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/

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

Gulf of Guinea

Let’s travel to the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean, right off the coast of Africa. Between Cape López, near the Equator, and Cape Palmas lies a body of water known as the Gulf of Guinea.

The Volta River and the third largest river in Africa, the Niger River, are the major rivers that feed into the Gulf of Guinea. Because of the runoff from these two rivers, and the high amounts of rain along West Africa, the gulf’s water is lower in salinity than other parts of the ocean. This warm water is separated from deeper, colder, saltier water by a shallow thermocline.

A thermocline is a thin, distinct layer in a body of water that marks when the temperature of the water rapidly changes with depth. In the ocean, it separates the upper mixed layer near the surface and the deep, calm water below. Thermoclines exist in the atmosphere as well.

Off the coast of Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, a seasonal coastal upwelling forms in the gulf. An upwelling occurs when cold, nutrient-rich water from the deep is brought up to the surface water. This nutrient-rich water creates a boom of activity that attracts organisms from every level of the food chain, including fish, birds, and mammals. When the nutrients are depleted, the organisms move on.

The Gulf of Guinea has been nominated as a Hope Spot. The beaches around the gulf contain prime nesting sites for leatherback sea turtles, which are a threatened species. Sea turtles grow for many years before they reach sexual maturity, and the process of reproduction can be fatal to females. Newly hatched sea turtles have a high mortality rate because of predation before they reach the ocean and from human activity. It’s extremely important to protect these nesting sites.

Within the Gulf of Guinea lies the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, which contains vital habitat for humpback whales, African manatees, dolphins, and soft corals. Humpback whales are considered endangered by the IUCN Red List their populations are threatened by whalers and by getting struck by cruise liners and cargo ships. African manatees are classified as vulnerable.

The Niger River is being explored for oil and gas mining, which could have a serious impact on the Gulf of Guinea. Luckily, non-government organizations (NGOs) have been working hard with both government and international partners to develop green practices to extract those natural resources. The NGOs have also been developing full-scale wildlife law enforcement programs to protect the gulf and its wildlife.

This is definitely a cool Hope Spot and I wish them the best of luck. If you travel to any of the beaches containing turtle nesting sites, see if there are any volunteer programs you can join. I know in the US there are volunteer programs that help get the baby sea turtles into the water. May not be the ideal vacation plan, but it’ll be something memorable to share with your friends and family!

Sources:
https://mission-blue.org/hope-spots/
https://www.britannica.com/place/Gulf-of-Guinea