Thomas left on the midnight (actually 12:50am) bus last night to head down to Mahahual and then on to Banco Chinchorro where he is spending a week at a research station with Eugenio Acvez (the owner of Dive Bahia) and other dive specialists. Banco Chinchorro is the largest atoll in the Northern hemisphere and the site of many ship wrecks from the C16th to modern times. To read more about Banco Chinchorro visit these sites: http://www.unesco.org/mabdb/br/brdir/directory/biores.asp?mode=all&code=MEX+14
The official UNESCO site with scientific info, no photos.http://www.locogringo.com/past_spotlights/nov2006.cfm
A more informal and longer description of the atoll with photos.
If any of you remember, Thomas and I both visited the atoll in 2003 when we spent three weeks in Mahahual, but then were were only going as tourists for the day. To spend a week there is an incredible opportunity, as access is extremely limited. The research station and a few fisherman's huts are the only accomodations in in the whole atoll, and you have to be part of the local fisherman's cooperative or working at the research station to be allowed to even set foot on the islands. XTC in Xcalek is the only dive shop licensed to take divers to Banco Chinchorro and they are not allowed to land on the islands. Private vessels are completely restricted. It is about 2 hours by fast boat just to reach the atoll which makes a 3-tank dive trip very long, restricted to fair weather, and by default, expensive.
Eugenio and Thomas are there because Dive Bahia is working with the fishermen's Co-Op to train them as dive guides. The area is over fished, and the Mexican government has decided that to change the economic basis of the local fishermen from fishing the already depleted seas to Eco-Tourism dive guides will be ecologically beneficial for the atoll. Personally I am not convinced, as I think that the dive tourism industry here is responsible for the majority of the damage to the reefs and marine ecosystems. However that is another argument, and I am sure at Baco Chinchorro it is a case of 'the lesser evil'. They will also be taking the opportunity to document the atoll, both above and below water, and I think they are doing some interviews as well. I'm sure Thomas will come back with some amazing footage. This is living on a real desert island.
Thomas has emailed me and says that he keeps seeing alligators (!) but is settled in and working hard. I will try and post some of footage he is getting when he gets back.