Tag Archive: scuba diving


 

Snorkeling in Cuba with www.bluewaterventures.org

Before arriving  to Cuba, I had read about our forbidden neighbor’s  thriving coral reefs.  A country frozen in time, Cuba is a matrix of islands forming an archipelago, a mere 100 miles south of Key West.  Our  local marine biology professor,  Nicole Crane confirmed this hopeful news from her travels through Cuba.  As I dipped into the warm water  surrounding Punta Perdiz at Playa Giron, I felt like I was meeting the spry colleague of an elderly friend who had been terribly ill for many years.

In 1985, I began a career as a professional naturalist,  leading snorkeling trips to various destinations in the Caribbean. I first submerged into sparkling  crystal clear blue water as a junior in college in 1979.  Studying marine biology in Belize with a motley crew of college students would change my life. Coral reefs became a personal and professional passion.  After a month living  on a tiny Belizean Island,  my blood had turned blue and feathery gills replaced my lungs. I was deeply intrigued  by a mostly thriving coral reef  ecosystem. Sadly ,, by the late 80’s the integrity of  many Caribbean coral reefs had begun to decline.  The change has been rapid and heart wrenching. Corals are finicking and demanding creatures that sometimes respond more like a plant than animal. In fact, corals are fueled by the sun as the majority of their nutrients are obtained by zooxanthellae,  photosynthetic algae living within the coral  tissues.

Since reef building corals must photosynthesize  to flourish, they require clear, warm water that lacks sedimentation. As tropical forests and mangrove shorelines  are cleared for  development,  sediments pour into marine environments blocking sunlight and smothering corals. With increasing nutrients in the water, large fleshy algae thrive and out compete  corals.  As human populations grow and swell during tourist seasons, many Caribbean locations experience a high demand on local fisheries. Without proper fisheries management, the removal of  herbivores such as parrotfish  has devastating effects on a coral reef ecosystem. As grazers, these colorful reef fish keep a check on algae growth. Healthy populations of reef herbivores are critical to maintain a balanced and vibrant coral reef system. Cuba’s careful management of marine resources, organic farming practices, relatively slower tourism, controlled fisheries and slower coastal development are among the factors contributing to a thriving coral reef ecosystem just offshore at Punta Perdiz.

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As I swam over the coral reefs at  Punta Perdiz, I was  thrilled to see an abundance of healthy Elkhorn Coral, Acropora palmata.  Listed as Critically Endangered by the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species,   Elkhorn Coral in the Caribbean basin has declined by 80% over a 30 year span  and is  virtually gone in the nearby Florida Keys. Rapid coastal development, high nutrient loads,  intense hurricanes, poor fisheries management and disease has led to the demise of Elkhorn Coral. However, at Punta Perdiz this  delicate  form  of branching coral was flourishing. Vibrant schools of blue tangs and parrotfish, keystone herbivores darted among the corals. Yellow tube sponges, feathery gorgonian corals, brilliant christmas tree worms and reef urchins were thriving among the  predominantly live Elkhorn Coral  branches. Peering into a tidy hole  nestled within the  Elkhorn Coral polyps,  miniature  claws of an old friend, the Elkhorn Coral Crab, Domecia acanthophora appeared.  Living as a commensal species associated wth Elkhorn Coral, these minuscule crabs will also disappear as Elkhorn Coral declines. However, at Cuba’s Punta Perdiz, even the spry and spindling Elkhorn Corals are ready for some salsa dancing!

Kim Powell is owner, operator and head naturalist at Blue Water Ventures in Santa Cruz, CA. Offering naturalist-led field trips for students and adventurous vacations designed to be relaxing with an educational component for women. Kim has been organizing single and multiple day excursions to extraordinarily beautiful places since 1985. www.bluewaterventures.org

 

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www.bluewaterventures.org

In 1988, I was traveling through southern Belize and visited the remote Mopan Mayan village of San Antonio. It was there that I was mistaken for a Duende, a forest dweller, trickster and dwarf. Duende lives deep in the jungle. He is thought to slumber in a forest cave and emerge during daylight hours to sheepishly observe humans. Two legged kinds be weary if the trickster appears near the sacred Ceiba tree. Perched among the buttressing roots, Duende may strum his guitar for you, an intoxicating ploy. It is highly recommended to respectively wave your four fingers but hide your thumb. Duende may wish to acquire your opposing appendages as he is missing his own. The forest dweller often wears a wide brimmed hat and stands a mere three feet tall which accounts for my mistaken identity.

Encouraged by the peace corp volunteer, my traveling companions Korinn Saker, Patty Smith and I threw together a skit for the Mayan Community. We chose a childhood favorite of mine that I fondly remember as “Little Nemo”. Concealed by a sheet, Korinn wrapped her arms around my waist becoming my arms, my arms were my legs and my head sported a wide brimmed hat. Voila, a tiny little creature had emerged on stage and sloppily performed such antics as brushing one’s teeth.

Korinn, unable to see my face kept missing the teeth and polishing the brow, an act which I alone found hilarious. After having my brows polished and my composure retrieved, I glanced out at the audience expecting cries for an encore. Instead, I was met by a solemn crowd. There was not a smile, snicker or unpolished eyebrow raised in an exclamation point among the 100 or so brows in the audience. I felt like shrinking, but that was part of the problem so I quickly took a bow and retreated behind the makeshift curtain. Tucked away in our hammocks that night, we were told by our host family that Little Nemo was thought to be a Duende. Ah…..it all made sense now as I instinctively checked in with my thumbs!

Kim Powell is owner, operator and head naturalist at Blue Water Ventures in Santa Cruz, CA. Offering naturalist-led field trips for students and adventurous vacations designed to be relaxing with an educational component for women. Kim has been organizing single and multiple day excursions to extraordinarily beautiful places since 1985

Sincerely, Kim of Blue Water Ventures

www.bluewaterventures.org
Join Blue Water Ventures as we travel the world teaching coral reef ecology in Belize, Baja, British Virgin Islands and beyond!

On our recent “scouting” trip to Oahu, we were just finishing up a kayak surf session off of Kailua Beach, when a Spanish Dancer stole the show! These flamboyant sea slugs are amazing swimmers that feed on toxic sponges. Their scientific name, Hexabranchus sanguineus literally means “six-gills blood-colored”. As a type of nudibranch, their gills are exposed on their dorsal side and they enjoy a hermaphroditic life style. Lurking within the velvety tissue of the Spanish Dancer lives The Emperor shrimp, Periclimenes imperator which earns its keep by cleaning the “naked gills” of this “nudibranch”.

www.bluewaterventures.org
Imagine fine tuning your eskimo roll on a remote deserted island in the Caribbean. Join Blue Water Ventures on an all women’s adventure to Belize. We will kayak through ancient Mayan ceremonial caves, dance with the Garifuna children of Hopkins Village, snorkel over acres of coral reefs and fine tune your eskimo roll (or watch the show under the shade of a coconut palm tree!)

Look for the next blue adventure at: http://www.bluewaterventures.org