Interview with Núria Baylina, Head of Biology and Conservation at Oceanário de Lisboa

Opened in 1998, the Oceanário de Lisboa is a large public aquarium. The Oceanário now collaborates with several partners to promote ocean sustainability by supporting scientific research and marine biodiversity conservation projects. One of these is the Manta Catalog Azores. We talked to Núria Baylina about the aquarium’s involvement with the manta project.

Núria graduated in Aquatic Sciences at University of Porto and started working at Oceanario de Lisboa as an aquarist in 1997, one year before its opening. Her present role of Head of Biology and Conservation at Oceanario has allowed her to collaborate with a lot of conservation projects around the world.

She is a member of the Steering Committee of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) Elasmobranch Taxon Advisory Group, Blue Spotted Stingray EAZA Studbook keeper, Member of the IUCN SSC Shark Specialist Group (SSG) and member of the SSG Aquarium working Group .

What led to the aquarium becoming involved in the Manta Catalog conservation project?

As part of its mission, Oceanario de Lisboa provides financial support for in-situ conservation and research projects since 2007. More than 30 projects have benefitted from this support since then, either in Portugal or abroad. Manta Catalog Azores applied to this fund in 2017 and its application was accepted.

sicklefin devil ray mobula
Sicklefin Devil Rays in the Azores. Photo credit: Tim Nicholson.

In what ways is Oceanario helping the project?

Oceanario has been supporting the project since 2017 through this fund and helping on the development of communication tools and materials. With time the collaboration with the project and its project leader has increased.

With the pandemic Oceanario felt the need to look at other ways to support conservation projects, as the financial situation of the aquarium was not good due to the drastic reduction of visitors in that year. We also believe that we can help conservation projects to develop strategies to generate their own revenues to continue and increase their work without being so dependent from external grants and supports. With that idea in mind, we approached Ana Filipa Sobral from Manta Catalog Azores to develop a pilot program of conservation tourism and created the Manta Conservation Experience. This program aims to provide Manta Catalog Azores a path to self-sustainability, generating revenue for the project activities, assuring the project team presence on the ground during the aggregation period, increasing the collection data by the participants activities and increasing awareness regarding these species.

This program also helps the local community businesses at Santa Maria and the tourism in general in the island, promoting a tourism more focused on conservation and sustainability, which we believe is the right way to go.

How does supporting the project benefit the aquarium?

Ocean conservation is the reason for Oceanário to exist and the mission it focuses on. Supporting this type of programs and initiatives is part of our permanent search to create ways that align Ocean conservation with financial sustainability. Every time we achieve it, we know we have contributed towards our mission. That is the reason we are involved and that is how the aquarium benefits from its support.

Oceanario de Lisboa

Oceanario de Lisboa is a Public Aquarium in Portugal that opened its doors in 1998 as part of the World Expo. Oceanario has been considered the best aquarium the world for three times by Trip Advisor users and its one of the reference aquariums in the world.

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