Tam’s Drama on the High Seas in Ecuador!
Here I am, in Ecuador, on a volunteer dive trip, and it is drama after drama around here! Isla de la Plata, Educador is one happening place!
I have already blogged about the Humpback Whale we found entangled and could not save, so I won’t go into that. (Not All Entanglements End Happily). So let’s check out the newest drama.
Last week, the Divemaster, my dive buddy and I ascended from our dive and …. there was no boat in sight. I’m sure you’ve seen horror movies about that situation. On this particular day, there was a substitute captain on board, and a substitute crew member. For some reason, they went looking for us against the current, which makes no sense, but anyway, that’s what happened.
We floated in the cold waves for an hour and a half before we were picked up by another dive boat, SHARK. My dive buddy sang ocean songs, the divemaster grumbled, and I floated around face in the water. Most divers do not dive with their snorkel, but I do because of circumstances like this. It is much more comfortable to be able to float without worrying about an oxygen supply. The island was visible, but the current was pushing us away from it. When they finally found us, I hadn’t realized how tired and cold I was until I tried to climb the ladder into the boat! It isn’t that I thought we would die, we would have gotten to the island (most likely) before that, but it was uncomfortable being in the cold ocean swells with no boat in sight.
While still in the water, Blue Footed Boobies landed next to us. Do you have any idea how long their beaks are? LONG AND SHARP! I took some photos as one of them tried to attack my camera. They are quite aggressive! While we were floating and holding off crazy Boobies, the dive boat was searching for us frantically. There was a search called out, but all is well that ends well, and we were rescued in plenty of time, and no harm done. Whew!
Then, on a dive a day or two later, one of the other divers got involved cutting fishing line, and went into decompression mode on her dive computer. This puts one at risk for Decompression Sickness, or “the bends”. I was her dive partner, and at 93 feet I signaled her that it was time to go up. At that depth you should make two safety stops, and in the cold conditions, you need plenty of air to ascend. She ignored my signal. What would you do? After several attempts to get her to ascend with me, like a good buddy should, I began my ascent. The other diver was ignoring safety procedures that could cost a life, and as per dive protocol, I ascended and made sure I was making a safe ascent. I have never had a dive buddy do something like this. It is important, of course, to cut fishing line, but one shouldn’t risk two lives to do it. I alerted the boat captain and dive master to the issue, and they waited for her to surface. She was almost out of air, got tangled in her sausage’s line, and shot to the surface. Making an ascent from below 90 feet the last thing you want to do is to shoot to the surface without the safety precautions of safety stop, and having plenty of air. They quickly gave her another tank and she went back to 15 ft to decompress for 30 minutes. Fortunately, she did not become ill, but this is truly inappropriate behavior, especially on a citizen science trip. We were nowhere near a decompression chamber. (Her group was told at the end of the trip that if they wanted to return they would have to follow the dive master’s commands and stay with their buddies. They did not return.)
Today, more rescue drama. We came upon a fishing net which had a turtle ensnared in it. The turtle was struggling, still alive, so the boat headed out to help. The Captain lifted the turtle into the boat while divers Ralph and Peg cut net away from it. The turtle was saved and swam off, hopefully avoiding nets in the future. It was a fairly young one. Sadly, the net had a dead baby Hammerhead in it, and several reef fish. We were sad about the Hammerhead, but so happy that the young turtle survived. It is incredible that the “no fishing” in the national park is not enforced regularly. They even leave nets and long lines (long fishing lines with multiple baited hooks). The fishing boats are out there every single day. We must have better enforcement in our oceans, folks! But, here’s a shout out to our rescuers, Cappy (Captain Luis), Ralph, Peg and Larry!
It is amazing how quickly the weather and currents change here. You can be on a nice, calm dive, and end up in ripping current. Every dive had mantas, though! At the full moon they swarmed. It is a privilege to be here, and to be a small part of this research project. Marine Megafauna scientist Andrea Marshall is a fierce advocate for sharks and rays, and her efforts helped put many species on the endangered list, and “no fishing” list. Check out their efforts at www.marinemegafauna.org, and donate if you feel the urge! Marine Megafauna Foundation also studies and works toward saving sea turtles and other pelagics.
***after this first published, we found a large dead Green Sea Turtle, choked to death by fishing line. On a brighter side, Andrea and Janneman took a large fishing hook out of the head of a Giant Manta. That manta is very lucky….it was very close to entering the brain.
Talk about drama on the high seas! There has been plenty of it!
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