Lab Spotlight: Manta Rays, Photography, and Citizen Science at SIO’s Aburto Lab

Written by on July 27, 2015 in Other News

By Astrid Hsu

David and Goliath: Award-winning photo by lead lab investigator Octavio Aburto of a diver and a school of big eyed jacks in Cabo Pulmo National Park, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

David and Goliath: Award-winning photo by lead lab investigator Octavio Aburto of a diver and a school of big eyed jacks in Cabo Pulmo National Park, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

The Aburto lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) does a lot: it focuses on anything and everything to do with the Gulf of California (GoC), Mexico. Hence, it is also known as the Gulf of California Lab, involved in the greater organization the Gulf of California Marine Program (GCMP). The GCMP is composed of partners from SIO, University of Texas, UC Mexus, the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, and Centero Para La Bioversidad Marina y la Conservacion. Like many other labs at SIO and around the world, the GCMP crunches numbers and identifies patterns in the environment, tackling critical ecological and socioeconomic issues in the GoC.

If you have never been to the Gulf of California, have no fear. The GCMP has a video that will help you familiarize yourself with the region. As you can see, the region is incredibly abundant and teeming with life. This serves as a foundation for many coastal communities, making fishing their primary source of income: however, this also paves way for overexploitation of the resource, causing the ecosystem and market to crash.

Manta Tagging: Stewart out in the field tagging a manta ray. This procedure is non-invasive and the tags fall off naturally after 6 months.

Manta Tagging: Stewart out in the field tagging a manta ray. This procedure is non-invasive and the tags fall off naturally after 6 months.

One solution in the works is the oceanic manta ray tagging project ProManta that SIO graduate student Josh Stewart began in 2013. As Associate Director of the Manta Trust, he knows just about everything concerning mantas and discerned whether manta subpopulations in Mexico are genetically connected. Stewart also identifies high-use areas of mantas as well as their seasonal and daily patterns through satellite tagging: with this data at hand, the GCMP can suggest effective long-term conservation management plans for the species. Ultimately, GCMP analyzes the interactions between humans and manta rays, hoping to achieve peaceful human-nature coexistence.

The GCMP knows that not everyone gets the chance to go out in the field to tag mantas, so here is a short clip summarizing the experience.

While the GCMP does cool things like track oceanic manta rays and take awarding-winning photographs, what really sets us apart is how we focus on the community. We believe that this relationship is crucial: the public needs to understand what the GCMP is doing behind-the-scenes because our work greatly affects their everyday lives. It takes two to tango, and many more for successful conservation. That is why the GCMP aims to create free, publicly accessible data and establishes Citizen Science programs. To accomplish this goal, we released our newest tool dataMares that contains interactive blogs about the GCMP’s current research. Less technical language is used to write these blogs, which often contain published data. This platform not exclusive to the GCMP only; outside researchers are welcome to write their own blogs presenting their findings. dataMares also offers interactive maps that allow viewers to navigate the physical parameters and animal diversity of a specific location.

Fishing Corvina: These fishermen are hauling in nets of the Gulf corvina, the second largest fishing industry after shrimp in the Upper Gulf of California.

Fishing Corvina: These fishermen are hauling in nets of the Gulf corvina, the second largest fishing industry after shrimp in the Upper Gulf of California.

Additionally, we collaborate with the local communities of the region to collect data and understand their perspective. Our Citizen Science program operates out of the fishermen’s pangas or boats—fishermen carry hand-held GPS devices that collect data useful for mapping fishing routes and calculating the catch per unit effort. The GCMP also operates with dive shops and recreational fishing companies to collect data on the tourist industry. Combined with the fishermen’s knowledge and traditional scientific research, the GCMP is able to discern the habits of the animals, where they reproduce, and measure the human impact on the ecosystem. The locals lend invaluable knowledge necessary for proper management of the region—it is only through constant dialogue that the community has accomplished so much progress towards sustainability.

To find out more about GCMP’s projects, read our Annual Report and visit our website. Connect with the lab on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Photoshelter.

Astrid is a current Master’s student at Scripps Institute of Oceanography focusing on marine biodiversity and conservation.

Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

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