Quino El Guardian Citizen Science Dive Expedition
By: Beverly Peterson
I remember everyone was finally aboard on November 7th and we set sail. The seas were calm, the crossing was gentle.
• Frida Lara is a bright, quiet, young woman working on her PhD determining the distribution patterns of sharks by studying the behaviors, conservation and management of sharks through BRUVS and acoustic telemetry.
• Robert (Bob) Rubin is a regular guy known in the Marine Biology world as a renowned scientist, considered an expert on Mantas; and,
• James Ketchum is the co-founder of a non-profit organization for the research and conservation of sharks and other large fish. He tags sharks with transmitters using the data to protect the Revillagigedo Archipelago and other regions.
The Science Citizens:
• EA: the Instigator; CG: the World Diver; JC: the Reader; JF: the Free Diver; TS: the Discoverer of Trent’s Cove; CA: the Bandito aka professional photographer for the Expedition; MR: the Electric Charge; and, me BP: the Artist.
For the three scientists, the Citizens Science trip to Revillagigedo Archipelago was about collecting data to support the important need to secure a 40 miles radius outside the four islands instead of the existing 6 miles radius around each island. Through their work they can show when and where the sharks and mantas travel back and forth between the islands to the Sea Of Cortez and further. Outside the six mile protected zone the sharks, mantas, and other big fish are fair game for net and longline fisherman. The fish snagged by longline fisheries are killed and discarded at sea. The shark fins and manta gills command money but not as much money as the fish do alive. In our country and other islands tourism commands millions of dollars. Aside from money the ocean is a necessary resource we need as a race to exist. All that lives in the ocean is just as necessary. I have included the scientist’s websites at the close so you can see the work they do.
For me, I went on the expedition to be in the water, to dive with sharks, whales, mantas, dolphins, and fast currents because I love being at sea and under water with these animals. The trip exceeded the idea to “just be” in the aquatic environment. There was a purpose and we, the guests, the crew, eagerly assisted with all that we could. We helped Frida set her BRUVs (underwater GoPro cameras strategically placed in locations recording shark behavior). We helped James tag sharks. We helped Bob collect photographic data. We all had jobs. Presentations on shark and mantas were at night. We sat attentive like kids listening to a bedtime story.
We tagged five sharks. Some of the sharks had the receiver surgically inserted, the others had the receivers screwed onto the dorsal fin by a Home Depot 12v battery drill. I would not have guessed a home improvement process! All the sharks were female. We learned how to identify gender, take DNA samples, keep the sharks alive by running water into their mouths and out the gills, protected their eyes from light, and how to prevent the tail from thrashing by lassoing the caudal fin (tail fin) and then tightening the noose.
To tag a shark you have to catch one first, right? Rod and reel, so simple. The Citizen Scientists rallied around the scientific team when it was SHARK FISHING time. Anticipation would ramp up to excitement as we gathered the equipment required for our particular task, maneuver into our stations and wait. We didn’t wait long only a minute or two. Every living cell on deck was charged from the moment the shark took the bait to the time she was released swimming away with stealth and speed.
So, how many people do you think it took to tag one shark – for our project? This many: A Fisherman. A Tail Roper who lassos the tail which is how we got the shark up seven stairs, by the tail. A Data Recorder. A Timer who calls out minutes to keep the scientist aware of how long the shark has been out of water – not more than 20 minutes is best. A Water/Life Support person to keep water flowing in the mouth and out the gills to keep it alive. Three strong men to hold the shark down. A Scientist doing the tagging. An Assistant Scientist. A photographer. A Measurement taker. A DNA sampler. A total of eleven people.
It was a privilege to be so close to the sharks, to touch them, to be an inch away from THOSE TEETH, to see the power of their muscular strength, their mystery. Did you know that sharks have a distinct smell? I learned this from Frida. I could smell that smell when they were on deck. How fortunate to be a part of this Expedition.
Roca Partida is one of my favorite islands even though, on this trip, none of the big fish were seen in mass. El Nino year, no thermocline at 90 to 120 feet, various reasons. Some live boards call Roca Partida “The Hare and The Gorilla.” One rock looks like the head of a rabbit with prominent ears jutting up joined to what looks like the side profile of a Gorilla’s face. That’s Roca Partida, two rocks.
At El Boiler dive site at San Benedicto we swam with seven Manta’s as they circled us, weaved in and out of the ten divers. Each of us can tell a story about this one “epic dive.” The mantas – mostly female, would loop up and over, bank left or right, exposing their white bellies decorated by their unique black markings like our fingerprints. Just when you thought the Manta swimming straight for you, mouth opened wide, cephalic lobes extended was ready to swallow you up, she would gracefully swim up or bank into an aerobatic turn.
The Mantas swim so close and of course none of us would swim out of the way because we just had to be “one with the manta.” We would swim with them, under them, don’t touch them, and follow them wherever they swam. Many times I found myself looking eye to eye with these magnificent and memorizing creatures. I can swear the Mantas communicated with me. I could only reply with a smile of recognition and comprehension. I was not any different than any of the other divers…they felt the same. There is no sense of time, just that moment.
San Benedicto is an interesting volcanic island. In 1952 – so recent – the volcano erupted and created the second half of the island. Lava flow covered by the explosion of white ash covering the new part of the island is everywhere. One day we took a panga ride around the south end of the island right before sunset and I wondered what the volcano explosion looked like as it was creating the second half of the island – it is remarkable to see the result of its creation. At the end of the last dive of the trip we were collecting different size pumice-like rocks that were blown off the island, floating in the water like debris from a ship wreck.
I see the Quino El Guardian as a working live aboard dive boat. Sleeping quarters are tight, tight, and tight; four bunks to a berth. Showers and toilets are upstairs on deck which was convenient after dives.
The crew of Quino El Guardian by far stand out as most outstanding and impressive of my live aboard experiences which are many around the world. The Quino crew are a family. They embrace each diver into their family. We all know how hard crewing is on a live aboard, 24/7, and we are always impressed by the crew’s ability to be so much fun, do all they can to make our dive experience the best BUT this crew is different – they excel. I think this quality of excellence speaks to the owners, Dora and Lolo. Dora and Lolo treat their crew like their family with kindness and respect. The entire Quino El Guardian Citizen’s Science Expedition experience was uniquely special. I can hardly wait to be back aboard.
Please check out the Scientists' websites below:
Dr. James Ketchum and student Frida Lara: www.pelagioskakunja.org
Dr. Robert Rubin: www.Facebook.com/PacificMantaResearchGroup, Bob did a 15 minute “Ted Talk” on Mantas