Harm and help

Marine biology intern Ally Wilkins interprets BlueValue.

Night divers in Hawaii shine their torches on Koie Ray (on the right) while she glides by with another manta ray. Photo by Ally Wilkins.

My most recent diving trip in Kona, Hawaii is one I will likely never forget. Before we plunged into the water, the captain told us a fascinating story about a local manta ray that we were likely to see that night, named Koie Ray. Back in 2004, one of Koie Ray’s cephalic fins (fins on each side of a manta’s head that help push food into their mouth) was severely damaged by fishing line. According to local legend, she stopped in front of a diver almost as if she were asking for help. Manta rays must constantly move in order to breathe, so Koie Ray had to hold still and in effect “held her breath” for the diver to help her. Sadly, her fin was so infected that it had to be amputated, but she survived. Six months later, Koie Ray reappeared again, this time with fishing line wrapped around one of her pectoral fins (the fins on a ray that look like wings). Luckily, divers cut off the fishing line before any serious harm was done. However, even with these traumatic events, she is still seen regularly during local manta dives. Manta rays and other marine life are often caught in fishing gear and other debris but are not always as lucky as Koie Ray.

To me, this is a firsthand example of how people both harm and help marine life.  People and the environment are always interacting with each other and always will. Our actions, both positive and negative, do not only affect us, but other life as well. Due to human debris, Koie Ray was severely injured, but due to the acts of divers, she received the help she needed to survive.

However, marine pollution does not only affect mantas, but is also a global concern and is only increasing. When most people think of ocean pollution, they think of how it harms and kills marine life; I did too, until recently. However, pollution can also impact economies. Manta ray diving is a major source of commercial tourism for the state of Hawaii. Divers and snorkelers come from all over the world to witness these beautiful manta rays. Think about it, who would go to Hawaii if the water and beaches were heavily polluted and there was no marine life? Not very many. Hawaii would likely risk losing its “paradise” appeal and subsequently, a significant part of their economy.

When it comes to ocean pollution, the majority is plastic or plastic based materials. Sadly, it is common for marine life to ingest or get entangled in plastic debris. Things like plastic bags can be mistaken for food and microplastics can be ingested without the animal ever knowing. Most fishing gear is composed of plastic making it very durable. However, this durability makes it difficult for an animal, like Koie Ray, to break free. Plastic pollution is not an easy problem to solve. Plastic is such a cheap, durable material that it is very popular and difficult to ban.

Personally, I have always seen the environment and marine life as having a non-monetary value. I do not want to become a marine biologist for the money, but because I value the wonders and beauty of marine life. I know that as a college student there is not a lot that I can do to end pollution to save the marine animals I have fallen in love with, but that does not stop me from trying. Every chance I get, I participate in beach cleans, encourage people to reduce the amount of plastic they use, and I recycle as much as possible. One person cannot end plastic pollution. It will take participation from everyone, so what can you do?

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