a nearby reef, with no mantas. “It was okay,“ said Wehmeyer, “but it was not why I went to Yap.” The next day one manta hung with the group for about 45 minutes on the first dive, but on the second, “we were skunked. That of course is the chance you take.”

As the proprietor of Underwater Connections, Curtis Robertson, points out, “It’s not a petting zoo out there.” But, Robertson and Manta Ray Bay owner Bill Acker contacted the governor of Yap and the Yap government paid fees for a one-day “exploratory” visit to Goofnuw. Robertson made two 75-minute dives with no manta sightings.

Robertson says, “Bill Acker is caught in a nutcracker.” He believes for any dive operator to give in to the tribal demands for payoffs are a recipe for disaster. “Once you pay, there’s no return,” he says. Yatilman told Undercurrent that the government is working with the local chiefs to allow the government to regulate the use of privately owned reefs by imposing marine recreational fees that would go toward conservation and management of those areas.

If the fees are used directly to conserve the reefs, they should be welcomed. We divers spend thousands of dollars to go to dirt-poor nations. To help them preserve the purpose of our visits, we should expect to leave a few dollars behind for the people who have lived there for a millennium. And, those who profit from the mantas – the dive operators and hotels – should make their fair contribution, as well.

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