Researching Whale Sharks in Mexico

I participate in Citizen Science trips because I am a big believer in giving back. When we receive a benefit, I believe we should provide a benefit in return somewhere, somehow. Scuba Diving is a passion for me, animals are a passion, and photography underwater is a passion. I love the ocean, the earth, and all of its creatures.  The point is, I must give back to the ocean in some way since I enjoy the ocean in so many different ways. How do I give back? I go on Citizen Science trips, which means I participate in collecting data for scientists to use, and in doing so, I also help support their work. I’ve done trips with All Out Africa, Marine Megafauna Foundation, and REEF. Why do I do it? Here are 4 of my reasons.

  1. I love to dive, so almost all of the citizen science I do is underwater. The ocean is in trouble, and so are many of its animals. As the ocean warms, coral bleaches and dies off, killing the foundation of life for many fish and animals the earth depends upon for sustenance. In order to know how a species is doing, data must be collected. That data involves Identification photography, noting the animal’s sex, noting any injuries, and watching the behavior of the animal. I love contributing to the body of knowledge about our ocean friends.
  2. I am fascinated by animals. There is nothing more exciting to me than watching them, and when appropriate, interacting with them. Most of the time, you don’t want to interact or disturb their behavior, but every once in a while you get to look them in the eye, or blow bubbles with mantas or play with dolphins, and it is nothing short of magical!
  3. I’m a geek. I love collecting data and loading it into data systems to produce results. Every time I submit an ID photo of an animal, I can’t wait to find out if it is a “new” animal (one never documented before), or if it has been encountered before, and where. When you report and encounter and upload data to Wildbook for Whalesharks (www.whaleshark.org) or Manta Matcher (www.mantamatcher.org) you receive updates if that animal is seen again. Almost every summer I go off the Yucatan to snorkel with WhaleSharks, and I always take ID photographs to upload. I receive many notifications every summer and fall that animals I have encountered have been encountered again. I like to look at the photos, and I feel a certain sense of accomplishment.
  4. Probably the most important reason I go on these trips is, simply, the people. I have met the most wonderful, amazing people on citizen science trips. You are always hearing people talk about their “tribe”, well, this is my tribe. Sadly for me, I can’t do it as a profession, all year long. I’m an introvert, but I am a social introvert, I can hang out with people and enjoy myself. I loved teaching at the university and counseling high school students. No man is an island! What is exciting for me is to be able to spend time with people who share the same interests and passions. These trips draw intelligent, excited, animated people who share my love of the sea and my sense of contribution. I can interact with the scientists and learn about the animals and the ocean itself. I love the people (for the most part!) I meet on these trips, and I am still in touch with many of them. We share a bond through the experience of passion and participation.
    An incredible group of wonderful, bright, enthusiastic women!
    You will love this…somehow the two of us found out we share an ancestor who was hung as a witch in Salem!
    With Bakari and Anton, crew members extraordinaire!

The last trip I took with Marine Megafauna’s Dr Andrea Marshall, Queen of Mantas, was an 11 day voyage in Raja Ampat, Indonesia on the luxury boutique liveaboard, The Arenui (not all trips are so luxurious, believe me!). It was a wonderful trip, and I enjoyed getting to know the other divers, who mostly were not there for the same reason I was, but who became very enthusiastic about taking Manta ID photographs. I believe no matter where they are diving, they will take ID photos of animals and send them to the databases for turtles, whales, dolphins, mola mola, and others. Inspiring others to take part in citizen science is also a contribution, and a way of giving back. You can do it too!

My roomie, Andrea Queen of Mantas, and her one year old baby girl. (the baby was only on the boat 2 nights)
Jonny was my dive master, and an excellent one. Also a musician and singer!
With the tour directors, Debbie and Jerry! Bakari didn’t quite get in the photo!
Doing goofy selfies with Andrea and her husband, Janneman.
Saying goodbye….but I did not want to leave!

One doesn’t have to dive to do citizen science!No matter where you are, there are opportunities to participate. There is National Geographic’s list, and there are projects closer to home. I live in Dallas, Texas and here is a program to document wildlife in urban areas in North Texas Wild. You can also go to www.citizensciencecenter.com. Citizen scientists are a boon to scientists because so much more data can be obtained. If you are interested, you can find an opportunity near you! I highly recommend it!

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Tam Warner

Award Winning Travel Journalist and Blogger, writing about Eclectic Travels in the Empty Nest! From scuba to luxury cruises to kayaking to expeditions, Tam is ready to go! Contact me at travelswithtam@gmail.com

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Tam Warner

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