Shark Week 2021

Stingray Species Range Expands in Eastern Pacific

By Jeanne Brown | July 16, 2021

Wide and beautiful estuary in the Bajo Baudo, Chocó. Photo credit: Javier Silva/WCS

A particular stingray species (Styracura pacifica) had been reported in Central America, but a recent study by Fundación MarViva, Fundación Squalus and WCS shows it is present in a coastal MPA in Colombia — a good sign that continued protection of this healthy ecosystem will safeguard this and other wildlife.

species of stingray previously thought to be found only in Eastern Tropical Pacific coastal waters ranging from Mexico to Panama, has been observed south of its known range in a marine protected area (MPA) in coastal Colombia. The discovery was made in collaboration with fishers, a team of researchers that includes WCS Colombia marine lead Paola Mejia, and community members of the Conseio Comunitario de la Costa Pacifica (CONCOSTA) Bajo Baudó in Chocó.

The Encanto de los Manglares del Bajo Baudó MPA, an Integrated Management Regional District (IMRD), is the biggest of its type in the Pacific region — spanning 3,146 squared kilometers. The area is an important regional conservation priority for the protection of extensive mangrove forests and estuaries, and supports a sustainable fishery for fish and piangua, or ark clams, carried out by fishermen and women of the Afro communities.

The main threats in this coastal area are habitat loss caused by the establishment of plantations and habitat degradation caused by solid waste mismanagement, overexploitation of mangrove and lowland forests, and unsustainable fishing practices and methods.

Training for participatory fisheries monitoring in the Guineal community, Bajo Baudó. Photo credit: Diego Amariles/WCS

The Pacific whiptail stingray (Styracura pacifica), or Pacific chupare (also referred to as lenguada, and corroñosa), is a relative of the Caribbean whiptail stingray, and the only representative of its type in marine areas in Colombia.

Considering what these animals are up against with loss of habitat and degraded mangrove and shallow estuarine bays along the coast of the Eastern Tropical Pacific, and the catch by artisanal fishers, the presence of this species in mouth of the Docampadó River is a hopeful sign that this MPA supports a healthy ecosystem.

The presence of this species in mouth of the Docampadó River is a hopeful sign that this marine protected area supports a healthy ecosystem.

One objective of this MPA is to maintain populations of species with economic value for the local communities such as fish species and ark clam banks (Anadara spp.), among others. WCS is working with CONCOSTA, environmental (Codechoco) and fishing (AUNAP) authorities, NGOs, and local groups to strengthen the management of this MPA and supporting communities’ sustainable use of the natural resources through the promotion of sustainable fishing practices and the reduction of incidental catch of sharks and rays.

Mangroves and estuaries: favorable habitats for the occurrence of Styracura pacifica. Photo credit: Paola Mejía/WCS

It is through engagement with communities through a participatory fisheries monitoring program with the Afro-community council, Consejo Comunitario de la Costa Pacífica (CONCOSTA), that the finding was made.

Authors of the study conclude “considering the low number of records in the zone, its limited distribution, the scarce knowledge of its biology, the degradation of the mangroves and its interaction with artisanal fisheries along the entire Tropical Eastern Pacific, it could probably require specific conservation and management actions, additional to those received due to its presence within the IMRD.”

The successful management of MPAs through a highly participatory process allowing for concerted efforts to help identify, monitor, and take action to protect this and other marine wildlife has been for the benefit of the ecosystem and coastal communities.

Jeanne Brown is Senior Manager for Area-Based Marine Conservation with the Global Marine Program at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

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Our Ocean, Our Future

Conserving and managing the marine biodiversity of our oceans is a monumental task that few countries have the capacity to do on their own. WCS is responding by investing in ocean protection, sustainable fisheries, and marine species conservation where the need is greatest