A tourist destination without roads, lack of electricity until 2001, and water shuttled from the nearby river: almost unheard of in this time and day. However, the community of Yelapa fought hard for this preservation of life and culture. Initially settled by five families, they raised a sustainable livelihood through fishing and agriculture. The land is legally set aside for indigenous people, allowing only the native community to own and control the direction of the region. Though the community has expanded beyond the original families, the sustainability and preservation of the culture and natural resources has continued.
Untarnished by human civilization, the biodiversity on land and in the sea have flourished. One notable creature is the oceanic manta ray (Manta birostris): these gentle giants, up to 7 meters, serve as the basis for ecotourism. Economically supporting Yelapa, these mantas generate 10 million USD in Mexico and 100 million USD globally. However, the global market for mantas’ gill rakers, estimated at 11 million USD, threatened this resource, as do the local threats of ship strikes, entanglement of fishing gear, and habitat destruction/climate change. To help understand the lives of this resource, researchers and students from Instituto Tecnológico de Bahía de Banderas are analyzing where and when the mantas are located. This requires tracking the rays, and the current crowd-favorite techniques are satellite and acoustical tags. These methods provide insight into where the manta hotspots are in accordance with time of day and season.
Looking forward, additional research regarding how and why mantas use various sites will be pursued. Knowledge of these factors are critical: reducing ship strikes and entanglement of fishing gear relies on this data and allows for finer-tuned management plans to protect Yelapa’s rays. Studying and managing these curious creatures are not valuable only economically, but they provide a platform for locals and university students to gain and practice conservation skills. For researching the species isn’t just saving the mantas--it’s also preserving the community.