Baja Day 9

Saturday

With our last night of sleeping in a tent over, everyone headed to the main tent for a breakfast much fancier than any of the ones we had at the Espiritu Santo Island camp. Eggs, cereal, tortillas, beans, coffee and orange juice were available. After breakfast the head of the operation, Don Chuy, and one of the other fisherman returned to camp with the largest and last of the three turtles we would see.

It was fairly obvious to everyone that this turtle was bigger than the previous two, so a few tried to guess its weight. We knew this sea turtle was a female because her claws on the front flippers were less developed and her tail was thin. Surprisingly she had never been tagged before and she was unexpectedly calm during the process of measuring her. For this reason we were all allowed to help take measurements and touch her. When it came to naming her we suggested the name of our guide, Adriana, but unfortunately there was another female turtle tagged and named Adriana. Ultimately we decided on the name Chi Chi Moca (meaning chipmunk is Spanish) because it was a fun word and we all were amused by the name. She weighed in at a whopping 108 kilograms, which is over 200 pounds. Chi Chi Moca was then released, and although it took her a while to get to the water, once she began swimming she bolted away.

By the time Chi Chi Moca was gone lunch had been prepared for us. To start we had potato and cheese soup, and then sopes. The sopes were something we hadn’t seen yet but they were very similar to hard shell tacos. The night before we were assigned an area of sea turtle science to research and then present to the group so we finished those presentations after lunch. At this point we were running late and had to rush to clean our tents and pack up, but we boarded the boats on time and began the long journey back to La Paz.

After 5 hours of travel we finally reached the EPI campus in La Paz around 6:00. Matt and Adriana gave us until 7:00 to shower and change for dinner. Just like our other nights with EPI we walked to a local restaurant for dinner. A variety of food options were available. Most of us had either enchiladas, sopes, or enmoladas. Enmoladas are a traditional Mexican food, they reminded me somewhat of a French crepe but they’re basically a tortilla stuffed with a rich dark chocolate cream and chicken. Those who ordered them seemed to enjoy them a lot. After dinner we returned to the campus and reflected on the trip. Everyone provided some great compliments to each other and we shared some of our favorite moments. I think almost the whole group seemed to enjoy whale watching and diving with the sea lions the most, but every aspect of the trip was fantastic. By 10:30 we were back in our dorms packing for the last time and preparing for the long journey home tomorrow.

Cooper Peery

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Baja Day 7

Thursday

We woke up to another cloudy day for our last day on Espiritu Santo. After the usual coffee, breakfast that morning included a choice of eggs and ham or cereal, yogurt, and beans. While we waited for a second boat to arrive to take us all to a second round of sea lions, we played a game called “Human Radar.” In this game, there were 4 teams of 3, one of which was just the chaperones. On each team, each person was either the eyes, the mouth, or the body. The eyes were able to see the game arena, but can’t talk. The mouth could not see the game arena and could only speak and see the eyes. The body was blinded and had to follow instructions from the mouth. Team members rotated roles each round. The objective of the game was to get the body to perform a task motioned by the eyes to the mouth and dictated by the mouth to the body. Whichever body performed the task first won. The team of chaperones completely dominated this game.

After the game, while we continued to wait for the boat, we learned more about sea lions and the protocol we needed to follow while around them. Then we got on our wetsuits and gathered our snorkel gear and headed out to the rookery on Los Islotes. When we got there, we saw the fluke of a humpback whale!! It was very exciting. We circled the rookery, learning more about the sea lions. Sea lions live in harems with one male (males are larger and have distinctive bumps on their heads). Male sea lions are constantly on lookout for possible threats to their ladies. Just when we got there, a group of tourists had already disturbed the sea lions and the males became antsy and stressed. Once the males had calmed down a bit, we got in the frigid water and began snorkeling. We split into two groups in order to appear less threatening to the sea lions and many of us duck dived into the water, spinning our bodies agilely like the juvenile sea lions. After a while, the males showed signs of being threatened so we headed back to our boats and went back to our camp. We all loved how playful the sea lions were but also noticed how they all appeared stressed by the tourist groups that got way. Too close to the sea lion territory on the rocks.

Once we got back, we quickly packed up our bags and tents and had a quick lunch of smoked marlin burritos. We worked together to load up the boats and made a familiar hour and a half trip back to La Paz. After we got to the dock we loaded a van with our luggage and walked back to the EPI campus. We washed out our snorkel gear and took glorious, cleansing, and relieving showers! Once we were all clean, we had an hour or so of downtime to play cards or nap. We then took a group photo and began to present the studies we had completed the day before. Examples of different projects include: the effects of the seasons on the abundance of Diadema mexicanum on Espiiritu Santo Archipelago, if the parasites on Phataria unifacialis preferred the longest arm of the sea star, and if Diadema mexicanum prefer coral as their substrate. Most groups were unable to conclude anything about their hypotheses because of time restraints, but we all learned about the different topics and the best ways to present and explain a study. A few of us eve wanted to use their data to further their studies at home.

After our presentations, we walked to dinner at Rancho Nuevo and enjoyed a choice of delicious fish tacos, beef tacos, enchiladas, or stuffed peppers. Matt treated us to ice cream afterwards where a few of us enjoyed homemade Popsicles made out of a variety of sweets, like guava, coconut, and mango. We then got a chance to shop for souvenirs. It was getting late so we walked back to the EPI campus and went to bed!

Megan

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Baja Day 6

Wednesday

On Wednesday we all woke up around 7:30 and gathered chairs around the beach while we waited for breakfast. Jday wore his usual “Survivor” bandana and beard in fear of being voted off the island on the second to last day. We had quesadillas for breakfast as Josie, our cook, made another wonderful meal. We were then split into four groups: (Ben and Trevor)(Megan and John)(Harry, Braylin, and Cooper D)(Cooper P and Sydney). We played a game where one teammate had to shout out directions to his blindfolded teammate in order to help the blindfolded teammate navigate to find objects to trow at the other teams. Stakes were high as the first two teams to get three wins got to choose where they wanted to go first for the days activities. Jday and his beard spoke to each other quietly on the sideline about who they thought would win. Trevor and Ben were the first team to three points, followed by Braylin, Harry, and Cooper D. Both teams chose to do the Phataria unifascialis (sea star) census first, so they went with Jday, his beard, and Adriana to count sea stars and take various measurements. Megan, Sydney, Cooper P, John “Bigply” McCrea, Coco, and Andy stayed behind with Matt and worked on their projects based on the marine invertebrate and sub straight studies done the previous day. Meanwhile at the sea star census, Cooper D and Ben collected a whopping 92 sea stars, Jday and Harry collected 33, and Braylin and Trevor collect 28. Accompanied by the ones found by Adriana and Ezmerelda, this group collected a total of 200 sea stars, while only 11 of the stars had Thyca callista (a parasite) attached to them.
For lunch we had spaghetti and meat sauce and then we waited until about 3 o’clock to to let our food digest before we started the next activity. The groups switched locations, this time leaving Jday’s group to work on their projects on the sea star data they collected earlier that day, while Coco and Andy’s group went to do the exact same census done by the first group in a different part of the island. This group collected 125 sea stars, and only one had a parasite, leaving Jday and his beard to rejoice over winning the sea star competition.
At around 5pm Trevor built his very own speed ladder and agility cones so that he could follow through on his football training and workouts that clement gave him. Meanwhile, Cooper D and Braylin threw the baseball and everyone else gathered around and talked before dinner. Finally everyone settled down and played various card games until dinner was ready. For dinner we had chicken, tortillas, potatoes, and salad and it was once again an excellent meal. After everyone had finished talking and everything had settled down, the project groups gathered together and completed their posters to aid the presentations of their topics.
In all it was a great day, filled with great experiences. We all learned new things about the fragile ecosystem that we are so fortunate to get to experience and many of us found new ways to do simple things that we are so used to doing at home. Provecho

~ Trevor Cefalu

Baja Day 8

Day 8-Friday
It started off nice and early waking up at 5 for breakfast. We ate some cereal and fruit, got our bags together and were on the road. What we had ahead of us was a long, grueling 4 hour drive to a fishing village called Lopez Mateos. Most of us tried to sleep on the bus but found it a little too bumpy. We drove for 2 hours, had a bathroom break then proceeded along the long and narrow two lane highways.

15 minutes away from our destination point we started to drive through our village. It was a poor village with dirt roads and after a while we pulled up into a nice looking pier. On the way through the village Matt told us that everyone in this village was a fisher. Yet during this season they do not fish, they do whale watching tours. This is because they fish so much that it has put many fish in this area in danger.

The grey whale comes down from Alaska and stays in Magdalena Bay for 3 months every year. This year was a very good year for the whale and at any time there was up to 250 whales in the bay. Now the grey whale presents a very strange behavior when they are down in the bay, this behavior is not shown any other place in the entire world. What the mom whales will do sometimes is they will push their calfs into the boat that are watching the whales. Unfortunately this did not happen with us but the experience was still a great one.

We split up into twos boats and headed out into the waters in our search for the grey whale. Five minutes in we saw a mother and calf and right before we could get up to them they disappeared into the water. We moved on and caught up to another mother and calf pair. We stayed with them for a long time but they were very resistant to socialize with us. After following them for a long time we moved on in hope of finding more complacent whales. After another short drive we arrived to a mother and calf followed by what we thought was a male. We tried getting the attention of the male but he disappeared within five minutes, but once he left things started to get exciting. Our two boats tried to get the attention of the two whales and they started to comply. The female was right under our boat and she came up to breathe. We all reached our hands out over the side and touched the whale on its nose. After this happened a few more times we were all screaming and we exploding with excitement. After about 15 minutes of constant contact with these two whales the calf came up for one last interaction. As Megan got her first touch on the whale we yelled across to their boat telling Sidney her to kiss it. She looked across confused and then realized what we were saying. She leaned in and kissed it right on its face. We all started screaming again and as the whales disappeared we were finally satisfied with our encounter.

We then headed to another island that we would stay at for the night. We got there and we were checking out the campus. It was very nice and was well presented. The reason we were staying on this island was to catch and tag sea turtles. For lunch we had potato and shrimp fried tacos with lentil soup. At two we had a group go out to check the the nets that had been set out two hours ago. As a group of three returned from their journey we looked to see if they had caught anything. We caught a turtle on our first try which was very rare. We measured 7 different things on the turtle including the weight. It’s weighed 20 kg and was a relatively small turtle. The next two groups that went out on the two hour mark and caught none. On our last search for the night we caught another turtle. This one was bigger and weighed in at 51kg. Before we went to bed we had dinner and had our best meal of the trip; it was shrimp and fish stew with rice and cheesed cauliflower. This was quite yummy and had us in a good mood going to bed.

This day served as one of my favorites because of our amazing experiences with the whales and the sea turtles.

Cooper D

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Baja Day 5

It was Tuesday. After a brisk morning wake up and lovely breakfast we were split up into 2 groups. The sea stars and the urchins. I myself was a urchin. However out task was the same. We were given a list of all the marine invertebrates around the island. They had the names in Spanish and English but we had to memorize their scientific Latin names such as the Diadema mexicanum, or the Phataria unifacialis.

We then played a game with these teams in place aptly named the invertebrate race. We would line up as our instructor would pull up a picture of one of the invertebrates. If it was a sea star, the sea star team would have to run and grab a flag, while the urchins would chase after them trying to grab the flag that was in the back pocket of the sea star runner. The reverse was true if a picture of an urchin was shown. If the picture was neither a sea star nor an urchin then both runners would be going for the flag in the sand. The team who won the race would then go back into the main tent and have to correctly spell the Latin name of the invertebrate which was on the picture. If they got it right then that team got a point. However if they missed it the other team would get a chance to spell it correctly. If both teams missed it then the tie breaker would be whoever got the closest to the actual Latin name. It was a close game coming down to the last point. Both teams getting the name wrong and it being decided by one letter closer. My urchins pulled out the victory. After taking a victory lap with Trevor we, the winners, got to decide which activity our group would do first. It still being in the morning and not too hot we decided to go on a hike.

So the rest of the urchins and I got ready for our hike while the glum sea stars headed out to sea.the hike wasn’t far but we made frequent stops to gander at the flora and fauna of the island that we happened to see. We got to see the massive elephant cactus, and the useful mangroves. The small fiddler crabs with their strangely large single claw. Once we reached the end of our hike we were sitting in an old dried up water fall with an impressive number of green fig trees around us. We got to sit and contemplate the world around us as we sat in the silence of nature. It was peaceful.

Then we headed back for camp as we got ready for a nice lunch as the other group returned from their trip. After lunch we played another sneaky game in which was also close, but my urchins once again pulled out a comeback victory.

Then it was time to suit up for our marine invertebrate senses. We donned our wet suits and snorkels as we rode out to out dive site. Once their a 100 meter line was laid out on the sea floor. With our dive buddies our first task was to determine the substrate every meter on the line. Mainly sand, there was also lots of rocks, coral, and algae that we found on the ocean floor. After that was mapped out we had to look for the invertebrates along the line. With our ID cards in hands and memories fresh from the morning learning game we started to pick out what we saw. After the 100 meters our group was done and we started our cold and wet way back to camp.

Once back at our home base we had some free to relax and wash up before our delicious dinner. With our bellies filled we were ready for bed but our instructors had something else in mind. We had to sleepily learn about tomorrow’s activities and what kinds of sea starts lay in our futures. But I’ll let the next person tell you more about them.

Adios

– John McCrea