A remarkable eagle ray season comes to a close

We love it when we spot eagle rays searching for food in the shallows.

The 2021-22 eagle ray season in Cozumel turned out to be one of the most exciting ones in years. There were several days when we sighted more than 20 eagle rays. Though the season is officially over, it’s not uncommon to see a few rays still lingering as we move into the summer months — especially juveniles.

Eel vs octopus fight during a night dive

Some of our favorite videos captured this season include our video of an eagle ray searching for food along the ocean floor, our video of of an octopus fighting an eel during a night dive, an unexpected encounter with a juvenile eagle ray during a surface interval, and one of our divers’ footage of several eagle rays gracefully soaring through the water while coral spawns.

Another highlight from this year’s eagle ray season was a video recorded by a diver named Charlie Castro that went viral in April of a hammerhead shark chasing, capturing and eating a juvenile eagle ray in the shallows of El Cielo. We’d heard of such behavior before but until he caught it on video and shared it, we hadn’t seen it up close. Some viewers felt sorry for the eagle ray but we thought it was truly a privilege to witness nature at its purest — the apex predator doing its job. 

Covid update in Cozumel: Ready for some good news?

woman with mask

According to our state’s official health services website, Cozumel and the rest of the Riviera Maya are now designated as a “green zone” (with low risk for epidemiological spread based on low rates of infection and hospital occupancy nearing 0%).Here’s some more good news in Cozumel:

  • As of May 10, our state’s Department of Health Services announced that using a face mask is now voluntary! While it’s still recommended that we use them in common sense situations (crowded indoor areas, public transport, hotels, hospitals, etc.), the announcement feels like an official affirmation of what we’re already feeling on the ground — our daily lives are slowly but surely returning to normal.
  • The first round of covid-19 boosters became available to adults this spring and we were thrilled to be able to get our whole PSD team fully boosted.
  • 12 to 14-year-olds are now eligible for their first dose of the vaccine. 
  • There are no longer limitations on operating capacity for outdoor activities.
  • Labs specializing in covid tests have popped up all over town — it’s now quick and convenient to get the covid test that’s required within one day of your return flight if you’re heading back to the U.S. 

Construction of new cruise ship pier suspended

The proposed construction of a fourth cruise ship terminal, which was approved in 2021 and then met with significant resistance from local environment groups and concerned residents, was suspended in mid-April. Though the fight is nowhere near over, the ruling asserts that the construction project may cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem and the people who depend on it, so the company heading the project is prohibited from moving forward with construction until a writ of protection has been resolved in trial.

If you’ve been following this issue over the past several months, then you know that the way it’s framed totally depends on who’s telling the story.  Proponents of cruise ship tourism assert that an additional pier would bring the island a much needed economic boost. Environmentally-minded writers argue that the construction would destroy a significant part of our reef system and negatively impact a nearby coral regeneration project that’s underway, and emphasize that thousands more daily visitors will put undue stress on an already woefully inadequate system for wastewater management. 

Whether or not you’re a fan of cruise ships, we think it comes down to a simple calculation: Cozumel is special, and we know its value goes far beyond what it puts in the pockets of the people who live here. It’s time that people honestly consider what we want to put first: the lure of unbridled economic growth, or protecting and defending this gem of an island so that future generations can enjoy it too?

Get college credit for a PADI course

If you or someone you know is in college and is considering getting a PADI open water certification or completing a continuing education course, read on!

The American Council on Education (ACE), which evaluates courses and recommends college credit when they meet certain standards, has recommended college credit for 25 different PADI courses.  Colleges and universities can apply the credit to a student’s major by replacing a required course or waiving a prerequisite course. 

It’s important to note that students should always contact their particular college or university first to see what courses would be eligible at that institution. To ensure that the credit is validated, students will need an official transcript as proof of the course completion (not just a PADI certification card). For more information, send a request to college.credit@padi.com 

Community members work to defend a beloved dive site

Divers and photographers pose at Villablanca Reef.
More than 50 divers and photographers gathered to collect data about biodiversity at Villablanca Reef.

More than 50 divers and marine photographers came together on May 1st and 4th, 2021 to photograph species and collect data about the biodiversity of Villablanca reef. Their aim was to raise awareness about the vibrant marine life that is at risk if the government approves the construction of a fourth cruise ship pier at this location. The pier developers had recently submitted an Environmental Impact Statement to the government in which they claimed that there is little to no marine life or corals present at Villablanca, therefore purporting that this major construction project will have no significant environmental impact. The construction of this huge pier, and all the cruise ship traffic that will follow, will undoubtedly cause the destruction of coral formations and the habitat of marine creatures.

In response to the statement that the site had little marine life worth protecting, Punta Sur Divers’ DM and co-owner Cris sprang to action, organizing a group of divers who were as passionate about countering this false claim as she was. The collaborative photo log took place during a period required under Mexican law in which citizens and local experts can provide evidence to the federal government regarding the potential environmental impact of proposed projects.  The findings from this activity, as well as findings from other initiatives led by local NGOs and research groups, all confirm that there is indeed significant biodiversity at this site, including fish and coral species currently protected under Mexican law.

As the group of divers worked to create a collaborative photo log of different species at Villablanca in early May, they were doing more than just collecting data. They were raising awareness about an issue that impacts the reef as well as our whole island.

To promote informed decision making, local environmental experts have participated in community research in hopes of educating the public about the true implications of the pier project. Cris has been participating in local citizen science initiatives for years, and she’s passionate about community members collaborating through research to build knowledge. She believes it’s crucial to increase awareness of the ways that many development projects put stress on Cozumel’s delicate ecological equilibrium, especially considering that island’s ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to stressors such as water use, increased coastal development, mass tourism, and poor waste management. She hopes that the gathering of these passionate divers will draw attention to the fact that blind exploitation of the island’s precious resources without focusing on its long-term ecological needs could be irreversibly consequential.

Cozumel is flanked by a reef system that forms part of the second largest barrier reef system on the planet, a system that’s been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Responsible development in Cozumel requires that people consider not only economic goals but also ecological balance and the health and wellbeing of our entire community and of future generations.  There is a growing sense among academics, NGOs, citizen groups and the public that we need to better understand the true implications of coastal development projects. More and more local residents are asking what responsible regenerative tourism can look like here. How can we continue to make Cozumel a competitive tourist destination while also keeping the long term health of our ecosystems front and center?

Divers and photographers shine their lights underwater during a night dive.

As of June 2021, the fourth pier project is currently still under revision. Though lawyers and community members will continue to lobby against the proposed project, Villablanca’s future is far from secure. Various interest groups will continue to put pressure on the government to approve this project despite evidence against its ecological viability. This is where you come in, dear divers and Cozumel lovers!

How can you help protect Villablanca Reef and Cozumel?

  • Sign the change petition here.
  • Share your Villablanca reef pictures on social media. Take a stance and help us educate others about the biodiversity that exists there.
  • Choose to spend your money in ways that create a positive impact on the local community. Practice responsible tourism and follow local laws and regulations. Hire legal operators that follow sustainable practices and abide by fishing bans.
  • Read and inform yourself about the environmental and economic impacts of mass tourism and the cruise ship industry.
  • Contact us here if you’re interested in engaging in coral reef restoration or a citizen science activity during your next visit. We’d be thrilled to help make your next vacation more than just a vacation.

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