Scuba Gathering Gets Going In Cozumel

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Keynote speech from Kirsten Marhaver


The fifth annual Cozumel Scuba Fest opened yesterday with a call to 'take care of our oceans'.

Keynote speaker marine biologist Kristen Marhaver told the gathering at the Cozumel Convention Centre that coral reefs are worth an estimated one trillion US dollars a year to the world - from fisheries, shoreline protection, drug discoveries such as new antibiotics and cancer treatments and, of course, from tourism including diving.

In a talk entitled How We Are Growing Baby Corals, she explained how her research centre on the Caribbean island of Curacao is working on ways to accelerate the growth of corals and improve their ability to establish themselves as reefs. She outlined a number of breakthroughs with seeding elkhorn, brain and pillar corals and explained about her work on generating a 'probiotic' bacteria which helps them attach and survive.

She called on divers to make sure they are spending their tourist dollars in areas that are working to conserve and sustain the marine environment.

Other presentations on the opening night looked at cenotes and the network of underwater rivers of Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.  

Arturo Bayone talked about his team's research into the condition of the water in the cenotes and how they had discovered alarming levels of pollution in some of them in the region. He said it was caused by acids leaching from landfill rubbish dumps near rapidly growing urban areas.

He also showed videos of the blind snakes which hang by their tails from one of the cenotes and hunt for bats grabbing them in their jaws as they fly past.

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A reconstruction of a giant armadillo from fossil bones found in a cenote

Jeronimo Aviles, of the Institute of Prehistory in the Americas, gave a presentation on the remarkable finds divers have made in the vast network of underground rivers and caves in the region. He talked about the fossils thaey have found in the last 20 years including giant pre-Ice Age sharks and some of the oldest humans remains found in the Americas.

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Jeronimo Aviles giving his presentation

He has discovered eight different human skeletons, one of which has been dated at 13,700 years old. The discoveries are forcing scientists to rethink the theories of how humans spread into the Americas as they date back 2,000 more years than the current explanation of early humans crossing the Bering Strait on foot  - it was impassable that far back.

Aviles told the conference about the shocking story that disgruntled caved divers have stolen one of his human finds in a row about how the caves and cenotes should be explored. 

He said: 'For reasons I don't understand someone opposed to our research vandalised a site and hacked away one of the skeletons causing serious damage to the site. It makes me very sad and angry - I just hope they come to their sense and return this vitally important scientific find.'

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The opening of Cozumel Scuba Fest

The Scuba Fest continues until Sunday with organised dives in the morning and presentations in the afternoon including a major speech by leading marine scientist Sylvia Earle.






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