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/

Little Tunny

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Osteichthyes
Order: Perciforms
Family: Scombridae
Genus: Euthynnus
Species: Euthynnus alletteratus

My husband loves to eat tuna. If he could have it every day, I think he would! Little tunny, or little tuna, is a common species of tuna found in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean Sea.

Euthynnus allettatus can grow up to 48 inches and averages around 20 pounds when fully grown. The fish is has countershading, dark-blue gray coloring on top that fades to a silvery-white toward the belly. It has a torpedo-like shape that cuts down on water resistance, similar to species of sharks and dolphins. The base of the tail is thin, and the tail fin is crescent-shaped, allowing the little tuna bursts of speed to evade predators or to catch its prey.

There are two distinct features that help to identify little tunny. On the dark blue-gray top of the fish are a couple of wavy lines that form unique patterns running from the dorsal fin to the tail fin. The second feature is found underneath the small pectoral fins, five to seven small dots that stand out against the silvery-white.

Little tunny are considered opportunistic feeders, which is just a fancy way of saying that this fish will eat almost anything it can get a hold of. Typically, it will feed on crustaceans, smaller fish, and squid.

There is a wide range of organisms that prey on little tunny, including larger tuna, dolphinfish, swordfish, and various species of sharks.

E. allettatus reproduce between April and November around the Atlantic Ocean. Females will release their eggs into the open water for males to fertilize. Females release their eggs multiple times throughout the reproductive months, and the species can produce almost 2 million eggs per year. Whale sharks have been found in these waters, such as off the coast of Isla Mujeres, looking to gorge themselves on fish eggs.

These fish are very important to the local fisheries, including the West Indies. They’re a good fish to consume; the meat is darker and has a stronger taste than larger commercial tuna, and it can be prepared in a number of ways. Little tunny are also good game fish, because they give fishermen a bit of a challenge.

Their population numbers are good, and the species is considered to be of least concern of extinction by the IUCN Red List. If properly regulated, little tunny would be an excellent species of tuna to introduce to larger markets to ease off the pressure of other, scarcer species of tuna.

Isla Mujeres is on my list of places to go. I’ve already decided that while we’re there we’re going to try locally sourced little tunny, if it’s available. I would love to see if my tuna-loving husband enjoys this species of tuna!

Sources and links:
Reef Fish Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas 4th Edition by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach
https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/euthynnus-alletteratus/ ⇐more extensive breakdown of little tunny
https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/saltwater/tuna/little-tunny/ ⇐ key points
http://species-identification.org/species.php?species_group=fnam&menuentry=soorten&id=1925&tab=classificatie
https://www.fishbase.se/summary/97

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

A silhouette of a snorkeller photographing a whale shark (Rhincodon typus) as it feeds at the surface. Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsular, Mexico. Caribbean Sea. Model released. Photo by Dr. Alex Mustard, for more visit http://www.amustard.com

Also known as the Island of Women, Isla Mujeres is a five-mile-long island located off of the Yucatán Peninsula. It was once a fishing village, but now it has a booming tourist economy because of whale sharks.

In the early 2000s, local fishermen reported seeing large congregations of whale sharks in the Afuera, which is how the locals refer to the deeper water off the Yucatán coast. It wasn’t until 2006 that local scientists were able to organize expeditions to investigate the area. Aerial photos showed more than 400 whale sharks gathered in one area. Previously, the recorded gatherings of whale sharks were 15−20 individuals at a time. Since then, Isla Mujeres has converted has their fishing boats to tourist boats.

Every year, in the months of July and August, whale sharks gather in the hundreds to feed. A small species of tuna, little tunny, release millions of eggs into the open water to be fertilized by males of the species. These planktonic eggs cloud the water and attract these gentle giants.

Aggregations of whale sharks and rays were also found off the coast of the northern tip of the Yucatán, between Cabo Catoche and Isla Holbox. This aggregation was discovered a few years earlier, and the tourism and scientific research that spawned in response helped to convince the Mexican government to create the Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve in 2009. Unfortunately, this reserve does not include the aggregation near Isla Mujeres.

If you want to see these whale sharks, you can book a tour from either Cancun or Isla Mujeres. However, it is recommended that you do your research ahead of time. For the best experience, you want to book a private tour that allows you to have extended swimming sessions with the whale sharks. Non-private tours are much shorter and do not offer as rewarding an experience, so to avoid being disappointed, please do some research beforehand!

If you want to see whale sharks and don’t have a dive certification, don’t worry. The area is limited to snorkeling, so it’s a great place for beginners, and you don’t have to worry about the world’s largest fish because they’re more interested in feeding than anything else. Whale sharks are filter feeders and don’t actively hunt prey like other sharks do, so there’s no danger of swimming near them.

If you do snorkel with the whale sharks, please follow all rules and regulations in place. These are wild creatures and they are just trying to survive. So please do not touch or harass them; just because they don’t retaliate or get violent doesn’t mean that it’s okay to bother them. The more we respect whale sharks and show the local government that we care, and are interested in their protection, the easier it will be to convince the Mexican government to widen the Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve to include the aggregation of whale sharks off of Isla Mujeres.

Tourism is a powerful tool for conservation and environmental efforts around the world. If done properly, it can have a positive impact on the ocean and the world—we just have to be smart about it. So do your research and follow the rules. Treat the ocean like you’re a guest in someone else’s home, because that’s what we are, guests.

Isla Mujeres is definitely on my must-travel-list! I wouldn’t mind going back to Cancun, but if I were to return to the Yucatán area, I would want to go to the Island of Women first. I’ve read that the island is more laid back than Cancun is, and there are more dive sites around the island that I would love to see, including an underwater art gallery.

Sources and links:
100 Dives of a Lifetime by Carrie Miller
https://indopacificimages.com/americas/the-whale-sharks-of-isla-mujeres/ ⇐ a more in-depth look into the area and the whale shark tourism