A tropical storm meant the ports were all closed preventing us from taking a trip out on the boat! So instead we used the time to investigate the population structure of the mantas in the area based on previously collected data. Santi demonstrated how to manipulate the data to show information regarding the population structure (proportion of each sex and proportion of mantas with certain pigmentations types (leucistic, melanistic or wildtype). From the graphs produced he asked us to interpret the data and explain the significance; for example, more females might be beneficial to the population and for its growth because it provides more opportunities for reproduction.
Later in the afternoon we gathered to watch the documentary ‘Erosion’ which explains how anthropogenic development has seriously damaged the beaches and environment surrounding Playa del Carmen. It was incredibly interesting to see how rapidly the areas deteriorated (within the space of 30 years), how those who are developing care more about money than the environment and how even now nothing is being done to reverse the impact. Despite the fact the damage is clear, construction still continues.
After a lovely day together it was sadly time for a farewell meal and celebration! Corey, who had been with the group since July was heading home the next day to continue with her studies in marine biology. To celebrate our time together Santi cooked a traditional Colombian meal called (Patacones), delicious! After this we headed out with Corey for one final fiesta!
Wednesday - 09.08.17
The port was still closed due to the stormy weather. One group of the volunteers headed over to Tortugranja in the morning to finish our creative marine trash mural. While we were crafting the marine animals and adding the final touches to the mural we got a lot of attention from visitors. Some were just observing us and smiled, while others got in touch with us and asked us some question about the mural, for example where we got the trash from, what kind of volunteer program we are participating and what our main aim of the project is. Some of the tourists we were talking to said they appreciated our work and found the idea inspiring.
In the afternoon Steph and Claudia headed out to different dive shops and tourist offices to ask about the marine debris situation in the area, while the other volunteers were working on their tasks (social media, maps, outreach, grant applications, graphs).
The second group of the volunteers ended their day helping out the turtle patrol on the beach. Even though two or three turtles came up to the beach none of them laid eggs leading us to think that perhaps the conditions weren’t quite right. Despite this, they still enjoyed the evening as they were able to observe the green turtles from a closer distance than usual.
Thursday - 10.08.17
A very active day! Sadly, the ports were closed once again so we couldn’t get out on the water, but the weather was much improved so we decided to hire some bikes and explore the island! We cycled all the way around the island starting at the north side and cycling all the way back again! We stopped at the south side to investigate the ruins of a Mayan temple dedicated to Ixchel (goddess of fertility and medicine) which was surrounded by many beautiful sculptures and crystal clear turquoise sea.
A VERY hot journey in the 30 degree heat but definitely worth it! The views were incredible! En route we also stopped to see two murals created by PangeaSeed, artists for oceans who try and educate people through powerful images. Exhausted and hot we made it back just in time for the rain to start.
Later that afternoon everybody set out to do their assigned tasks. We ended the evening by watching a combination of documentaries regarding ‘Vaquitas’, a critically endangered species endemic to the Gulf of California a population well below 100 individuals. We watched videos from the viewpoints of environmentalists, locals and fishermen to get an overview of how one problem can affect so many different groups through a domino-like effect.
We discussed the impacts of the regulations put in place (a complete 2 year ban of any type of fishing in the area) on the ecosystem, locals and those who depend economically on fishing in the region. To prevent extinction of other species we need to remember to look not only at the species in direct danger of loss but also how any changes will affect other groups socially and economically and find a solution which is suitable for all of them.
Friday - 11.08.17
Another hard days work with the group all focusing on their individual tasks! Mel made some strong headway with grant applications, Lydia made a start on planning the reports for the end of our trip and Steph and Claudia started on their data analyses! During this time Rupert was working hard on our maps!
As it was Addy’s final evening with the group we decided to go for a final sunset swim with her before having a lovely meal out! Our restaurant of choice served an Asian inspired cuisine. Many members of our group tried the famous invasive species, lionfish! As an invasive species the lionfish has had devastating impacts on reefs in the Caribbean Sea. Therefore, the consumption of this fish species in particular is thought to be beneficial as it reduces their impact on the native flora and fauna. Some of the volunteers ended the day with a last drink to give Addy a good send off!
Sunday - 13.08.17
The group had a very early start to make it to the boat for 6am! After a small hiccup and recruitment of another boat we set off (slightly later than planned). Despite this we still had a phenomenal day!
After handing in our permits we had a radio call to tell us there were mantas in the area, very exciting news, especially for our new volunteers, who up until today had not seen mantas. We followed the usual protocol entering the water in groups of three to take ID photos and try to identify the sex and look for scars. We also took a micro-plastic sample, conducted CTD monitoring (to measure salinity, temperature and depth), wrote down the GPS locations throughout our journey accompanied by the weather conditions. One of our volunteers filled in two marine debris surveys with the information supplied by the Captain and crew.
We had many breath taking encounters with mantas in the water (often with more than one at once). The day was made even more incredible as we also saw a multiple mantas breaching. In addition to the mantas, we saw whale sharks in the water (right next to the mantas!) and spotted dolphins during our trip. It was definitely an incredible day, one never to be forgotten! It was just amazing!
On returning from our trip we set about doing our various data analysis tasks which included entering the GPS data, looking through the micro-plastic sample and transferring the CTD data. Everyone was really exhausted after this stunning day so we collectively decided to have an early night.