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Manta Caribbean 2019 March Kick-off

This year in addition to the summer term of Caribbean Manta research, there is an extra month of research during March. The end of this months’ work leads into the first ever Latin American shark, ray and Chimera conference which all the volunteers have the opportunity to attend.

Already one week has passed in this project, and though it has been an incredibly active week, it still feels like it has gone in the blink of an eye. Arrival day (Friday 1st March) was an adventure in the form of luggage transportation. In addition to the struggle of transporting 9 girls’ luggage for a month’s trip, there was also a large load of kit for the manta research, including the 2m tall manta trawl device. It may have taken over an hour and at least 5 taxis, but all gear (and team members) arrived at the team house in one piece.

Our first full day following arrival started with a tour around the beautiful island of Isla Mujeres; including visiting its beaches and street art sites. We were also given an overview of the island’s turtle farm/sanctuary which previous volunteers had helped with. The main method of transport on the island are rentable golf carts, and luckily we have many eager drivers in the group who were happy to chauffeur all 9 members of the party around.

On the Sunday we were introduced to manta morphology and behaviour: including a guide on how to differentiate between the different mobula species. We were also briefed on different research techniques (such as Manta trawl, Plankton tow and CTD) that we would be using during our boat trips. Within the volunteer group we have some very experienced conservationists, including Stephie; the Project leader of Manta Trust’s Peru operation. As someone who is still new in the conservation field this has meant that there is a big well of knowledge for me to draw on in addition to Karen and Annie’s expertise.

Monday, Tuesday and Friday were boat survey days. Monday was more of a trial run day for equipment; given the wave surge, lack of mantas and issue of getting lost finding the research boat. Never-the-less it was an opportunity to show off the national parks in which the manta surveys are conducted; including Isla Contoy (which is a bird nesting ground for many species). While the mantas did not appear other wildlife including dolphins, frigates and sailfish gave us all a show to remember.

During Tuesday’s boat survey the weather was perfect and we saw plenty of mantas, for half the group of volunteers this was our first time being close to these ocean giants, and was an unforgettable moment. Unfortunately, the Mantas did not want to show up on Friday’s boat patrol, but by this point everyone was happy with the research instruments they were using and plenty of oceanographical data was taken. On the non-boat days everyone was kept busy with conservation surveys. In order to be more aware of the islands tourism and fishing industries; teams were sent out either to dive centres or fishing cooperatives. This gives to the Mexican Caribbean Manta Ray Non-Profit a better understanding of how the island and its waters are used. These links to local businesses are a key part of conservation success as they help educate the public and industry on the best environmental practices. These surveys and interviews will be continuing throughout the following months in order to build up understanding and trust. Additionally on the non-boat days everyone got a preview of Stephies Peruvian manta presentation ahead of the conference. It features some amazing documentaries and is a showcase of how conservation can be successful in leading to the protection of species on a national scale. Other highlights of the week included some amazing homecooked meals, and 2 movie nights. Next week is looking to be just as busy as the previous one, and everyone is eagerly looking forward to it.

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