Manchones Reef

Isla Mujeres is more than just a beautiful island where you can snorkel to see whale sharks. Around the island are a few reefs, including the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere—but I’ll get to that later.

Today, I’m going to talk about Manchones Reef and its underwater art gallery!

From either Cancun or Isla Mujeres you can hop on a boat that will take you to Manchones Reef, a popular local dive site. It’s considered an easy dive for beginners and open dive certified divers, but it’s also a neat place for more experienced divers. The site contains more than 800 linear meters of reef and 500 underwater sculptures.

Prominent corals on the reef include elkhorn coral, staghorn coral, and brain coral, and several other reef building and soft corals. The local reef-dwelling fish provide a wide variety of color. Some of the more abundant fish include blue tangs, wrasse, grunts, and snappers—a beautiful site full of life for any diver to enjoy!

The El Museo Subacuático de Arte, or MUSA, is the underwater art gallery with 500 sculptures, including the “The Man on Fire” and the “The Ernest Hemingway Desk.” I’ve seen tons of photos of human-like sculptures and even the sculpture of a car! The sculptures were created by Jason deCaires Taylor, an environmentalist and photographer.

One of the issues when rebuilding reefs is that sometimes the substrate is destroyed or unavailable for coral to attach to. In the past, many companies have tried creating artificial reefs using old ships, train cars, automobiles, and tanks. Other companies have created concrete blocks and unique structures to promote coral growth.

I really enjoy the idea of a sculpture gallery also being a coral garden, so to speak. Not only does it create an interesting dive site that can alleviate some of the stress from the reef sites around it, but it also combines art and conservation, something I believe will attract the attention of a lot of people. Hopefully, in the decades to come, this sculpture garden will be home to a beautiful and healthy human-made coral reef!

Isla Mujeres is definitely on my list of places to go. I want to snorkel with the whale sharks, and I would love to dive at the local reefs, including Manchones Reef and MUSA. As a conservationist, I love the idea of MUSA, and I would love to see the Cruz de la Bahia (Cross of the Bay), which is dedicated to every person lost at sea. I can’t wait to see it and tell all my art friends about it!

Sources and links:
100 Dives of a Lifetime by Carrie Miller
https://mexicodivers.com/manchones-reef/
https://squaloadventures.com/tours/isla-mujeres-scuba-diving/2-tank-dive-musa-manchones-reef/

Sylvia Earle

“Everyone should be literate about the ocean. No child should be left dry!”
–Dr. Sylvia Earle

Today, I want to introduce you to “Her Deepness,” Dr. Sylvia Earle.

In 1935, Sylvia Earle was born in New Jersey, United States. At the age of 13, she and her family moved to Clearwater, Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. Being so close to the ocean, Sylvia heard her life’s calling and soon began learning all she could about the ocean and its creatures.

Sylvia worked her way through college, laboring in college labs to help pay for her schooling. At the University of Florida, she studied oceanography and biology. She went on to study at Duke University, earning her master’s degree and eventually her PhD in phycology (the study of algae) and she has made it one of her life’s projects to catalogue all plant-life in the Gulf of Mexico.

But she didn’t stop there.

She has worked aboard more than 50 oceanic expeditions and clocked more than 7,000 hours underwater—that’s more than 291 days. In 1970, she led an all-female expedition called Tektite II, Mission 6. Sylvia and four women dived 50 feet below the surface of the ocean and lived underwater in a small structure for two weeks. When they resurfaced, Sylvia Earle became a celebrity outside of the science community, and everyone wanted her as a speaker. Since then, she has used her fame and her voice to be a leading advocate for the ocean.

In 1979, Sylvia Earle set a new record off the island of Oahu for deep sea diving. In a submersible, she traveled down to a depth of 1,250 feet. While using a special pressurized suit, she walked along the ocean floor untethered for two and a half hours. As she explored these previously unknown depths, her only connection to the vessel was a communication line; nothing connected her to the world above. Her record still stands today.

Sylvia Earle started two engineering companies, Deep Sea Engineering and Deep Sea Technologies, which design undersea vehicles to help scientists explore the deep reaches of the ocean. She served as the first female Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She is also the founder of Mission Blue, an organization that is dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans.

Mission Blue’s mission is to help establish “Hope Spots” around the world. Hope Spots are areas that are deemed vital to the health of the ocean by providing essential services, areas like coral reefs and seagrass beds. Mission Blue sends out researchers to explore new areas and to gather data that proves the locations’ importance to the ocean, and thereby to us. With the data, Mission Blue tries to convince governments to establish these Hope Spots, or marine protected areas.

Dr. Sylvia Earle is truly an inspiration, a woman I strive to become. I highly recommend looking into her life’s story, at least her career. She has published some books over the years that I would love to read, including her 1979 deep sea adventure! She’s also one of the speakers in the videos on NeMO-Net, the coral-identifying game created by NASA.
Sources:
https://achievement.org/achiever/sylvia-earle/ ⇐very in-depth article into her life and research
https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/real-world-geography-sylvia-earle/
https://www.ted.com/speakers/sylvia_earle ⇐if you want to see her TED speech
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sylvia-Earle
https://mission-blue.org/ ⇐if you want to check out Mission Blue and Hope Spots

Georgia Aquarium

Today I want to tell you about one of the aquariums I’ve visited. When I was in college, my scuba club, the shark club, and the sea turtle club pooled money and sent a bunch of us to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia. Yesterday, I mentioned that aquarium while discussing whale sharks and I thought I’d take the time to talk about it some more.

I always love talking to people about aquariums. Aquariums provide a lot of information about species and environments that most of their visitors may never learn in school—often in creatively entertaining ways—and it’s how a lot of people begin to get interested in the ocean.

I highly recommend the Georgia Aquarium if you are looking for something fun to do while in Atlanta. It’s situated amid a variety of restaurants and other museums if you don’t want to spend the whole day in the aquarium—it’s okay, I won’t hold it against you! But I do implore that you spend a decent amount of time there because of all the wonderful animals you can see!

There’s the large tank with the whale sharks and manta rays, including some steps to sit on if you want to lose yourself while watching them. They have beluga whales that were fairly active when I saw them. They also have live coral in some of their exhibits that the aquarium staff grew themselves; they have their own coral growth program that they fund. During my last visit, they were still setting up a sea lion exhibit, which I believe is operational now.

The Georgia Aquarium offers backstage tours where you can learn about the programs that go on behind the scenes and how the aquarium operates. The best sleepover ever is their Sleeping with the Sharks program where they give educational tours and then allow you to sleep under or next to the various shark tanks. Best part: you can pay to snorkel or scuba dive with the whale sharks and manta rays, which I regret missing out on. Note to self: BRING ENOUGH MONEY NEXT TIME!! They also offer a lot of educational programs for kids and adults, so if you want to plan a school event they can totally do it!

The Georgia Aquarium is a great place to go no matter your age, especially when it comes to sleeping with the sharks. Let me tell you, we squealed like five-year-olds when we were told we got to sleep in the room with the whale sharks. This aquarium has diverse exhibits full of creatures that you may not have seen elsewhere. I saw my only flamboyant cuttlefish there which led to a fantastic conversation with a little boy and his sister—and their dad was so relieved that someone could actually answer their questions.

Again, I highly recommend adding this aquarium to your list of places to visit, and please do find the time to make a day of it! They also offer volunteer opportunities that allow you to help out with conservation efforts around the Atlanta area.