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Overview: An Ecosystem Approach forÂ Scientific Monitoring and Biological Assessment of the the Laguna San Ignacio Marine Protected Area
The Laguna San Ignacio Ecosystem Science Program (LSIESP) builds upon previous research and monitoring of specific species (e.g., gray whales) in the lagoon, but also initiates additional areas of investigation to complement ongoing studies and to establish baseline values for the lagoonâ€™s water quality and primary production, and surveys of marine animals that utilize the lagoon (i.e., gray whales, dolphins and sealions), sea turtles, marine birds and waterfowl, (e.g., apex predator monitoring).
The LSIESP is based on fundamental long-term environmental monitoring principles and approaches that address the specific requirements of resource managers, conservation organizations, eco-tourism operators, and local residents. It is the goal of the LSIESP to provide relevant scientific support for the conservation of the Laguna San Ignacio Wetlands Complex by: (1) conducting research to monitor and evaluate the biological status of the lagoon and its wildlife; (2) providing training opportunities for university students interested in careers in marine conservation science; (3) providing science based information to evaluate options for future development (e.g., expansion of eco-tourism, increased human habitation) and to evaluate the outcome of previously implemented management actions (e.g., the efficacy of existing regulations for whale-watching and commercial fishing in the lagoon); (4) involving local residents, schools and eco-tourism operators by providing public workshops and symposia to discuss and comment on relevant science issues; and (5) provide a teaching resource for local schools to foster an awareness of the unique nature of Laguna San Ignacio and build a foundation for its future conservation.
LSIESP monitors the status of a core suite of key physical and biological parameters or â€śecological indicatorsâ€ť that are measurable, and that are indicative of the status of the ecosystem (e.g., gray whales, marine waterfowl, sea turtles, economically important fish and shellfish, sea grass meadows, benthic invertebrates, etc.). Over time, these indicators provide relevant information about the long-term stability of the wetlands ecosystem as a viable habitat for the marine species and its ability to support sustained eco-tourism, fishing, and local habitation. These data are analyzed in the context of larger scale environmental changes, trends and processes that affect the lagoon ecosystem to evaluate the influences of natural external forces and human activities within the lagoon ecosystem. Monitoring builds on existing historical baseline information and, where none exists, establishes observing programs for key species and species groups to develop baseline values for future comparative analysis.
The LSIESP provides graduate students from Mexico and elsewhere opportunities and support to participate in applied wildlife conservation in the field, and to learn research methods and develop skills under the guidance of university professors and subject experts that will serve them in their careers as wildlife conservation scientists. As appropriate, the program forms partnerships and coordinates its activities with other groups investigating various aspects of the Laguna San Ignacio ecosystem (e.g., Pronatura-Noroeste, Philanthropiece, and Grupo Tortuguero). LSIESP provides presentations on the natural history and ecology of Laguna San Ignacio and its marine wildlife to local schools at Ejido Luis Escheverria (at the lagoon) and the town of San Ignacio, naturalists, and eco-tourists that visit the lagoon. LSIESP conducts field trips to the lagoon for local schools where LSIESP researchers conduct â€śmin-coursesâ€ť on marine science for primary and secondary students. Annual community workshops (“Reunions”) review scientific findings and conclusions, and provide a public forum for the exchange of information on the lagoon and human activities that affect it. The workshop participants include subject experts, representatives of government regulatory agencies (e.g., the Director of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve), eco-tourism operators, local residents, non-government environmental organizations, students and instructors from local schools, and interested public. Information generated by the LSIESP is distributed via the program’s internet Website (www.lsiecosystem.org), in peer reviewed published articles, in the local media, at professional scientific meetings, and in local publications.