Working with stakeholders to develop solutions to entanglements and boat strikes of marine megafauna in Mexico
Project Leads: Iliana Fonseca & Aldo Zavala
Collaborators: Fiti Lorenzo, Roberto Gonzales, Jona Lorezno
Since 2014 our team has been leading a research program focused on threats to marine megafauna Bahia de Banderas, Mexico. The project began with a focus on the population dynamics and threats to oceanic manta rays, and has since expanded to include humpback whales and other marine mammal. Injuries observed on oceanic manta rays from ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements are ten times as common in the Bahia de Banderas population than in a neighboring population of mantas at an offshore marine protected area in the Revillagigedo Archipelago. We are working directly with local fishing cooperatives to study the seasonal patterns of occurrence and environmental drivers of manta ray visitation and abundance along the heavily trafficked coastline, and to tag humpback whales and other marine mammals to evaluate movements, habitat use and susceptibility to anthropogenic threats. Through this partnership, we have identified the locations and times of year when mantas are most likely to interact with local fisheries and boat traffic, while at the same time having a measurable impact on the perspectives of local community members of the value of marine conservation efforts. Most recently, we have been working with local fishermen and water taxi operators to voluntarily outfit their vessels with solar powered GPS units to build a map of vessel traffic, vessel speeds, and fishing effort that may have adverse effects on marine megafauna in the region. We are working with stakeholders to identify areas of high overlap between threats and megafauna occurrence, and to identify strategies such as speed reductions and temporary fishing restrictions to prevent or reduce impacts. We will then be able to directly quantify the behavior change of the community in response to alerts about high-risk periods and locations for megafauna species as recorded by GPS units. Benefits to the community will include reduced costs of repairing vessels, engines, and fishing gear by reducing interactions with megafauna species.