Two weeks ago I met a stunning group of women. We were all citizen science volunteers on the Ray of Hope Expedition 2015 to the Yucatan. Our goal was to take ID photographs of Manta Rays and Whale Sharks, and to obtain 30 genetic samples from Mantas. The Whale Shark goal was awesomely met, the Mantas were elusive, but the group of women on the expedition made the trip more than worthwhile. (There were absolutely wonderful men on the trip…but Wednesday is for women! Sorry, guys.)
The organizer of the group was the Chief Scientist for Manta Rays, Dr Andrea Marshall of Marine Megafauna Foundation. I have blogged about Andrea on Amazing Women Wednesday, and I have gone on Ray of Hope Expeditions to Ecuador and the Yucatan, and I’m scheduled for Komodo next year. To quote Andrea, “Making a difference out in the field and playing a role in the protection of our oceans is a rewarding and life changing experience.” Yes, it is. And one of the most rewarding things about Citizen Science are the people you meet while engaged in it.
What a diverse group of women on the Yucatan trip! The age range was 19-66 years old! One would never know anyone was in their sixties though, and it has become my goal to be 70 and still going on these expeditions. Every woman on the trip was an inspiration. First, there is Andrea Marshall, enough said. Next, Isabella is from Mexico and a biology student at Penn. She was so enthusiastic I named her Princessa Isa, the Heir Apparent to the Queen of Mantas, Andrea Marshall! We all joked around the entire week about it, but I doubt it is a joke…Isabella may very well go into Marine Biology and Field Work. She absolutely loved it. Lauren is a Scottish biologist working at a resort in Male, Maldives and she was thrilled to see the aggregation of Whale Sharks in the Yucatan. There really is nothing like it! Lauren joined the trip with her Kiwi (New Zealand) co-worker and Scuba Instructor, Fin (yes, Fin like a fish). Fin and Lauren were roomies on the trip and stayed in the room next to me. We went back and forth a bit…I forgot conditioner and they were life savers! In love with Mexico, it would not surprise me if Fin relocated to the Yucatan! Elnora hailed from San Francisco and went snorkeling with crocodiles after our expedition…I confess, I wasn’t ready to do that! Brave (or seriously mad) Andrea, Lauren and Elnora who went off with crocs! Dear Annie, from Canada, was a sparkling and positive example to everyone during the entire trip. Me? I’m famous for being the clumsiest of all of us and forgetting things like fins and oxygen. Fin dubbed me the “Dory” (from Finding Nemo) of the trip! It was actually a compliment…hey, Dory had good points! She spoke whale, after all.
What an inspiration they all are. Women from all over the world, of all ages, sharing a passion for the ocean and conservation, coming together by chance. Our group jelled from Day One. It was like finding a tribe. These expeditions are not “luxurious” (I hear the Komodo trip is luxury…can’t wait!), they are tough, especially for women of a certain age. Heading out before dawn on a small boat, searching the ocean for Mantas and Whale Sharks, then engaging in our work when we found the animals, is not easy. Despite the discomfort, we would all do it again.
I admire these women for their passion, and their willingness to put their backs into a cause they believe in. The younger women were testing out whether they were cut out for field work, and they all did a wonderful job. To be with people who are enthusiastic and capable of wonder is refreshing and revitalizing. I certainly hope to dive or work with each and every one of them again. To Andrea, Isa, Fin, Lauren, Annie and Elnora, Cheers! You are all fabulous. Let’s meet up and do it again, you amazing women!