Our volunteer project isn’t just about mantas. Along with our research trips the team spends time planning and implementing education and outreach activities. Today we primarily focussed on the Isla’s turtle population and split into two teams; day and night to promote education and awareness. The day team spent the morning at the turtle sanctuary, informing the visitors about the sanctuary’s work and the different turtle species they have in their hatching and rehabilitation programs.
The night team met with one of the sanctuaries turtle egg collectors. Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead Turtles all lay eggs around the island. To guarantee successful hatching the sanctuary collects the eggs as the females lay, then takes them back to the sanctuary. Once hatched the hatchlings are then returned to their “home beach” and released. The laying process can take several hours, during this time our work included protecting the nest and leading by example in terms of how to behave around nesting turtles.
Narrowing the Scope: Microbial Communities on Shark Skin
July 11th 2017 | Addy
Today, marine biologist Michael Doane stopped by the house to discuss his research on shark skin microbial communities. Mike and his team are working to better understand the role of microbes on shark by comparing samples of the microbial communities on the skin and from the surrounding water column. In the past, he’s worked thresher sharks and leopard sharks. His current investigation of microbes on whale shark skin brought his research team to Isla Mujeres, where they use a self-designed noninvasive tool to collect their samples. When they return to San Diego, they’ll compare the samples they collected here with samples from other locations, like Baja Sur and India! ¡Qué interesante!
Rays and shark are elasmobranchs, which means that their skeletons are made out of cartilage rather than bone. Perhaps Mike’s research on sharks could shed light some light on our manta friends!
Offshore Adventures, Flamingos and Whale Sharks
July 12th 2017 | Lyds
We set out early on our third research expedition in search of the illusive manta rays. The ocean treated us to glassy conditions and light winds as we ventured offshore. Along the way we spotted the usual (but amazing) suspects; several pairs of mating turtles as well as the occasional pelican and frigate bird. Then suddenly we saw an unexpected sight, a flock of flamingos flying towards land! The early morning sun caught their brilliantly pink flanks, it was a spectacular moment to witness
Throughout the day the team took GPS marks and CTD samples and micro plastic tows. Unfortunately, we didn’t spot any mantas however it was a truly beautiful day on the ocean made even more special by encountering several small pods of bottlenose dolphins and a school of cownose rays. On our way home we spotted a friendly whale shark gobbling up fish eggs. She was super chilled out so we decided to go and say hi. What a perfect way to end a great day out on the ocean!
PangeaSeed: Artists for Oceans!
July 13th 2017 | Addy
Another beautiful day in Isla Mujeres! Our turtle day team spent a few hours giving tours at Tortugranja, where they educated visitors about turtle conservation issues and the complicated (and somewhat imperfect) process of turtle rehab at the center. While the turtle night team took to the beaches in search of nesting females, a few of us headed to Cancun to attend a panel discussion and closing party for PangeaSeed’s Sea Wall project.
PangeaSeed is an international non-profit that merges art and activism to create public art around the theme of ocean conservation. They just completed a series of stunning murals in Cancun, and are returning to Isla Mujeres next week to do a wall at Tortugranja! Manza was integral in arranging their Tortugranja mural, and spoke about the intersection of art and science alongside PangeaSeed founder Tre’ Packard during the panel discussion.
Next week, Mexican artist José Luis will spend a few days in Isla Mujeres creating the mural (and rumor has it that he’s painting mantas). Stay tuned!
Chasing Coral Premier
July 14th 2017 | Lyds
Today was an office day. The Volunteers continued with their weekly tasks that included social media, blog posts, conducting surveys and grant research. In the evening to celebrate all our hard work we watched the Chasing Coral Premier.
The film follows a passionate team of filmmakers and scientists that together invent the first underwater time-lapse camera to record mass coral bleaching events as they happen. Coral bleaching is a stress response directly related to elevated ocean temperatures, which in turn has dramatic consequences for coral reef ecosystems and beyond . In documenting the ever increasing magnitude and severity of these events the film hopes to raise awareness about global climate change issues. It’s definitely not all doom and gloom, there certainly is a lot of hope; and we all need to work together to make positive change. The film really is a must see so take a look and spread the word. http://www.chasingcoral.com/
July 15th 2017 | Addy
The wait is finally over! After two weeks of sparse manta sightings, we had a stroke of manta magic today. Mantas are plankton eaters, and typically prefer to spend time in the green, plankton-filled waters off of Isla Contoy. Typically, we focus on that area during our field trips, but today for a change of pace, we went to the “blue water”, and area known for it’s abundance of whale sharks (and fish eggs - whale sharks favorite snack).
I don’t think any of us were prepared for the onslaught of mantas that followed.
Early on in the day, we spotted our first individual and then continued to spot manta after manta for the next five hours. We were in and out of the water taking ID photos almost nonstop - there were probably 30+ manta sightings as well as countless breaches. One of the many highlights of the day was collectively witnessing a manta breach about 5 meters away from our boat. A number of us were in tears, and one of our manta volunteers Andrielli, was over the moon at having caught the unbelievable moment on camera!
Most of the team had their first manta encounter today. And for a bunch of ocean nerds who have come from from all over to help study and protect mantas, that moment is indescribable! Sylvia Earle said it best: "It is the worst of times but it is the best of times because we still have a chance.” Amidst all the bad news and heartache, days like today help remind us what we’re working to protect. It couldn’t be more worth it!