Today we are lucky enough to have a diary extract from one of our staff members in Pez Maya, Joanna Richardson...
Having completed my volunteer and scholar phases at Punta Gruesa (Mahahual) 'turtling' as it's referred to was new to me. I was so excited to find that we have turtles nesting on the base beach. In the morning a staff and volunteer member walk the beach playing detective, looking for turtle tracks and locating nests. This I found exciting enough, but last night we decided to take an impromptu turtle walk, we kept as quiet as possible, pointing at anything that could possibly be a turtle, then from the sea about 20 meters infront of us emerged a large Green turtle, it was an amazing sight watching her pull herself out of the water and navigate the steep sand bank that had formed infront of her, she made three false nests, which included a period where she disappeared off into the mangroves, we watched on for a further 45 minutes until she returned to the water leaving some very excited staff and volunteer members behind.
The excitement continued this morning when whilst on our way to beach clean we discovered a newly hatched hawksbill turtle, unfortunately it had a slightly stunted front flipper and so was quickly named Nemo by the volunteers. With a little help he found the sea and happily swam off to begin his many adventures, may he be as lucky as his namesake!
Every week, Staff and volunteers in Pez Maya, Mexico clean two hundred meters of beach on the stretch of coastline we live by. Over the course of twelve weeks we clean a transect of about two km in length and the amount of rubbish that we collect is quite simply staggering.
The vast majority of this rubbish is plastic; unsurprising considering that it is estimated that about 90% of all rubbish in the oceans is plastic.
In 1950, when plastic became “mainstream” approximately 50 million tons were introduced into public circulation. In 2008, to sustain our disposable lifestyle approximately 245 million tons were produced, the majority of which could be found in products intended to be thrown away. It is worth remembering that plastic does not decompose and that the original 50 million tons produced in 1950, as well as every piece of plastic produced since, are still with us in one form or another. In the last ten years we have produced more plastic than we produced in the whole of the 20th century.
This plastic, for the most part, finds its way to the ocean where the pieces break down into smaller and smaller particles causing problems including but not limited to:
Plastics absorb chemicals (most commonly POPs) from the surrounding water resulting in absorbed concentrations which are orders of magnitude above the levels in the surrounding water. If the plastics are washed up on the beach the chemicals are leached by the action of sun and rain allowing the chemicals to run back into the sea at elevated levels where they are directly introduced to coral reefs resulting in bleaching and high incidence of coral disease.
If the plastics are ingested by an organism the toxins collect in its tissue, not necessarily causing death but being passed up the food chain as each organism is preyed on in turn. Ingestion by humans of the contaminated flesh of these organisms has been linked to cancer, altered immune systems and developmental problems in children.
So back to where we started, Volunteers and Staff collecting plastic and other pollutants from the beach.
When we first began using the method from The Ocean Conservancy at the end of 2011 we collected, in 12 weeks from 2 km of beach, 580 kg of non-recyclable waste (including nearly 4000 plastic bottle caps), and 65kg that was recyclable- this was the first time that we had completed the new 2km transect and so we expected to take a lot of rubbish off the sand. At the start of 2012 in the first 12 weeks we collected approx. 450 kg of non-recyclable waste and again approx. another 10% that was recyclable. Then with the start of the storm season came the plastic…
After collating all of the data from the most recent transect, in the last twelve weeks we have collected 1113 kg of rubbish, over a tone. From a beach that had been completely cleared twice previously in the last 5 months.
This is not a local problem, this is happening on every beach in the world. Please, if you can’t get to a beach to clean up the rubbish, contribute by not creating the rubbish in the first place, think about the items that you are using, refill your plastic water bottles, try not to use plastic bags or other ‘disposable’ items and please, pass the message on.
Last week Pez Maya welcomed 15 new volunteers from 5 different countries! Welcome John, Mariana, Josh, Holly, Eli, Kerry, Tate, Will, Luke, Jessica, Alex, Matt, Sam, Mitch and Madison! With the 4 remaining volunteers from the last phase and 8 staff, it is a very full house. It was an eventful first week full of many accomplishments. Everyone is working hard at learning their adult fish, coral, juvenile fish and diving skills. Congratulations to Sam and Alex for passing their juvenile fish tests and Tate and Holly for passing their adult fish test and Aaron for passing his coral test! Congratulations to Mariana, John, Josh and Madison for successfully completing their PADI Open Water Certification on Friday and becoming certified scuba divers! All divers have begun spot tests to practice identifying fish and coral species on the reef. Also, a big congratulations to staff member Valeria for completing her Dive Master!
It was a beautiful week at Pez Maya. The perfect weather allowed all volunteers to get in lots of dives and rainstorms cooled us down all weekend. A variety of incidental sightings occurred this week including a Loggerhead sea turtle, green turtles, stingray and many crocodiles. Four turtles nests have been spotted along the beach and we're patiently waiting for the first hatchlings.
The week was filled with studying, completing chores, a beach clean and diving but we still found plenty of time to relax and get to know each other in the evenings. This week we celebrated Canada Day for the Canadian volunteers on base, July 4th for the American volunteers and Jessica's 20th birthday! On Friday the Staff treated the volunteers to a fiesta style feast including our first Lionfish of the phase. After a fun weekend in Tulum and snorkeling at Akumal, we are all back on base, ready for another week full of learning!
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