June 2009
projects
Yucatan RAVE
2009

The Scoop



 

SUBJECTS:

The Yucatan RAVE will focus on documenting the threats posed by deforestation, tourism, and forest fires on existing protected areas, important unprotected areas (i.e. corridors) and specific flagship species (i.e. Jaguar) throughout the Yucatan. The themes and threats of the RAVE include: Underground Wilderness, Impact of Tourism & Tourism Infrastructure Development, Coastal Environment, Freshwater, Mesoamerican Tropical Forests, Mayan Sites, Saltwater Intrusion, Ecological Impacts from Hurricanes, Habitat Fragmentation, Tourism Development, Mangrove Destruction, Coastal Island Development, and Biodiversity loss. To address those themes and threats the following geographic areas and species will be the primary focus of the Yucatan RAVE: Cenotes, Caves, Mangroves, Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, Calakmul-Sian Ka’an Corridor, Rio Lagunas, Holbox, Celestun, Chetumal, Sierra Caral, Amphibians, Jaguar, Manatees, Flamingos, Monkeys, Crocodiles, Whale Sharks, and Bats.

YUCATAN BACKGROUND

The Yucatán Peninsula has an area of almost 134,400 sq. km (51,892 sq. miles) which spans the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo; the northern part of Belize; and Guatemala's northern department of El Petén. The peninsula also has approximately 1,600km (1,000 miles) of coastline and a very unique geology. Composed almost entirely of limestone most of the Yucatan has no surface water because all of the rainwater drains through fissures in the limestone to an underground system of streams and lakes so vast it contains about 25 percent of Mexico’s total fresh water supply. Ecologically, the Yucatan Peninsula is composed of a complex mosaic of dry forests, lowland moist forest, and montane forests with intermittent coastal swamps and mangrove forests that fringe the Caribbean coast. The Yucatan is also located within the Mesoamerican Biodiversity Hotspot and has high levels of species endemism. Unfortunately, over the past several decades the Yucatan has seen some of the highest deforestation rates in the world, in addition to rampant development for tourism infrastructure and large numbers of forest fires.

Photographers

Guest Photographers:

Ben Horton, Santiago Gilbert, Piotr Nascrecki, Michael Calderwood

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  • MAR Leadership Program
    Video
  • Yucatan RAVE Preview
    Video

MAR Leadership Program

by MAR Leadership Program


The Mesoamerican Reef Leadership Program (MAR Leadership) is a joint initiative operated by the Mexican Fund for the Conservation with support from the Summit Foundation. MAR Leadership seeks to accelerate conservation impacts in the Mesoamerican Reef Ecoregion by strengthening the capacities of outstanding local leaders capable of developing innovative and replicable conservation projects. The main goal is to incubate said projects, ultimately bringing solutions to the main threats facing the region’s coastal-marine ecosystems.

Learn more about Mar Leadership on their Website and Facebook page!

El Programa de Liderazgo en el Sistema Arrecifal Mesoamericano surge de la necesidad de contar con capacidades locales fortalecidas para la implementación de proyectos exitosos de conservación en el SAM. Asimismo, responde a la necesidad de cambiar el paradigma de desarrollo actual por uno basado en la conservación, que fije su atención en las amenazas antropogénicas al ambiente y en la explotación no sustentable de los recursos del SAM. El programa pretende demostrar que existen alternativas sustentables al modelo actual de desarrollo, al tiempo que ofrece nuevas habilidades a los líderes, que les serán de utilidad a lo largo de su vida profesional.

¡Conoce más sobre el Programa de Liderazgo SAM en su Sitio Web así como su Página de Facebook !

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Yucatan RAVE Preview

by Adam Enatsky and iLCP Multimedia, Jenny Nichols


Teaser from the Yucatan RAVE, August- November 2009

THE YUCATAN RAVE:

An expedition of 32 leading conservation photographers undertaken from July to November resulted in a portfolio of hundreds of images that serve as a warning of the conservation status of this area known as the heart of the ancient Mayan civilization. The Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition or RAVE is a project of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP).

The photos were released at the opening of the 9th World Wilderness Congress (WILD9) in Merida, Mexico. The event is gathering senior-level representation from governments, the private sector, native peoples and non-governmental organizations to address the role of conservation of wilderness areas in human well-being and climate stabilization.

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  • Cozumel 2013
    Jan 18, 2012
  • Yucatan Dispatch 18 November 3, 2009 from Alacranes, Mexico
    Nov 3, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 17 November 3, 2009 from Alacranes, Mexico
    Nov 3, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 16 October 30, 2009
    Oct 30, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 15 October 29, 2009 from Sierra Caral, Mexico
    Oct 29, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 14 October 29, 2009 from Alacranes, Mexico
    Oct 29, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 13 October 29, 2009 from Cozumel, Mexico
    Oct 29, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 12 October 28, 2009 from Cozumel, Mexico
    Oct 28, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 11 October 27, 2009 from Alacranes, Mexico
    Oct 27, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 10 October 27, 2009 from Cozumel, Mexico
    Oct 27, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 9 October 27, 2009 from Rio Lagartos, Mexico
    Oct 27, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 8 October 26, 2009 from Isla Cozumel, Mexico
    Oct 26, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 7 October 16, 2009 from El Eden, México
    Oct 16, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 6 October 7, 2009 from San Crisanto, México
    Oct 7, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 5 October 6, 2009 from Isla de Cozumel, México
    Oct 6, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 4 October 3, 2009 from San Crisanto, México
    Oct 3, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 3 October 3, 2009 from Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Mexico
    Oct 3, 2009
  • Yucatan Dispatch 2 September 01, 2009 from Las Coloradas, Mexico
    Sep 1, 2009

Cozumel 2013

Jan 18, 2012

How long will it last before the hungry developers begin to consume this quiet side of Cozumel?


By Michele WestmorlandFounding Fellow of The International League of Conservation Photographers From the tourist center of the tiny island of Cozumel, I could see the rising skyline of an ever-developing shoreline of Cancun.It’s a mass of humanity and mega resorts that are spreading like a virus to its little island neighbor: Cozumel. Cozumel has its own shoreline resort and hotel development on the western side of the island. But on the eastern shore, it is still pristine and beautiful. How long will it last before the hungry developers begin to consume this quiet side of Cozumel?In 2009, ILCP conducted a RAVE (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) in Yucatan. ILCP photographers, Roy Toft and I, along with Our World-Underwater Rolex Scholarship winner Myfanwy Rowlands were assigned to look at environmental issues impacting the island of Cozumel. While Myfanwy and I worked together on marine life areas, Roy Toft covered the terrestrial wildlife that flourishes on the island. What we encountered was both inspiring and disturbing.A few key residents of Cozumel are particularly and laudably involved in conserving its marine resources. Cozumel’s National Park researchers carefully monitor the health of the reefs and community members are assigned to protect the turtle habitats. As one of their duties, these dedicated individuals are charged with educating the younger generation about the importance of saving their delicate environment. Since the RAVE, I have been back to the island twice. Despite Cozumel conservationists’ best efforts, my visits have only intensified my concerns for protecting the last pure areas of the island.The rumors and discussions between the locals are increasing and heated. Residents want to know: will a proposed development named Punta Arrecifes be approved, and will it destroy the beautiful northeast corner of the island where birds nest and delicate reefs known as micro-atolls exist? These micro-atolls represent a micro ecosystem that occurs only rarely worldwide, and nowhere else in the Western Caribbean. Such limited and specialized systems usually occur within very narrow survival parameters. Even minute changes can bring about irreversible damage.Inland from these atolls exist wetlands and lagoons that host a large population of birds - all there to nest and coexist with other land animals. The lagoons and mangroves are full of juvenile fish species waiting to mature and populate the open reef areas surrounding the island. This area is all that is left of Cozumel to be considered a true wilderness. Exactly what is to be approved for the Punta Arrecifes development is shrouded in mystery. As of September 2011, the plan incorporated a marina, golf course, private air strip and 600 hotel rooms. According to reports, some 12 kilometers of virgin beaches on the northeast corner of the island, all owned by the Barbachano family, is the target. Also involved in the development, according to these reports, is the son of real estate mogul, Donald Trump. But trying to get confirmation is difficult – the Trump name is being kept out of the discussions. The Trump Organization has refused to respond to any questions, let alone whether they are in partnership with the Barbachano family to pursue the large-scale development. One important question rises to the surface – “Where are the environmental studies and what has been concluded as to the impact on these significant habitats?” To date, no environmental studies have been presented to the residents of Cozumel.The project claims to add employment opportunities. While this may be true, it’s difficult to understand the benefit to the economy when so many of the existing resorts and hotels are struggling to fill rooms. What loss to the environment and uniqueness of this island would this development initiate? More and more world travelers are seeking these pristine environments and are willing to pay a premium to visit them as such. Any development on this untouched portion of Cozumel could potentially take away this opportunity for future generations.In addition to the large-scale project, a wind farm has been proposed. This is a clear vehicle for “greenwashing” the real impact of the development. Although establishing a carbon offset in the form of a wind farm sounds admirable, just a few of these big mills in the nesting and migratory bird areas could cause these species to seek other places in their delicate natural cycles.In October, 2011, I had the opportunity to hear President Calderon address attendees of a travel summit in Chiapas, Mexico. In his speech, President Calderon made a commitment to sustainability and conservation along with economic growth. My immediate reaction was to praise his words in the belief that he will make his last year in office one that will label him as a protector of environmentally sensitive lands in Mexico. That is an honorable legacy to leave for his country. But as politics in our own country has shown, words and promises have failed us.I am acutely aware of the right any country and its people have to development and economic growth. We all want our people healthy, happy and prosperous. However, it is also our responsibility to be good stewards of our lands. Leaving pristine natural habitats for our children is an honorable charge, and pays social, economic, health and political dividends in the end.

Join Michele in her fight to save Cozumel by signing a petition to hold President Calderon to his environmental promises on iLCP.com.

 About MicheleMichele is passionate about conservation and is proud to be a Founding Fellow of International League of Conservation Photographers. Her underwater and cultural photography has gained international recognition. Michele understands the need to tell a visual story, whether it covers exotic holiday locations or the wonders of the natural world.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 18 November 3, 2009 from Alacranes, Mexico

Ben Horton
Nov 3, 2009

Sunsets will happen until the end of the world. Until the earth ceases to orbit the sun. Long after we have exhausted all of the oceans resources, the colors will still be there, but will they still hold the same power over us?


I’m sitting on the edge of an Island, watching the sun set over the ocean. The only thing that gives pause to the feeling that I’m completely alone out here is a distant lighthouse, on an Island that is itself far from any real sort of “civilization.” I’m alone as I watch the colors reflect in the perfectly formed little waves as they run up white sand forming perfect little barrels for imaginary miniature surfers. Sunsets will happen until the end of the world. Until the earth ceases to orbit the sun. Long after we have exhausted all of the oceans resources, the colors will still be there, but will they still hold the same power over us?Looking out over the ocean, we see the unknown. We see a vastness. The inky black depths that hide unknown sea creatures, all implied by the deep ocean swells rolling across the horizon. We see a world that we know very little about, and fear.It is because of that fear, that we’ve managed to ignore the fact that we’ve all but eliminated the creatures that live there. Most of us are not seeing this decline on a daily basis, so we find it hard to imagine, and since we don’t really understand the implications of a dead ocean, we don’t fear the consequences.Phytoplankton, the microscopic plants that bloom in the ocean produce between 50-90 percent of the earths oxygen. All life on earth depends on oxygen at some point in it’s lifecycle. An ocean without phytoplankton is a world without sufficient oxygen.It is only a matter of time until we have no choice but to make an effort to “save the ocean.” That effort will be born out of fear for ourselves, and not compassion for the creatures that live there.Think for a moment, about what this planet would be like without humans. The sun would still set, with all of the same glory that it carries with it now. The plains of North America would be running rampant with vast herds of buffalo. Elephants would not be on the verge of extinction. In fact, all of the animals that suffered extinction at the hand of humanity would still be flourishing in the wild.Imagine the ocean though, what would the ocean look like without human influence. It’s hard for us to imagine what that might look like, because most of us have never seen anything close to the natural state of things.As perfect as this world would be, there would be nobody there to appreciate it. Who would sit and watch the sun set, and ponder the vast depths, and the magnificent creatures that lie just beyond the scope of our imagination? In the not to distant future when we look out over a dead ocean and watch a beautiful sunset we will be looking at a monument to our own greed, and our inability to change our course.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 17 November 3, 2009 from Alacranes, Mexico

Ben Horton
Nov 3, 2009

Did you know that there is a link between sea birds and coral reefs?


Did you know that there is a link between sea birds and coral reefs? I didn’t know that until just before came on this photographic expedition. A friend of mine at UCSC put it plainly. Bird droppings, are a fertilizer for coral. I’d never put these things together, and always sort of looked at birds as takers, not givers in the ecological cycle of the ocean.So, instead of just taking other peoples word for it, I did a little bit observing while I was on Alacranes. I dove well over a dozen different locations on the reef. Some of the dives were greatly separated from the islands which hold colonies of nesting gannets and frigate birds, and other dives where just down current from these islands.The evidence startled me to say the least. It is hard to isolate the corals that are bleaching from rising ocean temperature, toxic pollutants from boats, or just plain human impact from fishermen and tourists alike. There was however an obvious vitality to the reefs that were just down current from the islands. They thrived, the coral suffered less bleaching, the fish were more numerous, and things seemed to be balanced.Before I came to Alacranes I got in touch with Island Conservation, a group out of Santa Cruz, California. I offered to do a little bit of reconnaissance for them, as they are expanding their conservation efforts to include the gulf, and the Caribbean.We know that sea birds are suffering, and that their numbers along with everything else are in decline. One of the problems is the invasive species, that - no surprise - humans have introduced, mostly without even knowing we’d done it. On an island that had few natural predators for these birds since they first came here, suddenly, rats have shown up, and are eating the eggs and the young birds that not too long ago had nothing to worry about.So far, the problem isn’t completely out of hand here. The birds don’t nest year round, and the rats don’t have much to survive on when the birds aren’t nesting, save the trash left behind by tourists, and leftovers dumped out by the park rangers. So for now, the birds are okay. None the less, it is a problem that we will need to address at some point.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 16 October 30, 2009

Christian Ziegler
Oct 30, 2009

Just as a bat cave, I found it quite impressive, thousands and thousands of bats flow out of the mouth at dusk, into the blue hour. But the best of course were the snakes.


The bat cave really is a spectacle on many levels. Just as a bat cave, I found it quite impressive, thousands and thousands of bats flow out of the mouth at dusk, into the blue hour. But the best of course were the snakes. There are about 100 living in the cave, and every night a few of them will be out and hunting hanging there long bodies from the cave ceiling into the stream of leaving bats, trying to grab one for dinner. It is very trickey to find the snakes, it is a big cave, with many side arms, most of which are very low. Crawling around crouched down or on all fours, with all the equipment is challenging, but it is absolutely worth the amazing spectacle. Some of the snakes can be quite long 4 and 5 feet, and hang most of their body lengths into the cave space. I loved it, both the majestic view of the bats flowing onto the night and the drama of the snake hunting the bats. What a great place ! Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 15 October 29, 2009 from Sierra Caral, Mexico

Robin Moore
Oct 29, 2009

Our time in the Caral was short, but I felt happy that we had managed to capture the first photos of some rare and endemic species.


We took the “Rapid” in RAVE quite literally, spending a little under 24 hours in the Sierra Caral of Guatemala. The Caral is one of the highest conservation priorities in the region, with large tracts of primary forest harboring a unique suite of endemic fauna facing imminent threats. The remoteness of the area has spared much of its’ remaining forest, but it also provides a logistical challenge for those wanting to get to it – like us. After weeks of planning, and with just days until the trip, our entry was far from guaranteed. A road made impassable by heavy rains and a welcoming committee of hostile armed guards meant that the only realistic way in was from the air.Enter our local partners FUNDAECO, who made the seemingly impossible possible. A helicopter was arranged to collect us from Guatemala City and plop us straight into a forest clearing in the Caral. The weather was kind to us on the morning of our departure and the helicopter flight provided a unique perspective of the mosaic of cleared forest flanking the Sierra Caral, highlighting the threats to the increasingly fragmented forest. It also provided a birds eye view of the lush forest that still cloaks these mountains; I suddenly could not wait to be on the other side of the canopy scouring the streams for creatures.Ten minutes after landing, the heavens opened. And stayed open. The rain did not let up for more than 20 minutes during our entire stay. While conditions became ideal for mud wrestling, they were not so good for photography. With visibility of around 30cm, I was happy to have my macro lens and to focus on the things that I could get close to. Cradling my camera under my rain jacket, I could only whisk it out every time there was a break in the rain. I lost count of the number of times one of my flashes jumped out of my hand and into the mud, and as my equipment started to look like it had been coated in chocolate, I was counting the hours until I would be able to clean and dry it.Luckily, we were here to photograph amphibians. Amphibians allow you to get up close, and like the rain. As soon as night fell - the best time to find amphibians - we donned our headlamps and waded up a nearby stream, scouring the vegetation. We found and photographed a beautiful, red-eyed species that is Critically Endangered, the largest salamander species in Central America, the first record of a toad in the Sierra Caral (found by ILCP’s very own Trevor Frost) and a snake that is possibly new to science. Not at all bad for a 24-hour trip!That night was a soggy one. Our tents did not have fly sheets and acted a little like sponges. I woke to find my backpack soaked through and one of my lenses in a puddle of water. To cheer myself up, I just had to remember that we would not be spending another night camping. Leaving the Caral proved to be even trickier than getting in, however. The helicopter was scheduled to come and pick us up first thing – but with the constant rain there was no way that it could land. Our only option, therefore, was to walk and slide our way out. Words cannot convey how good the hot shower back at the hotel felt that night.Our time in the Caral was short, but I felt happy that we had managed to capture the first photos of some rare and endemic species. The Sierra Caral is the most biodiverse remnant of Caribbean Guatemala and needs to be protected, or else these may also be the last photos taken of these species. I look forward to using the photographs to promote the conservation of this vulnerable forest and the creatures that call it home.Robin was joined on his mission by iLCP RAVE Coordinator Trevor Frost and friends of the iLCP, photographers and conservationists Hussain Aga Khan and Khaliya Aga Khan. Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 14 October 29, 2009 from Alacranes, Mexico

Ben Horton
Oct 29, 2009

We dropped anchor in deep blue water. For the first time we were diving in a place too deep to see the bottom.


A Day to See GiantsWe went in search of tiger sharks today. My guide, Ascan, said that he knew of a spot in deep water where they can be seen, so we spent about an hour motoring along the coral until we reached a channel that took us out to the open ocean on the far end of the reef. We dropped anchor in deep blue water. For the first time we were diving in a place too deep to see the bottom.I was disappointed, I didn’t get to see or photograph any tiger sharks today but we did see a few of the largest grouper I have ever encountered as well as a lobster at least double the size of anything I’d ever seen before. As a kid growing up in Bermuda I can remember my dad donating a lobster to the aquarium that he caught because it was too big to fit in the oven. This monster I saw today was even bigger, big enough that it shared a cave with two grouper that easily weighed in at over 100 pounds. All of these giants were in 165ft of water, the deepest I will probably do on this trip.It’s a well know fact that these oceanic species that humans have been consuming since we learned how to fish have been getting smaller and smaller in recent times. They cannot live long enough to grow to their full potential before being caught. It is at their full size that they can produce greater numbers of offspring as well, so we humans really don’t seem to be thinking this out too well.On side note I also saw the largest moray eel I’ve seen, well . . .that I’ve ever seen, on a shallower dive later in the day. He wasn’t too interested in coming out for a photo but judging from what I saw I can say it was well over 10 feet long. Today marked the half-way point of my stay on Alacranes reef. It was a day to see giants. Tomorrow, I go to another even more remote island to do more research for Island Conservation on the invasive plant species that have made it out here.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 13 October 29, 2009 from Cozumel, Mexico

Michele Westmorland
Oct 29, 2009

The highest taxi registration number we saw was 758, but Robert says there are over 1500 taxi permits issued. This for an island only 250 square miles, the vast majority of which is unpopulated.


Today was cruise ship day!We spent the morning driving around the greater San Miguel area, observing how the island of Cozumel changes on the days when a lot of cruise ships come in. Today there were three Carnival Cruise ships docked at the piers of Puerto Maya, representing a capacity of six to seven thousand people, in addition to the 1200 people that a Disney Cruise ship would deliver to the pier later in the day.Robert Cudney, Director of the NGO Mexico Silvestre and former Director of the National Marine Park, spent some time explaining to Myfanwy and me how Cruise Ship economics for Cozumel are short-sighted. There are a lot of important issues involved and we’ll be posting Robert’s full interview on another day this week.To give some perspective on how traffic in San Miguel changes on Cruise Ship days, consider this: we counted 51 taxis of varying sizes waiting in line just to enter the parking lot of Puerto Maya. Sitting inside the parking lot was at least fifty more, and most of these were idling with their air conditioners on, waiting to transport cruise shippers around the island. The highest taxi registration number we saw was 758, but Robert says there are over 1500 taxi permits issued. This for an island only 250 square miles, the vast majority of which is unpopulated.So I got some important shots today, and tonight we’re going diving to find the endemic splendid toad fish with the help of Renee Applegate of Dive Paradise’s kind sponsorship. We’d also like to say thank you to Ricardo Gomez Lanzano, the current director of the National Marine Park, for making our use of National Park resources possible.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 12 October 28, 2009 from Cozumel, Mexico

Michele Westmorland
Oct 28, 2009

Martin instructed a group of young, Dutch ecotourists on how to properly clean a hatched turtle nest. To their utter delight, they found one that was in the middle of hatching!


NATIONAL PARK DAYMyfanwy & I awoke at 6am and packed for a massive day of multi-level shooting. At 8 o’clock, we met Carolina Martinez Ceja, Communications Director for the Parque Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel (National Marine Park of Cozumel). Carolina introduced us to the National Park Monitoring team: Marines Millet Encalada & Aseneth Urena Ramon, who together supervised the two volunteers on board today for the bi-annual monitoring of the National Park reefs. Valerio Vivas Oscrio was our Captain, and Luis Antonio Chan Betancourt, National Park Ranger, was also on board helping out. This is a great team, and they work together seamlessly. We filmed & photographed the team working on their transects, and for the second dive, we headed over to Paradise Reef to catch some cruise ship snorkelers in action; we were not disappointed. Four large groups, some with 25 people, were out on the reef following their respective snorkel guides, all of whom were feeding what looked like lots and lots of bread to the swarming schools of fish that trailed them.After our day of diving, Carolina took us to meet Martin, nicknamed “Pantera.” Martin works for the turtle salvation program on Cozumel. He works tirelessly, morning, afternoon & night with as many volunteers as he can muster, monitoring every single turtle that nests on the beaches of Cozumel from June to November. Martin instructed a group of young, Dutch ecotourists on how to properly clean a hatched turtle nest. To their utter delight, they found one that was in the middle of hatching! We felt fortunate to capture this particular tourism event, because it represents such a contrast to the mainstream type of tourism we’ve been documenting. Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 11 October 27, 2009 from Alacranes, Mexico

Ben Horton
Oct 27, 2009

At first glance the reef is swarming with life but with a closer look, there is a lot missing.


It’s hard to imagine a place so beautiful and so bountiful can in reality be sufferingAt first glance the reef is swarming with life but with a closer look, there is a lot missing. The swarms we see at first are missing some key species. Unlike the meats we eat that come from land, most of the fish we consume are predators. Think about it when you drop a line into the water in hopes of catching dinner you don’t bait your hook with algae or coral, you bait it with fish. The predators are missing I’ve yet to see a shark. Snapper are around but most of them are small specimens. I’ve seen but a few small grouper. This is the largest reef system in the Gulf of Mexico; it should be central breeding ground for these important species, yet they are either absent or very small. The reasons are obvious, fishing boats dot the horizon tourist season brings crowds of 500 or more people to the island at a time and all the while the reef struggles to maintain its ecosystem. On other photographic expeditions I have visited places that are better protected and places that are quite a bit more remote. The feeling that I’ve always had on those trips is that I was in a place where the scales were precariously balanced even leaning slightly more towards catastrophe. I’ve always fought for these places to maintain their ecosystems that are so vital to the entire oceans health. In the Alacranes we are seeing what happens when those scales are tipped drastically, there is little to no protection. It’s beautiful out here, and it’s not too far gone that it can’t be brought back. Without action now, this place will soon become an ocean desert, and there will be no choice but to stop fishing here because there will be nothing left.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 10 October 27, 2009 from Cozumel, Mexico

Michele Westmorland
Oct 27, 2009

Our top priority was to film and photograph a lionfish capture – we wanted to get documentation of lionfish in a Caribbean setting, and film the capture of a lionfish.


First day of diving!Myfanwy and I headed to Paradise Divers early this morning. It was a productive day – our first stop was Columbia Reef, one of Cozumel’s most popular dive sites. We could tell because we counted 20 dive boats on the way there, and we’re in the off-season right now. Our top priority was to film and photograph a lionfish capture – we wanted to get documentation of lionfish in a Caribbean setting, and film the capture of a lionfish. We did manage to find two and film them on the reef. Unfortunately, they were both very small and disappeared back into the wall when Julio, our divemaster, attempted to trap them.We got back to the hotel and edited material until Robert Cudney (Director of Mexico Silvestre and former Director of the National Marine Park) and Tony Periz picked us up. Tony is a dive operator with Careyitos Divers. The four of us had an incredible dinner at Guido’s, the restaurant owned and operated by Robert’s family. We talked about the conservation issues facing Cozumel and our plan for the week. Tomorrow we’ll spend the entire day with the National Park team. For the moment, we’d like to extend our sincere heartfelt gratitude to Hotel Cozumel for hosting us and Dive Paradise for sponsoring us with three days of diving here in Cozumel.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 9 October 27, 2009 from Rio Lagartos, Mexico

Cristina Mittermeier
Oct 27, 2009

Cristina's RAVE Mission is to document the human landscape in the costal town of the northern Yucatan peninsula.


Cristina's RAVE Mission is to document the human landscape in the costal town of the northern Yucatan peninsula, more specifically human well-being and the connection with nature. Here she has been inspired by the elegance of a flock of flamingos at sunset, and is waiting like a good wildlife photographer for that perfect shot. Will she get it?.....find out at WILD9, the 9th World Wilderness Congress in Merida Mexico. November 6-13 2009. Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 8 October 26, 2009 from Isla Cozumel, Mexico

Michele Westmorland
Oct 26, 2009

This construction will impact a neighboring cenote, dubbed “El Aerolito,” where a taxonomic Family entirely new to science was discovered.


Myfanwy and I landed in Cozumel at 10am, whereupon Robert Cudney, Director of Mexico Silvestre, an NGO dedicated to promoting the concept of wilderness in Mexican society. Robert immediately whisked us away to scout the island of Cozumel. This gave us the chance to survey the scene and gather our bearings to the task ahead of us. One of the first sites we visited was ground zero of the new marina development project. I was stunned. This construction site is enormous, and obviously close to being finished – all that remains is to connect the site to its ocean inlet. To do so, they will need to dredge the nearby natural caleta (a natural harbor), which serves as the current marina. This construction will impact a neighboring cenote, dubbed “El Aerolito,” where a taxonomic Family entirely new to science was discovered. Robert speculates that it is only a matter of time before the land dispute over the dredging will clear up in favor of the development. We had been on the island for less than an hour, yet a feeling of hopelessness loomed. If decision makers here approve a development project as ill conceived as this one without hesitation, what else will we find here?Our spirits lifted when we rounded the southern tip of the island and started up the eastern side, “la silvestre lado de Isla Cozumel.” The eastern side is beautiful, almost completely undeveloped, and everywhere you looked on the coastline, locals were enjoying a Sunday at the beach with their families. Then we hit the best surprise of all – Robert pulled off to the side of the road when he saw one of his friends monitoring a green sea turtle nest hatching. I snapped photo after photo of the local children shrieking with excitement as they carried the hatchlings to the water’s edge, releasing them. As we watched the hatchlings battle the waves and head out to sea, the despair we felt at the beginning of the day lifted. There is an incredible story to tell here, and we begin in earnest tomorrow.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 7 October 16, 2009 from El Eden, México

Joe Riis
Oct 16, 2009

I realize I’m kneeling in the exact spot the puma walked, and an instinctual feeling of wildness and fear runs up my spine as I glance around me into the jungle.


On my final day in the Yucatan, I walk into the jungle at sunrise to pick up my last camera trap. I’ve been here for a month but haven’t got what I’m looking for—a close-up picture of an ocelot, a puma, or a jaguar. The first two weeks, I spent most of my time wandering aimlessly through thickets, wondering, with the naivete of a South Dakota boy transplanted to the jungle for the first time. I tried to imagine where I would walk if I was a cat, and figure out why my skin was always stinging. Turns out, I was brushing up against a nettleleaf, a green leaved plant that to me looks like every other plant in this jungle. But I didn’t find that out and identify it until I met Juan Castillo, the local botanist. Juan also told me about a trail that he has seen cat tracks on, so I set up a camera trap and left it there for two weeks.I’m thirty miles west of Cancun on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on assignment to photograph felines. The truth is these wild cats may be goners in the coming years. The city of Cancun was dreamt and “created” by developers in the 1970’s for tourism. Now the demand from tourists is pushing development inland, into the jungle. If the dollar from outsiders is sufficient, housing developments and golf courses will be built, cutting off pathways for cats. These animals retain their genetic viability by using a corridor that spans north to south. Without a connected corridor between the established protected areas, the cats will eventually disappear.After walking along the leafy trail for twenty minutes in the early dawn light, I find the camera I set here two weeks ago. This camera offers the last hope I have for capturing any photos of the elusive felines I have been pursuing for a month. As I reach for the camera, I notice a paw print in the soil nearby. Scrolling through the pictures, I find that a puma passed within a foot of my camera in broad daylight. I realize I’m kneeling in the exact spot the puma walked, and an instinctual feeling of wildness and fear runs up my spine as I glance around me into the jungle. My closeness to the puma that recently triggered my camera sends me back in time to before the construction of Cancun and its surrounding development. And I can’t help but wonder if this photograph, evidence of the wild animals that still rely on this part of the jungle, might help ensure that someone else will get a similar chill in this jungle 40 years into the future.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 6 October 7, 2009 from San Crisanto, México

Cristina Mittermeier
Oct 7, 2009

"We call it sustainable bullfighting."


There is something wonderfully exciting about rodeos, and in the case of a small-town Mexican rodeo, things can not get much steamier. Take 6 young men, clad them in tight “torero” outfits, and throw them in the rodeo in the Mexican mid-day sun, and you have the beginnings of an exciting afternoon. Add an angry bull and bleachers full of young Mexican girls and things get downright hot. Jenny and I happened upon this small-town rodeo in the town of Dzilam Gonzalez while driving around on a RAVE assignment for the International League of Conservation Photographers. This is one of several events built around the celebrations for Saint Francis of Asis; the patron saint of animals. The rodeo, coupled with a street fair and a disco party are all part of a week-long celebration in honor of the saint.Jenny and I debate whether photographing this event has anything to do with the subject of our RAVE assignment, which is to document the relationship between the land and the people. Well, when it comes down to it, what we are witnessing is merely an extension of the “cattle-culture” that dominates this part of the Yucatan Peninsula. Cattle is one of the main economic drivers for hundreds of small ranchers and it is reflected in all aspects of the land and the people. The young men that surround us are of Maya descent and look interestingly out-of-sync dressed in cowboy outfits, down to the boots, which, by the way, are probably not the most suitable foot ware in this hot weather.In any case, we spend a delightful afternoon watching a game that has very little to do with traditional bullfighting. In this “corrida”, Yucatan style, there are 5 “toreros” in the rodeo at any given time. After the “toreros” have chased the bull around for a few minutes and it looks tired enough, a gang of up to 20 horses erupt into the rodeo and compete to lasso the bull. The bleachers explode in cheers every time the bull comes near a horse. The lady sitting next to us explains that the previous weekend four horses were gored and gutted by the bull; all of them died.At the end of the day, the best part of this “corrida” is that unlike traditional bull fighting events in other parts of Mexico and Spain, where the bull is speared and killed, in the “Yucatecan corrida” the bull ALWAYS gets to live, which comes as a huge relief for both Jenny and I. It turns out it is too damn expensive to kill several bulls for entertainment each weekend. Instead, it is just chased around a little and it leaves the rodeo unharmed. We call it sustainable bullfighting.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 5 October 6, 2009 from Isla de Cozumel, México

Roy Toft
Oct 6, 2009

"Now...I've either just hit rock star status or Cozumel is hurting for tourists."


As we prepare to land at Cozumel International airport, my first thoughts are "where are the people?" I've taken an early flight over from Cancun on the mainland of Mexico and I am the only passenger on a twenty-plus seat passenger airplane! Now...I've either just hit rock star status or Cozumel is hurting for tourists. I think we all know which it was. This world renowned destination for divers has really been hit hard by the swine flu scare and the economy. More about tourist later...let me give you a summary of my 13 day adventure to find and photograph the 24 or so endemic animals that call Cozumel, and no other place on our planet, home.Upon arrival, I go directly to a meeting with my two main guides and assistants on this shoot Robert Cudney and Cristopher Gonzalez Baca. Robert is gringo who has lived a good part of his life in Mexico and was the past director of the National Parks and currently director at Mexico Silvestre...a non profit conservation organization in Mexico. Cristopher is a trained biologist who would become my main resource to make sure I was photographing the right species. Some of these endemics...especially the birds, look very much like similar species and one of my concerns was to spend hours photographing the wrong animal. In fact, this only happened once. Cristopher and I were out working in the forest early one morning and we saw what we thought was the Cozumel endemic Vireo...I worked my way into shooting position and range and got some very nice images of a parent bird feeding it's fledgling young. Yahoo...we were very excited to check off another Cozumel endemic! The next day Cristopher conferred with some biologist friends and informed me that we had not photographed the Cozumel endemic Vireo, but had instead photographed the Yucatan Vireo which happens to be endemic to the Yucatan Peninsula. Since this was the Yucatan RAVE....I didn't feel too bad about this news and we did end up photographing the real Cozumel endemic Vireo several days later.A quick note regarding the shooting conditions: The long dry season had ended a week before my arrival with daily heavy rain storms coming in the afternoon and lasting most evening. I arrived in perfect time to provide the first meal for the huge mosquito hatch out that followed. Great! Combine that with temperatures and humidity's in the 90's and you get the picture. The rain storms did continue through out my two week shoot, but they tended to hold off until late afternoon, which keep us shooting and ticking off endemics nearly every day in the field. So beyond some physical discomforts, the daily excursions into the field were very successful, thanks to Robert and Cristopher, and we found ourselves with a good file of 18 endemics photographed after the 12 days or so spent in the field. A couple species we didn't get, that would have been nice, the three foot tall Curassow, the rare endemic hawk, and the possibly extinct Thrasher. One of the endemics that we were having trouble finding was the Cozumel peccary. This relative of the pig is found all over the island, but tends to be quite shy and difficult to see. Since the rains had saturated the island and provided water everywhere for the animals to drink, our hope of setting up a remote camera on a water hole (cenote)to capture an image of one coming for a drink was not looking very promising. As my trip was coming to an end we had yet to find any peccaries. We finally decided to check out the golf course on the Island because people had been reporting seeing them while playing a round of golf! Sure enough, our first afternoon we saw several peccaries running off the course into the forest after spending time grazing on the fresh green grass. I spend another two morning near the golf course and finally got some good pictures of the Cozumel Peccary as one made his way into the native forest after eating breakfast on hole nine! So not all the pictures of wildlife are taking from a blind 50 feet up a tree and after two weeks of silently waiting.....some are taken from a golf cart!Some thoughts regarding Cozumel:This small, beautiful Island is still in good shape. Flying over the island you will see huge tracts of virgin forest and only small areas of disturbance around the centers of habitation on the west side of the island. As past history has showed us however, things can go wrong very fast on an Island this small. Introduced animals can have devastating consequences on the local fauna and flora. I saw introduced white-tail deer and captured an introduced Boa constrictor. I heard of coatis and peccaries from mainland stock getting lose and possibly diluting the gene pool of the endemic species. Sometimes the effects of introduced species are not discovered until it is too late, so hopefully these types of genetic threats will be taken very seriously.Tourism: Right now it seems that Cozumel is addicted to the cruise industry for tourism. When the ships are in town the Island is all a buzz with taxis, rented jeeps, and people shopping along the ocean board walk for jewelry and such. When there are no ships...the place is a ghost town! Long time locals whom I talked with aren't too happy about this shift and say the vibe of the Island has changed dramatically. They also said that very little of the "cruise money" stays in the community. Most of the retail shops that cater to these ships are owned by foreigners or people off Island. Another problem is the increases number of people living on the Island because of the cruise industry and the pressure on local resources because of it. Water is a huge concern on Cozumel. All of the fresh water comes from water aquifers on the Island. Increased consumption threatens the shear volume of water available and the increased population...often in un-permitted housing tracts without proper sewage....threatens to pollute the entire fresh water source for the Island. Unrestricted and illegal housing projects are a possible huge threat to Cozumel. The MO for some developers in Cozumel (and other parts of Mexico)is to bulldoze and build, without permission or permits, and pay fines or graft later if caught. We saw this in several areas on the Island in pristine forest. Off the one main road that bisects the Island, you would see new roads cute into the forest which led to proposed housing lots. Some had electric polls in place and grand entrances with gates. One such development had a sign saying Cozumel Island Estates. Luckily it seems that the bad recent economy had put many of these projects on hold. I was told by Christopher that projects like these are almost positively without permits, without environmental impact reports, without proper sewage and really pose a huge concern and threat.My appreciation goes out to the Tourism Promotion Board for donating a free week of car rental and Mimi Becerra for providing me with lodging at her wonderful hotel. Also many thanks to Jose de la Fuente and Juan Barbachano.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 4 October 3, 2009 from San Crisanto, México

Cristina Mittermeier
Oct 3, 2009

"It turns out that water IS huge, says Jenny to me as the lights flicker back to life in our hotel and the water pump starts working."


It turns out that water IS huge, says Jenny to me as the lights flicker back to life in our hotel and the water pump starts working. We have checked into the only hotel in the small Mexican town of Dzilam de Bravo in the northern coast of the state of Yucatan, Mexico. We have been traveling for three days along the coast, driving on sand roads and eating mostly peanuts. Yesterday we chased flamingos into thigh-deep water and today the temperature reached almost 100 degrees C. So yes, Jenny, water IS huge and in most places it is hardly a guarantee. Just one of the many things we completely take for granted in the US.The assignment Jenny and I have for this part of the RAVE deals with the fishing communities in this area and their intimate dependence on healthy marine ecosystems. Octopus is the main catch this time of year. Hundreds of small boats carrying 3-4 four men leave the port every morning. They spend the whole day fishing off the coast in tiny satellite boats, called “alijos” that are lowered from the larger vessel. One man sits in each alijo, under a murderous sun, baiting lines with large crabs. Their prey is a small species of octopus, which most be very plentiful, as the fishermen come back with load after load of the wiggly creature.People are immensely nice here. Everyone offers help and information without much nudging and despite the troubles that dominate much of the rest of Mexico, the Yucatan peninsula remains safe and very pleasant. As I move around the various fishing villages, people are quick to smile and show me their catch. They take the time to explain how they fish and the travails of their profession. The only real dangers are the police barricades we encounter every once in a while. They are more dangerous because they have poor signage and are difficult to see when traveling fast on the highway. The officers assure me it is safe and that the barricade is just a way to maintain a close eye on shady characters that might be transporting drugs. Apparently, this is not a big issue in this part of Mexico.The best part of being assigned to shooting people during a RAVE is that we get to sleep in little towns where it is possible to find a hotel with clean sheets and a fan. Water, as we are finding out is intermittent and optional.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 3 October 3, 2009 from Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Mexico

Kevin Schafer
Oct 3, 2009

"To be honest, I think my search for wildlife in Calakmul was made more challenging by the fact that the reserve is only marginally protected." -Kevin Schafer


In late September, I spent eight days in and around the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve which, together with adjacent habitat in Guatemala and Belize, forms one of the largest tracts of protected forest in Mesoamerica. My mission was to try and capture the variety of wildlife that inhabit this important rainforest region.The truth is, tropical forest is always a challenging environment in which to work : the light is bad, the wildlife secretive, often nocturnal, and there is a host of bugs and parasites all enthusiastically trying to make a new home under your skin. (I'm not bragging, but I came home with about 200 angry red chigger bites all over my body - the price of spending a lot of time lying on the ground...)As is so often the case when working in remote areas, there were some long stretches of hard slogging, and minimal results - interspersed with some exciting, even breath-taking, moments. Examples of the former include sitting motionless in a small blind trying to catch animals at a waterhole - with little success - and wading through a fetid, snake-ridden swamp in search of frogs.But the challenges were balanced by some fantastic sights, like being surrounded by clouds of up to five million bats pouring out of a limestone sinkhole at dusk, as falcons dived out of the sky trying to pick them off.To be honest, I think my search for wildlife in Calakmul was made more challenging by the fact that the reserve is only marginally protected - a vast, unwieldy area with little or no budget for management and protection. Many of the animals I saw, including spider monkeys and birds, showed signs of being hunted - they were frightened and aggressive in a way I have not seen in other parts of the Yucatan. Indeed, we heard many reports that hunting goes on here on a regular basis. This simply cannot be allowed to continue.In the end, my time in Calakmul was too short to approach anything like a comprehensive photo collection from this vast and complex area. But combined with the efforts of other RAVE team members, it should provide a glimpse of this vital natural treasure on the Yucatan Peninsula.  Share or comment on this story >

Yucatan Dispatch 2 September 01, 2009 from Las Coloradas, Mexico

Cristina Mittermeier
Sep 1, 2009

This is the first time in the history of the flamingo conservation program in Yucatan that a large colony nests in a salt pond.


The flamingo banding day was a spectacular event. Four o'clock in the morning found me excited on my way towards the flamingo colony. There a group of experts totally in the dark herded more than 500 flamingo chicks towards a previously constructed corral. Every movement had to be carefully done to avoid the stressed birds to panick and hurt themselves. Once the chicks were captive they were handed over to a member of one of the seven groups who measured and weighted each individual as well as attached two rings to the chicks feet. Each member of the team, be it a young kid or senior persons had to transport the chick through this process till it was banded taking the chick to the edge of the lagoon for release. This event, now in its tenth year, while helping support the important work of the NGO Niños y Crias, allows persons to have an intimate and unforgettable experience with wild animals.Mission #2:The second mission is now also finished. Claudio Contreras was able to successfully document the flamingo banding in Ría Lagartos. The partner NGO was Niños y Crías. This marks the successful return of flamingos to nest in the Yucatan. Last year flamingos in Yucatan did not nest, because of the dry climate conditions, but during this season flamingos are nesting again in the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve in a salt pond located within the Salt Industry of Yucatan known as ¨ La Esperanza ¨.This is the first time in the history of the flamingo conservation program in Yucatan that a large colony nests in a salt pond. In 2007, 80 pairs reproduced successfully in this area. Currently, an 8,000 pair colony is settled along a sandbar which stretches into a dyke, approximately 2m high over the water mirror of the pond. Claudio should be able to show us some images soon.  Share or comment on this story >
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Yucatan RAVE - Cozumel
Aug 1, 2011
Story by: Myfanwy Rowlands Photography by: Michele Westmorland