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Manta Summer 2017: Happy to be back in the ocean!

3...2...1...Lift Off: Mexican Caribbean Manta Ray Project 2017

July 1st 2017|Lyds

Saturday 1st July marked the official start of the Mexican Caribbean Manta Ray Project 2017. We have an awesome bunch of volunteers spanning 4 nationalities and 5 countries. We’re all primed and ready for life in the Mexican Caribbean with plenty of epic manta ray action along the way.

Manta Trust Explores Isla Mujeres

July 2st 2017|Lyds

Island Tour Day whoop whoop!! On Sunday the Mexican Manta crew did a full day island tour of Isla

Mujeres which consisted of 2 golf carts, heaps of fun in the sun and lots of photos. We were taken all

around the island and were treated to beautiful ocean vistas at every turn.

Our first stop was to the Tortugranja, the local turtle sanctuary. As part of our volunteer program we will be helping the sanctuary staff with evening turtle egg collections, creating an educational art mural and providing visitors/tourists with turtle information.

Next stop Punta Sur, this cool headland has it all: Mayan ruins, sculptures, iguanas, frigate birds and mega breath-taking views. The turquois shallows fringed with the deep blue depths, simply magical. The crew chilled here for a while before heading to Palya Paraiso for a spot of lunch followed by a sweet post lunch snorkel. What an epic introduction to our Manta Project!

You Never Forget Your First Manta

July 3rd 2017|Rupes

As we volunteers waited on the beach, the anticipation of what we were hoping to see was palpable –

and manta ray-shaped! We’d spent the previous day exploring the island, allowing the excitement to

build, and today we were ready. It’s what we all came for - the first field trip to the survey site area - a

regular location for sightings of mantas.

The boat sped out towards the open sea, the morning sun illuminating the Cancún coastline to the west. It was already hot, and the breeze rushing over my skin was a welcome relief. Every moment of coolness is cherished when the humidity is so high. We soon arrived at the survey site, with only the sight of a small lighthouse in the distance as a reference point.

The volunteer group split into teams, each lead by a project co-ordinator, each with a specific responsibility. The GPS team where in charge of recording our precise location. The Manta Project aims to reveal where the areas are where mantas are most frequently sighted, to better protect them. Currently there are no policies in place locally to protect mantas from, amongst other things, the pressures of tourism. Protected areas and policies are already in place for whale sharks.

Another team was responsible for plankton sampling. Knowing how much plankton is out thereat any time allows for the assemblage and density of plankton to be correlated to any manta sightings.Mantas feed on plankton so this is important work.

Another team took profiles of the water column. Using a device called a minion they took to take CTD(conductivity, temperature and depth) readings. The minion was dropped into the ocean and, as it descends, it takes readings. This data describes the stratification of water column showing both haloclines and thermoclines that in turn can be correlated to the plankton that are present. Clever!

The final - and most attractive job - was to get in the water with the mantas to take identification photos for the database. But that would depend entirely on whether we would be lucky enough to spot any…

Once at the known manta area, the boat slowed to minimize disturbance. And everyone quietly and studiously adopted ‘lookout’ mode. We looked for dark shadows under the surface, maybe a breach, the splash of a wingtip.After an hour Manza saw a breach in the distance! We tentatively made our way over to the area, but we saw nothing. Half an hour later Santi shouted that he saw a dark shadow in the distance! Captain changed course and slowly moved towards it, and everyone’s eyes were fixed on the area which Santi was pointing at. Most of the volunteers found it difficult to see what they’d seen – we hadn’t yet developed our ‘manta radars’. As we got closer and closer, with Santi’s pointing finger getting lower and lower, finally we all saw the white flash of our first manta’s cephalic fins. The excitement was overwhelming! The observers quickly got in the water. But only three minutes later and the manta was gone. There wasn’t enough time to get any photos. But that’s one of the awesome things about these fish – mantas have individual personalities. They can be incredibly curious and almost friendly, to very skittish. Sadly, this one was not in the mood to meet us.

But what a taste of what might

be to come! What a privilege! What a fish! We continued our work collecting data about the sighting, and then we were off again, searching for more mantas. Apart from one manta breach spotted from some distance, the only other sightings were of a small pod of dolphins and a pair of mating green turtles, blissfully embracing. The best way to round off such a day is with a swim, a cold beer and a ceviche, don’t you think?

Classroom Activities

July 4th 2017|Liv

Following an 8 hour boat trip under the beating rays of the Mexican sun, a day spent indoors was in order! This day consisted of two important aspects; ID’s and surveys. At first we were taught how to enter data into the manta database and how to correctly ID individual mantas. Such skills are imperative for our time here in Mexico! In addition to this, we were also given an introduction to the two surveys that are to be carried out during the programme; one focusing on marine debris and the other, mantas and fisheries. The aim of such surveys is to gain a deeper understanding of the public perception of these two issues on Isla Mujeres.

Classroom Activities

July 5th 2017|Lyds

Today the Manta Crew went out into the community in search of knowledge and to offer a helping hand.

As part of our volunteer project we will be conducting weekly surveys targeting the local fisherman and tourism operators, in the hope to gain valuable information about their experiences and observations regarding manta rays and marine debris. First stop the fisherman’s pier!

Second stop Clinica Veterinaria, the island’s only vet and cat/dog shelter. The whole crew went down town to say hi and give the shelter’s back yard a bit of a tidy up. At present the shelter is home to around 100 cats and 4 dogs. Over the course of our project we will be visiting the shelter regularly. Our duties will include playing with the animals, general housekeeping and assisting with surgeries. We’re super excited to support such a worthy cause, watch this space for more cool cat and dog antics.

Knowledge is Key

July 5th 2017|Rupes

Education is a fundamental basis. Even for our group of volunteers. So this morning three of our volunteers presented a talk about marine turtles to the rest of the group. The hope is to make everyone aware of the conservation issues surrounding these curious marine reptiles. As a part of the program, we have offered help to a local turtle sanctuary and this is a perfect way of educating ourselves who can in turn educate the visitors of the sanctuary.

The afternoon saw the group go over the surveys conducted the day before. We went through the answers the locals gave us and streamlined the questionnaires to improve their efficiency. The evening consisted of an evening sunset swim and a hearty group meal.

Whale Sharks A Go Go!

July 6th 2017|Liv

Our second field trip of the week came around much faster than expected. On Friday morning, bleary eyed, we made our way over to Isla Contoy. Once we had reached our destination there was much question as to whether today would be the day when the mantas would grace us with their presence! Around ten minutes into the expedition we came across two staggeringly beautiful whale sharks. What a delightful surprise! In groups of threes we then proceeded to take turns in the water and admire their beauty.

What followed was a day of intense manta searching. Although we remained unsuccessful in this respect, the multitude of whale sharks dotted around the ocean certainly made up for the lack of mantas. Our final encounter was the most memorable; allowing for many minutes of pure and utter bliss in the water!

A second, if not more important aspect of this field trip was the deployment of the ‘Manta Trawl’, apiece of equipment that is to be used to test the levels of microplastic in the water. This project is in association with5gyres, a non-profit organization that ‘empowers action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, art, education, and adventure.’ This will hopefully provide us with an enlightening insight into the pollution levels here in the Mexico Caribbean.

Meeting the Next Generation of Marine Ambassadors

July 8th 2017|Lyds

Today we returned to the Turtle Sanctuary to help clean and up-cycle a surplus of plastic bottles that in

turn will be used to minimize the sanctuary’s daily plastic usage. On arrival, we were greeted by

student’s from the local school who had come especially to present to us they’re own ocean plastic

projects. The student’s showed us turtle egg pens and rubbish bins they had made completely out of

plastic bottles, as well as a design for a net that will collect plastics floating in the ocean. We finished off

the meet up by playing a big game of ocean bingo, using bottle tops as playing pieces.

It was a really special experience to meet passionate kids, keen to spread their awesome marine

conservation messages.

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