San Carlos Scuba Diving

News and Views

Some of the most heartbreaking encounters I have had while scuba diving in the Sea of Cortez have occurred when marine life has met with human garbage.  I have seen dolphins drowned in ghost nets and sperm whales dragging hundreds of feet of discarded monofilament net (which was thankfully removed by scuba divers).  One particular incident stands out for me.

We were headed out to dive at Isla San Pedro Nolasco from San Carlos.  Excitement on the boat grew at the sight of a sea turtle bobbing its head out of the water a couple of miles from the island.  As the boat drew closer, we were dismayed to see that the turtle was hopelessly entangled in fishing net, and was struggling to keep its head above water.  Several of us jumped in with snorkeling gear, dive knives, and shears to attempt to free the turtle.

When we reached her it was apparent that we couldn’t safely free her in the water.  Line was wrapped in her mouth, it had cut deeply into her skin, and one of her forelimbs had been severed completely.  She had obviously been dragging the line for many days, as the severed limb had already begun to heal over, although it was still raw near where the bone had been cut.  She was brought on board and we began to carefully cut away the line and clean her wounds.  She was at least lucky that we had both a marine biologist and a veterinarian on board.

At the time, there was no sea turtle rescue facility nearby.  Hopefully this has changed, or will soon.  In fact, turtles are regularly poached in the area and sold for food.  We decided that her best hope for survival would be to release her at San Pedro Island, where there is plentiful food in shallow waters, and she would be farther from terrestrial predators, including poachers.  We covered her in moist towels to cool her and keep her calm.  When we reached the sheltered bay at lighthouse point, we hoped we had done all we could and slid her into the water.

She cruised the bay for a little while and disappeared around the North point.  Without intervention, she would have surely perished.  Plastic fishing gear remains intact for decades, possibly even centuries, all the while, drifting and continuing to kill any organisms that might become entangled.  At least with the netting removed, the turtle had a chance.  We hope she survived.

While entanglements are an obvious and easily visualized hazard, plastic debris represents an even more insidious threat.  Marine life has swum in plastic-free seas for millions of years.  They do not have the capability to identify plastics as something not to be eaten.  To a sea turtle, plastic bags look just as tasty as the jellyfish that sea turtles feast on.  The result is choking and intestinal blockages.  Whether the animal chokes outright, or slowly starves to death, the end result is the same.

My longtime friend Wallace “J.” Nichols, PhD, of the California Academy of Sciences recently coauthored an editorial with Colette Wabnitz, PhD, of the University of British Columbia in the Marine Turtle Newsletter, regarding the effects of plastic debris on turtles.  I am reprinting the press release about the article below.  It does a great job of summarizing the full article, which is a thorough and very informative piece, compiling many years of research by numerous individuals and agencies.  I definitely recommend reading the full editorial if you are interested.  The PDF can be accessed at seaturtle.org.

Reading these articles, you will likely be astounded at how much plastic ends up in the marine environment.  There are a lot of good tips in the articles on how we can all help.  These can be generally summed up as four basics:  Minimize your use of disposable plastics when you can.  Secure your plastics when on-board or at the beach.  Dispose of your waste properly.  When visiting the ocean, try to leave it a little cleaner than when you arrived.

So with no further ado, here is the release.  Please consider visiting seaturtle.org for more info on how we can all help to keep the oceans safe, both for our own enjoyment, and the health of our aquatic friends.

Our Plastic Food Chain -or- The Turtle Who Pooped Plastic

As ocean pollution experts meet in Hawaii, disturbing new report chronicles effects of decades of plastic pollution on sea turtles—and what we can do about it.

Honolulu, 22 March 2011

In 2009, marine biologists with Disney’s Animal Programs in Melbourne Beach, Florida, discovered a green sea turtle that was having trouble digesting food. They found that a piece of plastic had lodged in the turtle’s gastrointestinal tract. When biologists removed the obstruction, the turtle defecated 74 foreign objects in the subsequent month. Among the items documented were four types of latex balloons, five different types of string, nine different types of soft plastic, four different types of hard plastic, a piece of carpet-like material, and two tar balls to boot.

The list of items from this one turtle read like a catalog of a growing and deadly concern for virtually all marine animals—single-use plastics are having a lethal effect on animals living in the sea.

Experts on plastic pollution from around the world, determined to solve this growing problem, have gathered this week for the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, a mecca for green sea turtles.

Now, in a recent editorial published in the Marine Turtle Newsletter, marine biologists Colette Wabnitz, PhD, of the University of British Columbia and Wallace “J.” Nichols, PhD, of the California Academy of Sciences, lay out the entire disturbing history of plastics in the ocean, from the first scientific report to the latest surveys, to call attention to the concerns from 1972 to today. The report is grim, but provides a ray of hope in the form of proactive steps that can and should be undertaken to curtail overproduction and careless discard of single-use plastics.

The authors were careful to acknowledge that certain plastics have done much good in the world. The report firmly lays the blame at the feet of so-called “disposable” plastics: commonly used beer cups, water bottles and caps, grocery bags, plastic utensils, and so forth, intended to be used just once and thrown away. While these plastics are cheap and convenient, they are also durable and buoyant—making for a potent and deadly combination in the water

Though plastics like these do break down from exposure to sunlight and other elements, the molecules of plastic never fully biodegrade—they just break into smaller and smaller pieces but never completely disappear. Eventually, many of these small particles get blown or washed into tributaries that feed rivers, which flow to the ocean where plastics coalesce in ocean currents. Here they swirl in the eddying currents forming a sort of plastic soup where they float virtually forever and are often—the whole pieces and broken bits—ingested by the creatures of the sea. Once in the guts they can do great harm, or even kill, animals such as sea turtles.

Among the more startling facts reported is that 1 billion single-use plastic bags are distributed free of charge every day, of which an estimate 0.2-0.3% make their way to the ocean. Even that small percent means hundreds of millions of bags each year are left to float in the sea. In particular, the crisis has had a deleterious effect on sea turtles, which mistake the floating bags for jellyfish, a favorite food.

All seven species of sea turtle are listed as endangered on the World Conservation Union’s “Red List” of species in danger of extinction, a situation made even more urgent for many animals by plastic pollution.

“Last year I counted 76 plastic bags in the ocean in just one minute while standing in the bow of our sea turtle research boat at sea in Indonesia”, reports Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, Research Associate at the California Academy of Sciences and coauthor of the review. “The science is becoming crystal clear: sea turtles and plastic pollution don’t mix well. Sea turtles have spent the past 100 million years roaming seas free of plastic pollution, and are now sadly the poster animal for impacts of our throw away society on endangered species”, states Nichols.

Other facts reported by Wabnitz and Nichols and explicitly illustrated in the accompanying photo library, include:

• Worldwide, plastic pollution is adding to the stress on endangered ocean wildlife, like sea turtles;

• Plastic can be ingested by or entangle sea turtles and can physically interfere with their nesting activity on beaches when it accumulates in large amounts;

• Approximately half of all sea turtles surveyed had ingested plastic items; and,

• Micro-plastics are accumulating in molluscs and crustaceans sea turtles eat.

The authors were not without suggestions for corrective measures to ameliorate or end the plague of plastics in the ocean. In addition to broader policy efforts recommended by the authors, were simpler—”off-the-shelf”—personal behavior solutions, including:

• Avoiding plastic-bottled beverages;

• Buying products with minimal or reusable packaging;

• Buying in bulk whenever possible to reduce packaging;

• Buying used items;

• Seeking out reusable shopping and produce bags like those made from renewable sources (e.g., natural fibres) and always bringing them along;

• For coffee and or tea – bring your own mug;

• For food – bring your own container.

“Sea turtle researchers and conservationists have a unique role to play in our cultural evolution away from plastic pollution, as we have watched the havoc the surge of plastic has caused first hand”, notes Dr. Colette Wabnitz of the University of British Columbia.

“Sea turtle researchers from around the world have been submitting photos of interactions with plastic to the Image Library on Seaturtle.org. Given the amount of disposable plastic I see alongside the road everyday and the garbage my kids pick up whenever we go to the beach, the results are not surprising”, added Dr. Michael Coyne, founder and director of SeaTurtle.org.

The pdf of the report and a collection of images from around the world depicting in excruciating detail the impact of plastic on sea turtles can be found at: http://www.seaturtle.org/plasticpollution/

 
Amazing Aquatics Event – Shop Our Largest Aquatics Sale of the Year at PetSmart.com!

Not quite San Carlos, but our friends in Puerto Penasco at the CEDO intercultural research center are celebrating 30 years of operations. If you are in Tucson today, drop by Hotel Congress and help them celebrate.

From CEDO:

Join CEDO on May 1 to celebrate our 30th anniversary! This year marks 30 years of CEDO working in the Northern Gulf of California in Mexico and its surrounding deserts, and we want to commemorate this achievement with you. CEDO (the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans) is excited to be having our anniversary fiesta at historic Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson.

Salvador Duran, Michael J. Ronstadt, Mariachi Espuelas de Plata, Last Call Girls, and Hector and the Javelinas will be providing live musical entertainment.

Sustainable seafood, children’s activities – including hands-on fun with marine tidepool creatures and desert critters, and educational booths on CEDO’s programs will all be a part of the festivities. Food and drink will be available for sale, as well as beautiful CEDO t-shirts, posters, and other marine and desert gifts.

Stories from current staff members and key figures in the history of CEDO will illuminate the important conservation work, research and educational outreach CEDO has undertaken over the last 30 years in the Gulf of California and Sonoran Desert. Conservation awards will be presented to individuals who have strived to make the Gulf region a better place, whether through education, research or conservation.

May 1, Schedule of Events

2 to 4 pm: Desert and Sea Explorations / Exploraciones del Desierto y Mar
– Music by: Hector and the Javelinas (3pm)
– Hands on children’s activities and exhibits with live marine and desert critters
– Desert and tide bits about the flora and fauna of the Gulf of California and Sonoran Desert

4 to 6 pm: The People of CEDO / La Gente del CEDO
– Music by: Last Call Girls (4pm) and Mariachi Espuelas de Plata (5pm)
– Special recognition for guests of honor:
* Dr. Donald Thomson, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at University of Arizona
* Heather Green, local Tucson artist and Gulf of California naturalist
– Keynote Speaker: Dr. Richard Cudney-Bueno, conservation scientist and Gulf of California program director, David and Lucile Packard Foundation

6 to 8 pm: Let’s Celebrate CEDO: Past and Future / Vamos a Celebrar CEDO: el Pasado y Futuro
– Music by: Michael J. Ronstadt (6pm) and Salvador Duran (7pm)
– Presentation of a special achievement award to CEDO by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (* Schedule Permitting)
– Stories from CEDO’s past and plans for the future

*** Schedule is subject to change. We look forward to celebrating this milestone with all of our friends, colleagues and supporters. Thank you to everyone over the last three decades who have made this possible. See you on May 1!

On November 6, come celebrate with us in Puerto Peñasco too. More information on that fiesta will be available at a later date, but save the date now to make sure you don’t miss it.

For more information email info@cedointercultural.org or call (520) 320-5473.

After the massive flooding in San Carlos following Hurricane Jimena, San Carlos is pulling together to rebuild. Our favorite town needs help from all of our friends and a relief effort is underway. Donations are being taken at many locations and the Tucson Rotary and San Carlos Rotary are working diligently to coordinate efforts to bring San Carlos back better than ever!

What is Needed:
Non-Perishable Food: Rice, Beans, and Canned foods
Sleeping Bags, tents, mattresses, bedding, pillows, comforters, blankets
Clothes of all kinds and sizes, shoes (new only)
Home cleaning supplies: Lysol, Bleach, soap, detergent
First Aid: Antiseptics, ointments
Household Items: Tooth Paste, Toiletries, Soap, Shampoo, Hair Brushes, etc
Money (see below)

Where to Send Money:
Make Checks Payable to: The Rotary Club of Tucson Foundation – San Carlos Relief
• This is a 501c3 fund and is tax deductible. This money will be going directly to our sister club; The Rotary Club of San Carlos, Mexico.
Send Checks to: Desert Divers
4837 N. 1st Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85718
Drop Off Locations
Tucson:

Desert Divers, 4837 N. 1st Ave. (Near River)
• Phone: 88-SCUBA
• Email: desertdivers@hotmail.com
• Contact: Mike Huhn, Owner
The Dive Shop, 1702 E. Prince
• Phone: 326-DIVE
• Contact: Don George
Risky Business – All Locations: Contact Tom Kruzewski
• 6866 E. Sunrise Dr., Suite 130, 577-0021
• 250 S. Craycroft Road, #140, 548-1610
• 8848 E. Tanque Verde Road, 749-8555
• 10515 N. Oracle Road, 531-0202
Tucson Tractor, 1701 W. Grant
• Phone: 623-5848
• Contact: Chip Delay
Arizona Tile, 756 E. Ft. Lowell
• Phone: 622-4671 Ext. 210 & 310
• Branch Manager: Lorelei Hough

Phoenix:
Home of Stephanie Holdbrook, 623-910-1711
9451 W. Mary Ann Dr.
Peoria, AZ
Flagstaff:
Tom & Jonette Boggess, 928-779-5066
1425 W. Forest Meadows St.
Flagstaff, AZ 86001

As most regular travelers to San Carlos know, despite the increase in border violence in Mexico, the path to San Carlos is a friendly and well-protected conduit to enjoy the splendors of the Sea of Cortez.

The State Department recently released an updated travel advisory that clarified some of the concerns expressed in previous versions. It includes good common-sense advice on how to travel safely in Mexico. What follows are some of the most pertinent excerpts, as well as an editorial perspective based on our experiences traveling into the region recently.

The full advisory can be read here

State Dept:
While millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year (including thousands who cross the land border every day for study, tourism or business), violence in the country has increased recently. It is imperative that travelers understand the risks of travel to Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and whom to contact if one becomes a crime victim. Common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where prostitution and drug dealing might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable.

Editor:
Absolutely. Just as there are parts of the U.S. one would generally want to avoid, so to in Mexico. If you go looking for trouble, or act irresponsibly in either country, bad things will happen.

State:
The greatest increase in violence has occurred near the U.S. border. However, U.S. citizens traveling throughout Mexico should exercise caution in unfamiliar areas and be aware of their surroundings at all times… U.S. citizens should make every attempt to travel on main roads during daylight hours, particularly the toll (“cuota”) roads, which generally are more secure.

Ed:
The road to San Carlos is heavily traveled and patrolled. There are also special courtesy patrols called the Green Angels. Their sole purpose is to assist foreign travelers that might be experiencing mechanical troubles with their cars. They will perform most minor repairs on-site free of charge and transport you to repair centers for more complex needs.
One of the best additions to this road is the toll bypass around Nogales. For only a few dollars, travelers can bypass this border city entirely, moving directly onto Highway 15, which will take you all the way to San Carlos. To access this bypass, do not follow Interstate 19 to the main border crossing, instead, use exit 4 (mariposa). When you come to the stoplight, take a right (west), and follow the road for a few miles till it hits the border.

State:
In order to combat violence, the government of Mexico has deployed troops in various parts of the country. U.S. citizens should cooperate fully with official checkpoints when traveling on Mexican highways.

Ed:
Checkpoints along Highway 15 have noticeably increased, both in frequency and level of firepower. While we may not be used to such things in the U.S., and their appearance can be startling, they are there for the safety of travelers. You may be asked a few questions, such as where you have been, where you live, etc. You will then be waved on. If you are not a drug smuggler, you have nothing to fear.

Remember, if you pass through a checkpoint and you get a buzzer and a red Alto sign flashes, you must pull over for an inspection. Headed south, they are mainly looking for guns and ammunition. Do not attempt to bring any firearms or ammunition in Mexico. This is taken very seriously, and even a single round of ammunition in your car can land you in jail.

State:
U.S. citizen visitors are encouraged to stay in the well-known tourist areas of the cities. Travelers should leave their itinerary with a friend or family member not traveling with them, avoid traveling alone, and should check with their cellular provider prior to departure to confirm that their cell phone is capable of roaming on GSM or 3G international networks. Do not display expensive-looking jewelry, large amounts of money, or other valuable items.

Ed:
These are more common-sense precautions that any traveler should follow, regardless of destination. Exercising caution and common sense, and being aware of your surroundings will help to ensure that you will have a safe and pleasant journey to San Carlos.

A recent statement from the Department of Homeland attache to Mexico summed up the situation well in a story reported by the associated press:
“Further, the Homeland Security Department’s attache to Mexico said the violence in Mexico is not as dangerous to U.S. tourists as has been portrayed.
Alonzo Pena said the violence is in isolated areas of the country and only affects the people involved in criminal activity. He said the violence is not affecting U.S. citizens visiting Mexico and Americans should not cancel their vacations in the country.”


We wanted to pass along some fun happenings that are coming to San Carlos – The Bad News Blues Band is coming to San Carlos for three nights of Blues on the Beach!

Besides their Saturday night (March 21) show at The Soggy Peso Bar on Catch-22 beach, The Bad News Blues Band is also going to be performing Thursday, March 19 and Friday March 20 at La Palapa. Should be a blast and a great time to catch some fantastic music on some beautiful beaches. Hope to see you there!

Need more info? Contact Desert Divers in Tucson at 520-887-2822 or email travel@desertdivers.com