Gulf of California

All Natural Glow-in-the-Dark
by -- April 1st, 2011

We visited a pearl oyster farm in Guaymas, and then took a boat out to San Pedro Norlasco Island to snorkel and stay overnight. The best part: night snorkeling with bioluminescent dinoflagellates!! The worst part: failing to save a sea turtle

My Tuesday started with a gentle shove by Mateja at 6:15AM, “Get ready in 15 minutes!” Soon enough, all 12 of us, including Hector, were sardined in a car headed to Guaymas. We drove for about 3 hours semi-listening to a compilation of everyone’s top 3 favorite songs and semi-sleeping to Guaymas. My freshman year’s Spanish professor taught me that ‘guay’ means ‘cool’ in Spanish, so Guaymas must mean a lot of cool (guay más, get it?). Well, if anything, the city does have some guay tacos. Our first stop was at Rico’s Taco’s, which used to be Xavier’s regular when he was in college. After gobbling up about 2-9 tacos (mind you, this was our breakfast), we were ready to head to Xavier’s alma mater, Tec de Monterrey, which had turned into a pearl oyster farm after the marine biology program dwindled. Enrique, one of the three owners of Perlas del Mar de Cortes, greeted us and gave us a tour of the place. Interestingly, this farm evolved from the founders’ master’s project. I never knew how pearls were made or what kind of pearls were there until Enrique explained so patiently to us. Who knew oysters create ‘pearls’ as a form of defense mechanism! (To learn more about the pearl farm, visit http://perlas.com.mx/en/virtual-tour.html

Next on our agenda was Bravo. That’s the name the boat we stayed overnight in. Under Captain Vincente’s guide, we cruised our way to San Pedro Norlasco Island. Oh, did I mention that I took a motion sickness medicine, Dramamine, before I went on the boat. And the side effect of the medicine? Drowsiness. One moment I was seating on a sofa, and when I opened my eyes again, two hours had passed. Thanks to Dramamine, I missed the history of the island by Enrique. By the time I woke up, we had arrived at our first snorkeling spot (I swear, I didn’t plan it!). With sea lions, boobies and herons along side us, we made our way down the water and through the cave. In one look, under the sea looked bleak and dead, but if I just stayed still and looked harder, I could see millions of small fish, some colorful big fish swimming near corals and some camouflaging as part of the rock.

But the best part of this journey was yet to come. After delicious dinner made by Fernando, Ted, Kim, Sharon and I put on our wet wetsuits again for night snorkeling. Lame grad students decided to stay put. Meanwhile the fantastic four undergraduates were completely mesmerized by bioluminescent dinoflagellates all around us. With our every movement, these microorganisms shined their lights. The experience was magical and reminded me of the complexity and uniqueness of marine organisms. Too exhausted by our excitement, after our return, we soon fell asleep. As there was a limited space on the boat, Sharon and I shared a sofa bed, and… let’s just say that I got to know her feet really well as I am sure she did with mine.

The next morning, I woke up sweating. It must have been the hottest day since we arrived at Mexico. What better way to cool off than by snorkeling! So, once we arrived at another side of the island, we jumped in again. The initial I-just-might-freeze-to-death sensation from the cold water was a price I had to pay to observe jellyfish, sun stars, starfish, angel fish, sea urchins, chocolate chip sea stars, sun sea stars, funny-looking gastropods, a sea turtle tangled up, and…wait, what? Yup, that’s what we saw. A black sea turtle trying its hardest to free itself from a tightly-bound rope. Mateja’s attempt at untying knots was useless. Ted swam back to the boat to get a knife. But seconds after Ted left, a panga came and Mexican fishermen, who must have noticed our discovery, pulled their rope away with the turtle still tied. When we called them out, they motioned to another side of the land. By the time Ted and the rescue team of Elena and Kirby arrived, everything was too late. Sea turtle capturing is illegal in Mexico. Enrique told me that these fishermen probably would wait until night to sell the turtle on black market. Even now, I keep replaying that moment in my head. I blame myself for not actively helping Mateja untie the knots. And I wonder what would have happened if we actually did free the turtle. Maybe we should have written down the panga number. But even if we gave the number to the authority, what evidence is there?

And with that tragic incident, our expedition almost came to an end. Before our arrival, we got to learn about Guaymas development as a touristy location and Mexico’s government-driven tourism in general. After catching early dinner, a.k.a seafood feast, at Guaymas while sharing our boat trip stories (e.g. Kirby introducing himself in very broken Spanish, “Mi amo Kirby”, which translates to ‘My owner, Kriby’ instead of “Me llamo Kirby”, which translates to ‘my name is Kirby’), we headed back to what became our “home”, the Prescott field station. It is funny how our bodies wore out just from a car ride, although we’ve practically been sitting the whole time. As soon as we arrived at home, we only had sleeping on our agenda. So this is how our two-day journey ended. And this is where this long blog entry ends, too.

So long and thanks for all the fish.

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