Elsewhere, the rules are not so strict. Around Africa, in Mexico and Sri Lanka, for example, manta fisheries are decimating populations. Stevens tells me that mantas remain extremely vulnerable. They mature late (it is believed that they can live up to 40 years) and reproduction rates are slow. The gestation of the female is 12 months and produces only one young. And they can migrate thousands of kilometers, which means that local fishing bans are as valid as those in neighboring territories.

The Manta Trust was created to be global and works with over 20 projects around the world. Founded in 2011, he has already been extremely emotional. During COP11, held in Ecuador in 2014, manta and devil rays were included in the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Protection in the Maldives, Indonesia, Peru, United Arab Emirates and Thailand followed, as did a coveted CITES listing, protecting them from overexploitation through international trade.

But the overall picture is still not good. “Generally, the abundance of manta rays is the same nationally today as it was in 2003,” Stevens explains of the Maldivian manta rays. “But overall the population is in decline. We are also seeing a significant decline in coral reefs [a catastrophic coral bleaching event in 2016 ravaged the world’s coral reef systems], overfishing of habitats, problems caused by dredging and over-reckless tourism. At this rate, in 50 years all the reefs will be dead. The islands of the Maldives must be set aside so as not to be developed, we must stop overexploiting natural resources and we must introduce a network of protected areas.

Is it possible? “Conservation is a very long process,” he says. “We are very proud of what we have been able to accomplish with our partners, but it is only a small step towards protecting these species. Communities that are supported by these animals need to understand their value to their ecosystem and their economies. Mantas are worth a lot more alive than dead once you create a dive tourism industry. It’s a long learning process, and it wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have so much support.

Conservation is exhausting as well. After three days, my pied-à-terre gives way to fatigue, but the risk of complaints is tempered by the fact that the team still have two weeks left after my departure.

I have kept in touch with the team since my return two weeks ago. They asked me if I would like to leave the shipping WhatsApp group – too much manta spam. Don’t even think about it, I say. As the expedition draws to a close, they have identified many more mantas, spotted a whale shark (another endangered species) in the back of the boat, and visited half a dozen local schools to talk. manta children and encourage them to consider careers in manta tourism and conservation. Watching was inspiring.

And, as far as I know, it’s made possible by Carl F Bucherer and his paying customers. There is honor in that, without a doubt. But this is only the beginning. Watchmakers, many of whom are now making huge profits as economies thrive after shutdowns, can and must do more. Time, as they should understand, is running out.

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