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¡Straight into the Deep end!

First days of volunteering with the Manta Caribbean Project.

It is June, which means the start of the field season here at the Manta Caribbean Project and the arrival of a new group of volunteers. We arrived on Isla Mujeres the 31st of May and moved into the manta house. The following days were spent with introduction presentations and training. On Wednesday, our first official day, we met Karen, who manages the project, at the marina for lunch. We were joined by Karey and Jaky from the Manta Pacific Research Foundation and Valentina, underwater photographer and videographer from Liquid Jungle Media.

On Wednesday afternoon Valentina gave a workshop on underwater photography and the work she has been doing with the Manta Caribbean Project. She showed us a few of the amazing photographs and videos she has taken over the years, mainly from the Mexican Caribbean, the cenotes on the mainland and the Revillagigedo islands on the Pacific coast. Very impressive work! Aside from storytelling Valentina also gave us a bit of an introduction to taking ID photographs of manta rays, what to pay attention to, which region is used for the ID and the importance of keeping a respectful distance.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday were spent on various presentations and workshops: An introduction to the Manta Caribbean Project and the marine life around Isla Mujeres, equipment training, use of the GPS and database management as well as manta biology and ecology and the code of conduct for swimming with manta rays.

Of course we also got the chance to explore the island a bit during our first days. We spent an afternoon at the beach, got sunburnt of course, had some tacos and margaritas and spent a day at the Southern end of the island where we went snorkeling. It’s also the start of the nesting season for hawksbill turtles so we’re hoping to go out with people from the local turtle project one night and see them nest on the beach.

Sunday was supposed to be our first field trip. We were all very excited to get on the boat and look for mantas but we ended up postponing the trip until Monday because of engine troubles. On Monday we managed to go out but didn’t see any mantas. There were some dolphins and a green turtle on the way through and the highlight of the day: We got to swim with two different whale sharks! Swimming with these gentle giants never gets old. There’s nothing quite like it. For two of the volunteers, it was the first time seeing whale sharks so this was quite exciting! We also practiced using the GPS and CTD, collected some plankton samples and recorded data on whale shark tourism. All in all, a great day even though there were no mantas. Time to clean the equipment and log the data we collected today.

In the next days we’ll be busy preparing some fun activities for this year’s World Ocean Day, we’ll do a clean-up in the mangroves and then it’s time to go out in the field again. Fingers crossed for mantas!


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