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Swimming with dolphins, sharing her story
Local diver says recent expedition was an adventure
Mavis McRae experienced the good, the bad and the beautiful during a recent international diving expedition.
McRae — an amateur diver — was the only Canadian among 10 divers on the Sylvia Earle Alliance expedition in Staniele Cay in the Bahamas to help promote education and awareness about the importance of sustaining marine biodiversity.
The River Heights resident swam with a dolphin, fed wild ocean-bound pigs and explored submerged caves where the movies Thunderball and Splash were filmed.
"I decided to go snorkelling over the other divers and the dolphin started spinning, which meant it wanted to play with me," McRae said.
Upon closer inspection, she noticed the mammal had two huge indents in its tail: "I think it escaped a fishing line or net, because you could see imprints by the scars. Maybe someone cut him or her loose. It must have been happy to escape."
This experience highlighted the big picture behind the expedition, which was located in one of several Marine Protected Areas — or "Hope Spots" — identified by SEA as unique places critical to the health and preservation of the world’s oceans.
"There were also very few fish, which was surprising and disappointing. The lobster wasn’t bad and there were a few conch beds, but the wildlife was surprisingly sparse," McRae said.
The explorer said part of the problem is the government allows development of national parks in the area, which has included cutting chunks out of mountains and dredging in the ocean causing lots of silt.
An organization called The Nature Conservancy has been working to help preserve the area and McRae said there has to be a balance between the "economic needs of the community and the needs of nature."
"It’s about getting people to understand cause and effect. The community obviously benefits from wealthy tourists and nature is incredibly resilient, but if you keep pounding at it, the eco-system will crater."
Since her return to Winnipeg, McRae has been sharing her experiences by spreading the conservation message with students at several schools in Winnipeg and Brandon, including Robert H. Smith School in River Heights and J. A. Cuddy School in Sanford.
Robert H. Smith principal Tom Rossi said McRae’s presentation lined-up with one of the school’s main educational goals of sustainability.
"It was an eye-opener for staff and students and it was a reality check, because you’ve got someone dreaming and living it," Rossi said, noting the subject of educational sustainability has come a long way fast in the school division.
"Ten years ago, all the talk was about recycling. Now there are new limits with clean water, composting, gardening and ocean conservation issues."
Perhaps the highlight of McRae’s trip was meeting her diving hero and the expedition leader — 76-year-old Sylvia Earle — a current explorer-in-residence for National Geographic.
"She’s incredibly persistent and has the enthusiasm of a 20-year-old. You could barely get her out of the water," McRae said.
For more information, visit blog.sylviaearlealliance.org.
More The Sou'wester
More The Sou'wester
(1 of 12 articles for this week)05/22/2013 1:00 AM 0
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