Amy Ippoliti: Ocean Conservation & My Encounter with a 1500 Pound Manta Ray
“Manta train coming! Right below you! GO, NOW!”, my partner shouted.
I took a breath, dove down and joined the caboose of twirling manta rays soaring through the blue waters like aquatic eagles gliding on a thermal.
When I surfaced, I heard again, “Go down, go down, right below you!!”
I took another deep inhale, duck dived, and found myself heading face to face with a 1500 pound manta ray. There was no time to back away or side-swipe to avoid the collision, so I trusted her to make the move.
In the perfect moment before certain impact she gracefully arched into a powerful back flip, giving me a full show of her white belly and twirled beneath me on her way.
To be able to swim long enough under water with these creatures without scuba gear, snorkel, mask or fins, I spent 8 months training in a pool in Colorado doing laps, free diving and folding into yoga poses underwater.
We traveled to be with these animals because we wanted to capture their magnificence on camera, but what interested us most was encapsulating the potent interspecies connections in yoga poses (and swimming) with the animals. The hope is that sharing the same awe we felt in the water would inspire people to become more enthusiastic advocates for our oceans.
We were on a boat for 5 days with some intrepid yoga students and teachers, my partner, marine conservationist and underwater photographer, Taro Smith, marine conservationist and underwater photographer, Shawn Heinrichs, professional mermaid, Hanna Fraser, and Louie Psihoyos, director of Academy Award winning film, The Cove.
Manta rays are threatened because they are being harvested around the globe by organized fishing programs in unsustainable numbers. Fishermen take them for their gill rakers, which mantas use to collect food such as plankton and snapper eggs. The gill rakers are in high demand in Chinese markets because it is thought that they cure a wide variety of ailments — even though there is no proof of their medicinal benefits.
My own vivid memories being in the water with the mantas is a constant reminder to do the right thing when it comes to ocean conservation. There is much we can do as individuals to make a difference.
Here are just a few easy actions to take:
Be sustainable, buy sustainable
We all know that global fish populations are getting severely depleted due to demand, loss of habitat and unsustainable fishing practices.
• Either avoid eating fish or at the very least, use the app, Seafood Watch to choose the most sustainable species when dining out or shopping for fish.
• Be an ocean-friendly pet owner by reading pet food labels for sustainability and never flush commercial, non-biodegradable cat litter down the toilet.
• Boycott Chinese restaurants that have shark fin soup on the menu and let them know why you can’t stay for dinner.
• 40% of all fish taken from the ocean is given to livestock in factory farms. Therefore eat a more plant based diet or purchase only sustainable, pastured, organic animal products.
• Buy organic produce because pesticides eventually run into our rivers and then into our oceans.
• Never support SeaWorld or other marine amusement parks and get educated about marine captivity. Somehow, certain people think it is okay for us to kidnap self aware, intelligent orcas & dolphins, steal them as slaves from their families and yank them from their natural environments for the sake of our amusement and profit. Be sure to never purchase a ticket to Sea World or any other marine park.
• Watch the movie, The Cove and join efforts to stop the mass slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan.
• Watch the documentary, Blackfish to understand more about why it’s so important to keep whales and dolphins wild.
Lose the Plastic!
• Store food in non-disposable containers.
• Bring your own cloth tote or other reusable bag to the market.
• Recycle everything.
Be a good beach bunny
• Whether you are sunbathing, surfing, swimming or diving near or in the ocean, clean up after yourself and your group meticulously.
• Pick up litter when you see it on the sand or in the water.
• Explore the ocean without harassing wildlife or taking shells or rocks.
• Participate and organize local beach clean ups.
Being mindful of your carbon footprint can reduce the effects of climate change on the ocean
• Leave your car at home when you can walk, ride a bike or car pool
• Take the stairs
• Bundle up in warmer clothes inside the house house during winter
• Use a fan to avoid overworking your heating system
• Get a programmable thermostat
Support organizations working to protect the marine wild life and our oceans
• Consider giving financial support or volunteering for advocacy work to help protect ocean habitats and marine wildlife.
• If you live near the coast join a local branch or group and get involved in projects close by.
~ Amy Ippoliti, prAna Ambassador
Photos by Taro Smith and Shawn Heinrichs