Information gathering is essential for the conservation of the eagle ray in Ecuador

The National Government prohibited the retention of this species in fishing operations, but groups continue to report the arrival of these specimens in ports.

May 23, 2021 – 07h30

Habitat degradation and bycatch are the greatest threats to the eagle ray off the coast of Ecuador. Photo: Éricka Carrera

The eagle ray is present in continental Ecuador from the coasts of Esmeraldas to the north of the province of El Oro. It also inhabits the Galapagos Islands. Their shape, spots and their characteristic style of sailing the ocean make them one of the most empathetic marine species. Despite the fact that they inhabit a large maritime area and that the species is listed in the Vulnerable category, there is very little data on the species.

“In the country, individuals have been found in different fishing ports such as Chanduy (Santa Elena) and Santa Rosa (El Oro). This is because there is little general information about the species in the fishing community. Currently, targeted fishing [of the species] is prohibited, but there is incidental fishing,” indicates Ian Ronquillo, co-director of the regional network Aetos ID Ecuador.

There are five species recognized worldwide: A etobatus laticeps, A. ocellatus, A. flagellum, A. narutobiei, A. narinari. The first is the one that lives in the country. This species spends a lot of time near the surface of the sea owing to its highly developed musculature which allows this behavior, unlike sand rays. However, they also descend to the seabed to feed and rest. They can be found near the coasts since their food – essentially mollusks and crustaceans – is found there.

“One of the factors that has contributed to the fact that there is little data on this species worldwide is that previously there were fewer methods and technology to distinguish one eagle ray from another. Until 2010 or 2011 it was believed that only two species existed,” says Alejandra Castelo, director and founder of Aetos ID México.

There is not much information on the species in the country.  Experts collect data. Photo: Dana Bjarner

In fact, there are places where it is not known if the species of eagle rays that inhabit the area belong to those recognized by science so far: “For example, it is probable that the species of the Galapagos Islands is different from Aetobatus laticeps, for example. This reveals an important question: how can we care for a species if we don’t know so much about it? That is why divers are needed to help in this work ”, she adds.

This is confirmed by Ronquillo. He assures that the eagle rays of the Ecuadorian continental coasts (Aetobatus laticeps) do not have the same spotting patterns as those that inhabit the archipelago: “The scientific community is currently conducting studies to find out what the difference is between them. Perhaps we would speak of an ecotype (that have other types of spots, but are of the same species) as happens with orcas. For this reason, it is of vital importance to collect information in the country.”

The eagle ray has different threats worldwide: targeted and incidental fishing, degradation of its habitat and uncontrolled or unregulated tourist activities  In addition, it has a fairly slow population growth – they give birth to few young and their gestation periods are long (up to twelve months), which complicates the recovery of the populations.

For Cecilia Torres, from the Pacífico Libre organization, the gathering of information on the eagle ray in Ecuador is fundamental, since “it is known that the ministerial agreement may fall if a species is not investigated and the value it has is not demonstrated” .

That is why Pacífico Libre organized, on May 19, a webinar dedicated to divers and recreational or professional freedivers to help with the registration of the species. In this workshop it was explained that two types of methodology have been developed to collect data. One is photoidentification and the other is citizen science, says Ronquillo.

The first is a tool that helps to have a photographic or video record of individuals. Through a software, the images are organized in a database and differentiated from each other based on the spots of the specimen. Capturing images can be done by divers or persons performing activities such as snorkeling and then contacting the organization or sending email records to .

“In the country, we need more data on their diet, in which places they congregate more … There are places such as Isla de la Plata or El Pelado islet that are tourist attractions due to the observation of these rays,” says Ronquillo. (I)

Read the original coverage from El Universo at

Informing and sharing news on marine life, flora, fauna and conservation in the Galápagos Islands since 2017
© SOS Galápagos, 2021

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