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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkMexico & Banderas Bay Area News 

Local Marine Biologist Saving Banderas Bay Manta Ray

April 27, 2018

Banderas Bay is one of the few places in the world where Manta Ray and humans are in close contact. One of Proyecto Manta's primary objectives is to inspire residents and visitors to help protect the species.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Being an expert on Manta Birostris (Giant Mantas) is not the only objective of Iliana Fonseca, a local marine biologist who has chosen to put her knowledge to work in an effort to preserve this vulnerable species on Mexico's Pacific coast.

A native of Guadalajara, Iliana Fonseca has been attracting attention since she moved to Puerto Vallarta and joined Proyecto Manta (Manta Trust), a non-profit initiative whose primary objective is to create awareness among fishermen and the people of Yelapa in order to reduce the risks faced by giant mantas in the Banderas Bay area.

Nominated by Proyecto Manta/Manta Trust, Iliana was among the 2017 Conservation Heroes selected by the Disney Conservation Fund, an annual scholarship program that supports nonprofit organizations and their work to engage communities in the protection of wildlife and critical ecosystems across the globe.

Since 1995, the Disney Conservation Fund has helped more than two thousand projects and donated almost $11 million dollars to ecological initiatives such as Proyecto Manta/Manta Trust.

"The Disney grant has helped us continue working with the communities, and to conduct more research on the Manta Ray. The project works in different parts of Mexico, like Revillagigedo (near Manzanillo) and the greater Bahía de Banderas region. Since there are large populations of Manta around the Marietas Islands and Yelapa, in 2014 they started looking for college students to participate in this investigation project. I was looking for my thesis topic, so I joined," Iliana explained.

Starting out as a marine biology undergraduate student, Iliana volunteered on a four-month field expedition during the height of hurricane season in 2014. At that time, members of the Proyecto Manta team were developing a photo identification catalog of local specimens, placing sensors to monitor their movement in the bay, planning a sustainable tourism project for the community of Yelapa, and working to raise awareness to promote the preservation of the species.

Iliana's willingness to go above and beyond was clear and she took on more responsibility as a volunteer project leader, even giving up weekends for 18 months to lead manta surveys. Her constant presence was critical to building trust with local stakeholders, leading to improved practices and community education. Today, Iliana is an in-country project manager, and the driving force on the ground behind Proyecto Manta's research, education, and conservation efforts.

The main threats faced by these noble giants of the ocean are the injuries they suffer from boat strikes and poor fishing practices, where they are often caught in forgotten nets or injured by fishing lines. In 2016, Proyecto Manta's photo identification catalog included a database of approximately 140 giant mantas, of which 20 percent had wounds, mostly caused by human-related practices.

"Bahía de Banderas is one of the few places in the world where Manta Ray and humans are in close contact. One of Proyecto Manta's primary objectives is to inspire residents and visitors to learn about all the species that inhabit this area and help protect them," Iliana said. "It's not just about research, we have to involve the community," she added.

Sources: El InformadorpublimetroThe Walt Disney Company