Susan Parrish's Diary
Mexican Mangroves and Wildlife

Friday, August 13, 2004

Thursday, August 12, 2004
Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Monday, August 9, 2004

Sunday, August 8, 2004
Saturday, August 7, 2004

Friday, August 6, 2004
Thursday, August 5, 2004

Wednesday, August 4, 2004
Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Monday, August 2, 2004
Sunday, August 1, 2004

Saturday, July 31, 2004
Friday, July 23, 2004


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Saturday, August 14, 2004

I leave the hotel at 6 a.m. the next morning, saying good-bye to my fellow traveler, Ira Gavrin. I am rather daunted by the prospect of traveling down to Manzanillo without knowing any Spanish, and no one at the bus or taxi stations generally knows any English. With the aid of many hand signals and a few phrases written down on paper, I manage the bus and taxi rides and get to the airport on time for my flight. I make some additional souvenir purchases at the airport and then wait to board.

When flying into Chicago's O'Hare airport, the crew announces Chicago has had record-breaking cool weather, and it is quite cool when we land. I am freezing from being used to the hot weather in Mexico. Waiting for my bags at the airport, I think back over the last two weeks. I cannot believe I have seen, done, and learned so much in only two weeks. What a fantastic journey it has been.

I cannot thank enough Alcoa, my supervisor, Sheila Healy, and Earthwatch for making it possible for me to go on this expedition. I will not soon forget the sights and sounds and smells, both good and bad, of the Costa Allegre, or "Happy Coast," of Mexico. Thank you all for such great memories to weave into the tapestry of my life!

Friday, August 13, 2004

Today we will have a 1½-hour bus ride to Jocotepec to visit Paulino and Sara. We pass through Ajijic and Lake Chapala on the way—some very poor areas with beautiful scenery. Everything seems covered in flowers, with many bougainvillea.

We call Paulino and Sara when we arrive, and they pick us up and take us back to their home. Paulino shows us a milk snake he has; the milk snake is one that we were taught to identify in La Manzanilla. It is very similar to a coral snake, but there is a different variation to the color bands. If bitten by a snake or scorpion, it is very important to try and capture the perpetrator since the anti-venom carries risks and the correct one must be used.

While we sit on the patio, I spot birds flying in a V-shape similar to our Canadian geese. It turns out they are migrating brown pelicans. Paulino goes for his camera, and the pelicans form into concentric circles. They use an updraft, and it appears they are performing a ballet, circling and barely moving. I believe they use this updraft and circling motion to rest during their journey. It is one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen and one that I have called to mind again and again since I have returned home.

In the town of Jocotepec, we visit a number of old churches, chapels, and a local market. The market has vegetables grown in the area and fish caught in Lake Chapala. Paulino also treats us to a native drink called tequino, which we purchase from a street vendor. The drink is made of sprouted corn and allowed to ferment but not to the stage of turning to alcohol. Sara says children put it on their ice cream, and it is supposed to be good for stomach ailments.

Lake Chapala has been in danger of drying up and has dropped many feet in the last 30 years. Water from the lake is piped all the way to Mexico City for tap water use. The lake is really shallow, with vegetation growing all the way to its middle.

We eat at a restaurant on the edge of the lake and have tiny fried fish, similar to smelt, as an appetizer. We eat the heads, tails, and all. We choose fish deeply fried in garlic for dinner, and it is delicious! I cannot believe that after so many days of not being able to eat due to nausea, I feel totally fine and am breaking this fast with fried fish. (I have since wondered whether this is due to the tequino??) We take the opportunity to do some bird-watching as there are many herons and even a brilliant red and black fly-catcher. After dinner, we walk along the pier and people-watch and take pictures. I buy some very nice woven bags from a couple with a stand on the banks of the lake who use a hand loom for weaving them.

It starts to rain, and our bus will be arriving soon to return us to Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque. They are disappointed we can't spend the night, but I have to travel five hours by bus and taxi back down to the airport at Manzanillo for my flight tomorrow morning, and I need to leave early in the morning. Paulino and Sara drive us to the bus station at Chapala. I will miss them, but we plan to stay in touch, and they urge us to visit them anytime.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Thursday is spent visiting the historical sites in town, followed by shopping at a market that includes a leather factory, pottery factory, and weaving factory. There are so many things to see here, I would like to come back again. It is much cooler here in the mountains than on the coast.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

This morning rockets wake us up for the last time. Since it's the last day of the festival, we are also treated to a procession with a band! Once the noise of the procession faded in the distance, it started thundering. I had to laugh to myself—how calm and mundane my alarm will sound from now on calling me from sleep!

Breakfast this morning will be our last meal together. The talk is about all the wonderful things we've seen and done. Paulino and Sara ask us to give our opinions about the expedition, both positive and negative. It seems that the majority of people all feel it was great, but concur that the only negative is that we would have liked to do more work and that we were under-utilized. Paulino explains that he curtailed some of our activities due to concern for our health since we were all sick at one time or another and the heat was so intense without the relief normally brought by the rainy season. We give our e-mails to Alicia so she can distribute all of them again via e-mail, and Alan Tran plans to develop a website where we can all post our pictures to share them. All have been great traveling companions and will be greatly missed; I enjoyed the time spent with everyone here.

We all have our picture taken together in the jardin in the little gazebo where we first met to introduce ourselves. Even Paulino's mother and sister are here to see us off. After picture taking, we return to the hotel to pack up and be driven to the airport in time for our flights. My flight is not until Saturday, and I am journeying up to Guadalajara with another volunteer. Paulino and Sara will be returning to their home in Jocotepec in the next couple of days and invite us to visit their home there and spend the night.

We have a four-hour bus trip to Guadalajara. The bus we take is a very comfortable tour bus, with televisions and comfortable seats. We are given a soda and sandwich for the trip, and we have AIR-CONDITIONING—the first we've felt since the ATM on the way into town when we arrived. I don't even look at the TV—the scenery is incredible (and I have no camera!). On the way to Guadalajara, we will pass Colima, where there are volcanoes. The landscape becomes ever more mountainous, and there is a very swift river in a deep gorge running along the road at times. We come to some sandy flats (that have flooded due to recent rains in Guadalajara), with mountains rising up behind them. Wooded mountains with occasional rock cliffs showing have the sun setting on them—what an incredible sight!

A Mexican military truck stops the bus, and one uniformed individual gets on to search for contraband. I imagine drugs and guns. He lifts my bag to feel the bottom for guns but does not search further or ask for my passport. Guns are probably the one thing I didn't think to bring (smile)! After searching the bags of a couple more people, he leaves and we continue on.

We arrive in a section of Guadalajara known as Tlaquepaque and take a taxi to the bed and breakfast where we have reservations. There is a small door in a brick wall with a buzzer with which to announce your arrival. Stepping through the door leads you to an absolute wonderland of candles and fragrances. We are led to a landscaped patio where we are treated to ice cream and margaritas before turning in. The landscaping included a flower that blooms one night a year, and tonight happens to be that one night. It has a huge white blossom approximately six to seven inches (15 to 18 centimeters) in diameter—beautiful! It is so comfortable here I could sit on the patio all night!

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

A group of us went with Alicia this morning to do trash pickup with the children and a couple of adults in town. Earlier in the week, we had made necklaces with tags that read "Protectores de le Naturaleza" (Protector of the Environment) that we all wore. The local people feel that all the trash is due to the tourists, but I am told it is really a combination of tourists and locals. Prior to paper and non-organic wrappers being introduced, people could just throw their fruit peels, etc, on the ground as it was all biodegradable. The trash is a very big problem here, but it will require a lot of work and a whole different way of thinking to remedy the problem, both on the part of the tourists and local people.

In the afternoon, we plan to go shopping. We take a local bus to Barre de Navidad, which is a town close by. The bus ride is very exciting as it is in rather mountainous country with steep cliffs along the road. I was glad to see the driver had a horseshoe above his seat—maybe I should have been concerned? The name Barre de Navidad means "Christmas Bar," as it was discovered when Spaniards ran aground on a sandbar here on Christmas Day.

I was glad to find a currency exchange in this town so that I can exchange some traveler's checks for pesos. I was told to bring traveler's checks, but the only person in La Manzanillo who takes them is the "Hammock Man," a vendor who walks around selling hammocks. Unless you plan to visit La Manzanilla and buy a lot of hammocks, bring pesos!

We walk through the town shopping for souvenirs at little stalls. There is a beautiful beach here, also. Elizabeth decides to go swimming, and Michael, his daughter Jessica, and I walk along the beach. We have to walk down three steps to the beach, and I fall face first in the sand off the last one—this is beginning to become a habit! I am not hurt and really glad I didn't break my souvenir plaque I bought in town. On the way back, the bus windows are open, so they afford a little breeze, anyway. The areas we drive through are so incredibly poverty-stricken. It really gives you a different view of how other people are forced to live and makes you realize how lucky we are to have everything we do in the United States.

We sit up late tonight talking about having to leave tomorrow, as it will be our last day. Though glad to be returning to our families, many of us would still enjoy more time here. We will be returning to jobs and our everyday, normal lives, which will be so different from the time spent here.

Monday, August 9, 2004

This morning it becomes apparent that there is more to the religious celebration—every morning at 5 to 6 a.m. we will be awakened by the incredibly loud explosions of rockets, which are set off to wake up the townspeople and call them to church. It works well—at least the waking up part. Fortunately, this is done on alternate sides of town every morning. When it's our side's turn, the rockets are set off so close to the hotel I can see the red flash on the bedroom wall.

Today my team got to go in the boat to do the bird survey. We saw many types of water birds; more than one would typically see inside the mangrove itself. There is a bird called a cacique, and the nest it "weaves" is really unique. (A unique Cacique???) While walking back to town, we hear what sounds like explosions. We discover it is the coconuts we were warned about falling into an aluminum boat. It is easy to see how they could crush your skull if they were to fall on you.

We continue plant pressings today, and it is really hot along the mangrove. We stop at a palapa where Alicia is staying at on the beach to do some swimming and cool off (though I have not brought my swimsuit with me this morning). I walk out into the surf to take a picture of the coast. On the way back, I step in a trench and a wave hits me from behind, causing me to fall in the water with BOTH my digital and 35mm cameras! I will have a serious lack of photos from this point on. (When I returned to work, one of my coworkers asked if I didn't "smell disaster" as I was walking out there.)

More people were sick today—one of the natural hazards of being in another country when the heat is so bad! It really makes you appreciate things we take for granted every day in the United States, such as clean water and well-refrigerated food.

Dinner in town was vegetable lasagna, while Sara cooked rice and vegetables for anyone who wanted to stay at the hotel or was ill. Both she and Paulino are very concerned for the safety and welfare of the volunteers and are really wonderful people. I am so glad I was able to go on this expedition and work with research scientists of their caliber.

Tonight is my team's turn to catch hatchlings. Around 9 p.m., we go out to the lagoon and take a flat-bottomed john boat with Paulino driving and Sara in the bow looking for baby crocs. As we move slowly through the dark lagoon, I'm torn between watching with fascination the coal-red eyes of the adult crocs on the banks reflected in the light of my headlamp or looking up at the Milky Way and the most brilliant stars I have ever seen against the black velvet night sky.

We all get to take turns at the bow catching the baby crocs. As we grab them out of the water, they sometimes hiss and make a soft cre-e-e-e-k sound, and we put them in a bag. They will be transferred to a cooler once we get back and then returned to the same place they were found once measured and marked. (The picture of the baby crocodile was taken during the day by Team 5.)

Sunday, August 8, 2004

It was cooler last night due to the storm, so we all slept pretty well. The researchers have told us to request anything we would like for making breakfast, and we will be provided with the ingredients. One of the volunteers, Eric, is a cook in a Mexican restaurant. He and his team make us a delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon, and potatoes this morning. We all really enjoy his team's turn to cook!

After breakfast, we mark baby crocodiles again. I think this is my favorite thing to do. We have a late lunch of quesadillas, which are delicious.

After lunch, we will go to the lagoon to try and catch the big crocodiles again. On the way, we stop for a cooler of ice (it is so hot in the sun, we put ice in plastic bags inside our hats!) This really helps. We recapture a big crocodile that is tagged with #129 and re-measure him. This crocodile seems to be more docile than the one we caught yesterday. The man who thinks he owns the estuary and wants to sell it comes in his boat to try and scare the crocodiles away, but we have already caught the one we are working on.

For dinner, we have burritos at our usual restaurant, which is across from the local church in the center of town. We can see from where we sit that some kind of religious celebration is taking place. It turns out to be the Feast of the Blessed Virgin. A carnival has been set up as part of the celebration, and I have seen a statue of the Blessed Virgin being carried through the town to the church. As I understand it, the festival will last for nine days.

As part of the celebration, there is a piñata shaped like a bull, and I believe it is called el toritos, or "little bull." Wires surround the piñata to which spinning sparklers and little rockets are attached. A man runs through the crowd once the sparklers and rockets are lit, and they fly off spinning in all directions. Some of the children run from it, laughing and squealing, while others run toward it. It is really fun for everyone (including us). There will be another one at ten o'clock tonight, and we are all anxious to take pictures of it.

Another volunteer and I decide to walk through the town while we are waiting, and we find a band playing in a large brick enclosure that has tables and chairs set up inside. People come out, and a young man invites us in, giving us seats inside and bringing us each a bottle of beer. They explain it is a religious event that takes place when a child is two or three years old, and I believe it is the child's saint's name day celebration. There is a very large band with a six-piece horn section—it's amazing to see such a large band at a party like this! There is great music and a lot of dancing. We remain about 20 minutes and then ask to meet the child so we can make a small gift and take part in his celebration. Such a cute little boy! The people are so nice and friendly here. Once again, a dog is present—standing on the dance floor taking part in the celebration. People just dance around him. We returned to the jardin to meet the young people and see el toritos again, and then we walk home together.

When we returned to the hotel and were reading, I noticed that the geckos up by the roof make a unique "chirping" sound that I originally thought were birds.

Saturday, August 7, 2004

The first team went out last night around 9 p.m. to catch hatchling crocodiles. Today, we split into two groups to measure, weigh, count the number of scales, and identify the neck scale patterns. The neck scale patterns are more easily seen in the pictures I've included of adult crocodiles. The croc in the first picture has a scale pattern of 2-2, 1-1, 1-1, while the second appears to be 2-2, 2-1, 1-1. This pattern is genetic, and crocs from the same nest generally have similar patterns.

Two to three scales are clipped in a pattern that corresponds to a number assigned to the baby crocodile. These scales are put into a small test tube with the identification number written on paper with waterproof ink, and the scales will be used in the future for DNA testing. Who would have thought baby crocodiles could be so cute! I was unable to take any really good pictures as I was holding the crocodiles and measuring them, but it was great to take part in the work! The hatchlings are kept in a cooler until returned to the lagoon after measuring, etc. The local people and children come in to hold them, and Paulino and Sara teach them about the hatchlings.

The afternoon is spent in catching the big crocodiles with Paulino at the lagoon. He catches the big ones while he has the volunteers to help; the smaller ones they can handle on their own. He uses a long pole with a wire on the end, similar to what is used by humane societies to catch dogs. Once he has snared the crocodile, a rope is put on the croc while the wire is removed to avoid injuring it. A second rope is put around the tail, and the crocodile is dragged onto the beach. His front and back legs are 'tucked up," and his eyes are covered to reduce the stress on the crocodile. In this way, they are pretty docile. Due to our extensive safety training, we are aware that it is necessary to cross him only in the middle—the tail and head can lash back and forth if he gets loose. If the croc gets a foot underneath him and starts breathing heavily, it is a precursor to his starting to roll. We need to keep a close eye on his feet while he is being measured. Sara called me up to do the measurements with Paulino since I was helping to measure the young crocodiles. We take the same measurements when the big ones are recaptured.

Once we are done with the measurements, the local townspeople are allowed to get their pictures taken with the crocodiles and are given copies of the pictures. The people are proud of the crocodiles and are being taught to protect the environment for the crocodiles and birds. Paulino holds the crocodile's feet while the photographs are taken to ensure everyone's safety, and then the volunteers take turns being photographed as well. There has never been an accident in the 10 years they have been doing this research, and we don't want any to happen now!

This first day approximately 300 people have come to see the crocodiles. The first crocodile is 13½ feet (4.1 meters) long, and Paulino conservatively estimates his weight to be 600 pounds (272 kilograms). After releasing the crocodile, we tried to catch another, but a thunderstorm started with a lot of lightning and thunder. Due to safety concerns, it is decided not to catch any more today. Maybe the storm will at least cool things off!

Friday, August 6, 2004

Today was our free day. This morning Alicia, Paulino's mother, and his sister, Diana, offer to guide us to the waterfall in the forest. We walk up a dry creek bed and retrace our steps when we get lost after leaving the bed. I noticed several small bromeliads fallen from a tree and was going to pick them up, but thought I would find more. It turned out I never saw any again! Although it was a long walk to a small waterfall, the fact that the water was cool made the walk worthwhile. It was the coldest water we had come across the entire time in Mexico—I haven't even been able to get water this cold from the tap. It was a really refreshing swim that we all enjoyed.

Tonight we went to a beautiful restaurant overlooking the ocean and were treated to a beautiful sunset.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

This morning we did plant surveys along the road by the mangrove, collecting four samples of each kind of plant. The plants selected must include either fruits/berries or flowers, and we press the plants between pieces of newspaper.

After finishing the plant pressings, we stopped by an old crocodile nest in which the baby crocodiles had hatched previously. We collected shells to try and determine how many hatched and how many were eaten by predators. The eggs in the nest had been counted by an earlier team prior to hatching. As it takes 60 to 90 days for crocodile eggs to hatch, the earlier teams would have been there while the nests were laid. Teams arriving now will be able to see the hatchlings.

When we return to the hotel, some of the volunteers work on a design for a plant dryer. Some plants were collected by an earlier team, but the pressings mildewed due to the extreme humidity and lack of better equipment to adequately dry the pressings.

I was really sick and nauseous this evening, so I did not go to dinner. After having eggs over-easy last night, I find the eggs are not refrigerated here. Another learning experience.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

It stormed last night for the first time. I was glad when I heard it was the rainy season, because I thought it would help cool things off. It seems there is the beginning of a drought right now, as we have not had any rain before this.

The Ranas (Frogs) team got to go by boat into the estuary for the bird survey while the other two teams did their surveys by walking into the mangrove forests. Each group walks 33 feet (10 meters) into the forest and then faces a different direction. Any bird sightings are logged, and times are blocked out at one to three minutes, three to five minutes, and five to 10 minutes. Data are collected regarding what kinds of birds are sighted (hence the intensive bird training), and we are provided with bird identification books as well. We also record estimates of how high the bird is from the ground, whether it is flying or perching, or if we just hear it calling.

In addition to the birds, there are many other things of interest to see in the mangroves. Crabs are scurrying everywhere and draw your attention due to their bright coloring against the dark color of the mangrove roots. Termite nests are everywhere as well. I ran into one and soon found my arm covered by termites, which I (very quickly) started brushing off!

Lunch consisted of fish that had not been cooked but chopped and "cured" in lime juice with tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Very good!

We next go to a mangrove that is a ways from here to look for more crocodile nests. It is incredibly hot in the mangrove, and it feels like there is no air in there. We find a nice butterfly and a brown, green, and blue lizard, and we do a couple plant pressings. However, the vegetation has grown too high for us to find any nests, and we leave due to the intense heat and humidity. We have a great time riding around in the back of the trucks!

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

This morning we are given presentations on how we will be doing the mangrove surveys. We will be using global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices, doing research on the various plant species. Some of the most common of these are white and red mangrove, lilies, cow's hoof, orchid, thorn vine, and acasia.

We will be measuring 20 points on each transect, and the measurements are taken at diameter at breast height (DBH). We receive training on the GPS system, which works from a group of 24 satellites that beam radio signals to the earth's surface. Each GPS unit measures the distance using a group of the three closest satellites.

The importance of carrying a compass, binoculars, extra water, bug spray, and a day pack with anything else we feel is necessary is stressed. We are constantly reminded by Sara and Paulino to keep drinking water or Gatorade® sports drink to keep hydrated. The SquincherTM electrolyte replacement drink Alcoa provided me with is invaluable and keeps me from becoming dehydrated and getting heat stroke—a very real risk in this climate.

We heard a presentation by Alicia on her composting work with the local schoolchildren, and we will continue this work while we are here and school is not in session.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner of shrimp shish kebob accompanied by margaritas. Before going to bed, several of us usually congregate in the common room to read or talk over the day's events. There are four high school seniors on the trip, and it's enjoyable to talk with them about their views of things we have been doing. They are all very enthusiastic and eagerly contribute to everything we have done. I am really glad they are along.

Monday, August 2, 2004

We ate a late breakfast this morning, followed by the second part of the briefing on American crocodiles. The presentation included information on the Jalisco Coast, habitat fragmentation, illegal hunting, and the effects of fisheries and tourism on natural habitat loss.

Included were some interesting points concerning American crocodiles:
  • They are an endangered species.
  • Their lifespan is 60+ years.
  • They can grow (in this area) to 21 feet (seven meters).
  • They lay 20 to 60 eggs per year. The eggs take 60 to 90 days to hatch, dependent on temperature.
  • Chicken eggs have a yolk suspended by membranes in the center of the egg, and the hen turns the eggs throughout the day. Unlike chicken eggs, crocodile eggs do not have separate yolks and cannot be moved without causing damage to the embryo.
  • If the temperature is lower than 90° Fahrenheit (32° Celsius), the majority will develop into females. If higher, the majority will be males.

Team 5 was here when the crocodile eggs were laid, and I have included some of their pictures of eggs still in the nest as well as hatchlings.

The area we will be researching was thought to be a federal reserve but now appears to be privately owned. There is a potential buyer who wants to build a hotel, and it remains to be seen what will happen to the estuary and the crocodile/bird population if that should happen.

In the afternoon, we go bouldering and tide-pooling. I wish I were in better shape since for me it's like using a StairMaster® in this heat!! It is well worth it, however, as the ocean view is really beautiful.

Sunday, August 1, 2004

I awoke at 6:15 a.m. with the breakfast crew serving us granola, cereal, cookies, mangoes, and cantaloupe.

The morning was spent in safety guidelines and protocol lectures followed by the first part of a briefing on American crocodiles and the research that is being done here. Sara then lectured on the birds we would be researching and quizzed us on bird identification. Participation in team-building exercises followed.

The four students on the trip went walking on the beach last night, and Alan's legs are covered with sand flea bites. One of the bites has formed a blister the size of a quarter, and Alicia tells us the fleas have laid eggs beneath the skin, and she has to remove the eggs. Hooooo, boy! Thank you, Alan, for a lesson learned without having to suffer the consequences myself. I never leave the room again without being totally covered in insect repellent.

The volunteers all had free time to walk down to the beach or swim. One of the other volunteers came back from swimming with a puncture wound—possibly from a rock fish? This is one of the things we were cautioned about. His son and I walked with him back to the hotel, and it appears not to be serious. By the time we met for dinner, the pain had subsided and it looks like it will be all right.

Saturday July 31, 2004

We arrived at the Manzanillo airport at 2:30 p.m. and were met by Paulino Campos of Bosque Tropical. He and Sara Huerta would be the research experts working with us during our expedition.

We were sent by taxi to our lodging while Paulino waited at the airport for the rest of the volunteers to arrive. We stopped at an automatic teller machine (ATM) so we could acquire pesos for our stay. I had already been warned not to get too excited by my high bank balance as it was in pesos! The ATM area was air-conditioned, and it would be the last we would experience for the remainder of our stay. It was HOT and HUMID!

The taxi driver had some difficulty finding our bungalows, but eventually we arrived at a pleasant, one-level hotel with white tile floors. Three women volunteers were assigned to one room, three men to another, a father and son to a third, and a father and daughter to a fourth. After all of the volunteers arrived, we walked down to an open-air, palapa-covered restaurant where we were served chili relenos for our first meal. This is where we would be taking our lunch and evening meals, and breakfast would be made at the hotel each morning, with a different team doing the cooking each day.

We then walked to the "jardin,", or town square, where we sat in a circle to introduce ourselves. Instead of using a "talking rock" to indicate who had the floor, we used a crab claw. Alicia Eller is also here on an Earthwatch grant and is working with local schoolchildren on various projects and assisting Paulino and Sara as well. She tells us that the children in the town rarely go beyond eighth grade and often do not go that far as they are need at home to help with the family business of farming, fishing, store ownership, etc.

We walk down the main street to and from the restaurant for lunch and dinner. At times, a young boy thunders past us on his mule, which at times he "parks" on a side road.

The town has a great many stray dogs everywhere. There is a sterilization clinic that will be coming at the end of the month since the dogs are a big problem. We are told they sometimes form packs, and there is not enough food for them to scavenge from the trash.

Following dinner, we walked back to the hotel where safety concerns were covered before we turned in for the night. We were warned about snakes, jellyfish, scorpions, and coconuts! We were divided into three teams, which would be assigned breakfast, clean-up, and equipment duties on a rotating schedule. The team names were Frogs, Lizards, and Serpents. After showering and checking our area for scorpions, I was able to finally fall asleep once it cooled off a bit and slept well.

Friday, July 23, 2004

It was with great delight that I was notified in January that my application had been selected to participate in the Mexican Mangroves and Wildlife Expedition in La Manzanillo, Mexico.

According to the expedition briefing, La Manzanilla is a small fishing village on Mexico's Central Pacific Coast. Due to "being discovered" by the tourism industry, it has begun to feel both ecological and economic impacts. With unchecked increases in construction and development, habitat encroachment has increased on both terrestrial and aquatic species, including the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) and the boat-billed heron (Cochlearius cochlearius). In response to increased regional environmental change, an innovative research collaborative has been created to unite professionals, students, and volunteers to conduct mangrove research, education and service. Earthwatch volunteers are requested to assist in this five-year effort, and, through their participation, a great deal of critical data will be captured, analyzed, and then applied to restoration and educational initiatives. (Earthwatch Expedition Briefing

What an incredible opportunity to work with and learn from experts in their various fields of endeavor! This will be a hands-on experience I would never otherwise have been able to participate in.

There is now only one week left; all of my paperwork has been completed, shots taken, passport ready, etc. With such a short time left before departure, the trip is starting to feel more "real" than it did when I was first notified that I had been selected to participate.

I will be traveling with a fellow Alcoa employee, Betsy Butler, from Houston to Manzanillo. We have exchanged e-mails and spoken on the phone and seem to have a lot in common. I am looking forward to meeting her!

We received an e-Mail this morning from the principal investigator, Paulino Campos, reminding us to bring Gatorade powder, medication for stomach distress, and gloves to hold onto the rope for the "big crocodiles." I can't wait now to get started.

Related Sites

Mangroves of Mexico's Atlantic and Pacific Coasts
A description of Mexico's mangroves—how they were formed and how they benefit the environment.

Mexico's Mangrove Action Project
A report on the La Manzanilla mangrove forest by the director of the Mangrove Action Project.

Mexico's Tallest Mangroves
Facts about the ecology and human threats to the Tehuantepec—El Manchón mangroves, the tallest in the region and located along the border between Mexico and Guatemala.

Sustainable Management of Central America's Mangroves
Research scientists from Mexico and the United States describe the value, status, and ecosystem approach to sustainable development that will protect Central America's threatened mangroves.

Photo Gallery

View the images from Susan Parrish's diary.

Earthwatch Institute

Learn more about this international nonprofit, which supports scientific field research worldwide.

Mexican Mangroves and Wildlife

Learn more about the expedition and its scientists.