Now that my time here as an intern is coming to a close I am reflecting on my experiences and the memories that I will take away. Before coming to Santa Catalina I did not have much diving experience, having dived only to Open Water level in Malaysia. I thought it would be cool to get the chance to do some diving again, but I have to say that my time here has really made me fall in love with experiencing the underwater world and I am desperate to continue!

Every day in Coiba has been special. Even the days when we haven’t had our most spectacular dives you can’t help but be in awe of the park and the diversity of life in the water. And then you get those days that really are extraordinary, when the park is bursting with life and it feels like everywhere you look there is something special to see! My best day of diving happened on our instructor Kat’s birthday when our first two dives were full of big, big schools and turtles, and we shared the last dive with 2 beautiful whale sharks. Since I have been here I have been incredibly lucky enough to see whale sharks, manta rays, giant schools of sting rays and hammerhead sharks among countless other amazing things!

I also, on the encouragement of Sabina, have gotten into making and editing videos from my dives – something I really enjoy doing! This and all the diving experience are skills I am so glad to have gained from my time here.

I am very thankful for the opportunity that PDC has given me to be able to do this, and for all the special people I have shared my time with (particular shout out to my fellow interns / house mates!). PDC it has truly been a pleasure.

Esme

For our regular beach cleans we usually focus on the town beach as it is easily accessible from the shop – and is always in plenty of need! However, having noticed excessive and increasing quantities of plastic and waste on Estero beach (the main surfing beach in Santa Catalina), last weekend we decided to organize a bigger operation to go down there and tidy up.

Our friends Michelle from La Buena Vida (a local hotel) and Ollie (owner of Sup Santa Catalina) agreed to help us to transport people and rubbish to and from the beach, enabling us to facilitate the clean. Michelle also spoke to kids from town who were previously keen to get involved with events like this. We arranged a post-clean feast of empanadas and fruits and we were good to go!

We had a good turnout of kids and adults, but the task ahead of us was mammoth! The thing that struck us was the incredible amount of micro-plastics. It would be a near impossible task to clear all these tiny shreds. However, our team did a great job. We filled 10-15 large bags between us – considering that these were mostly filled with small items / pieces this felt like a job well done.

It was beautiful to see the kids engaged in the task and helping for a long time without getting distracted! Afterwards we had a short discussion about why what we had done was important and it was uplifting to see their understanding of the issues of pollution – especially since this is not the case with many older members of the community.

After the beach clean we had a short yoga session led by Michelle before delving into our empanadas and finally having plenty of time to play / swim together on the beach. One of the nicest things about the day was coming together as a community, having the chance to enjoy the company of others from the town and working together to make our home a better place.

A big thank you to everyone that helped us with all aspects of the clean. We hope to keep bringing the community together in the future and hopefully see an ever-growing team of beach clean heroes!

Sea turtles are probably one of the most well-known and beloved creatures of our vast oceans. Whilst they do breathe air, they can stay under water for around 40 minutes – or even up to several hours while they are asleep. As Reptiles, Turtles lay eggs. The females usually return to the beach where they were born. On the beach, they dig hole in which they lay up to 300 eggs and then cover them up with sand and finally they camouflage them. This is the only protection those eggs will have, the mother returns back to the ocean right after laying her eggs. Those little guys unfortunately have very little chance of making it to adulthood. A lot of them will get eaten or won’t even make it to the ocean safely after hatching. But even if they do, more danger in form of predators awaits in the ocean. Luckily, enough make it so that we can observe them on almost every dive.

They have fascinated humans for several thousand years and appear in mythology and cultural depictions throughout all cultures. Usually, they symbolize wisdom, patience and a certain easy-going way of life as they can live to over a hundred years old with the exact life span depending on the species of sea turtle. In Africa the story goes that turtles are the cleverest of all animals and they gave the other creatures their colours. In Nigeria the turtle is known as a trickster and accomplishes heroic deeds through various different stories. Meanwhile in ancient Greek and Roman mythology the turtle symbolized fertility and was thus an attribute of the goddess Aphrodite/Venus. In Tahitian culture the sea turtle is the shadow of the gods and the lord of the ocean.

Often they are connected with creation myths: There are stories in which the turtle literally carries the world on its back; in some stories that turtle stands on the back of another larger turtle – it is “turtles all the way down”. In other stories our planet is carried by four elephants who stand on the back of a turtle. Unfortunately, in a metaphorical way, turtles really are carrying some of the weight of the world as they are one of the creatures impacted the most by climate change. The reason for this is that the gender of the little sea turtles hatching from their eggs on the beach is determined by the sand temperature. As a result, rising temperatures have led to a too high percentage of female sea turtles, in some areas it is as high as 95%. This makes reproduction even harder, and it is already not easy for our beloved creatures. Sea turtles take decades to reach sexual maturity. When they do return to the beach to lay their eggs the survival rates are unfortunately very low.

Sea turtles are not just the cute, calm creatures we love so much on our dives though – they have a real significance to the ecosystem. For instance, they eat the seagrass, keeping it short enough so it keeps spreading over the ocean floor providing an important habitat for lots of other species who find shelter and food in these grassy beds. They also eat jellyfish. The leatherback turtle is immune to the poison of the box jellyfish and hence controls its population keeping beaches safe for us humans as well.
In Coiba National Park one of the spots where we are most likely to find sea turtles is at the so-called cleaning stations that exist at certain dive sites, like Iglesia. At these cleaning stations fish eat the parasites inhabiting the sea turtles among other bigger animals like rays making it a mutually beneficial institution: they feed on the parasites and the sea turtles and rays get rid of those nasty little plagues. It is fascinating to observe such areas where the animals knowingly go to get cleaned off, and it is what makes Iglesia one of my favorite dive sites.

 

-Text and video by Saskia