Islas Revillagigedo

New Wave Media

January 8, 2014

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Also known as the Socorro Islands, they are located 386km (250 miles) southwest of the tip of Baja California (Cabo San Lucas) and over 720km (446 miles) west of Manzanillo, the Revillagigedos are one of three Mexican island groups in the Pacific Ocean. All four islands that make up the Revillagigedos Archipelago are remote, volcanic in origin and offer some of the most unpredictable, wild drift diving in the world. Isla Socorro is the largest of the Revillagigedos islands. Dive operator live aboard Solmar V, one of two live-aboards that go there has been using u/w sensors attached to buoy cables to record the movement of hundreds of tagged sharks in order to prove that the islands are an important shark corridor.These dive operators also act as monitors and advise authorities on illegal fishing activities in the archipelago.

Although mainly a live-aboard diving destination, and one of the top pelagic diving sites in the world, the Socorro Islands, as the Islands are commonly known, also attract an increasing number of researchers, both on land and under water. Depending on the time of year and which island you visit, a diver or researcher might encounter large pods of humpback whales with adults (40ft long, and about a ton a foot), "yearlings" (born last year and 20-25 ft long), and new calves, 12-15 feet in length or be able to swim alongside a massive whale shark. These creatures are all in addition to the archipelago’s regular residents: giant Pacific manta rays, schools of hammerhead sharks and silky sharks, large yellowfin tuna, varieties of sea turtles and over five other species of sharks and countless other large pelagics who utilize or pass through this offshore area.

I went diving there when I was 18, back in the day, and I can clearly remember my shock and awe at being greeted by hundreds of hammerhead sharks on my first dive off Roca Partida and on the same dive I also saw the biggest manta ray I’ve ever seen and also the only whale shark I’ve ever seen, all in one dive! It would undoubtedly be interesting to have a semi-permanent research ship out there, which could use AUVs with HD cameras and a suite of sensors, including fixed underwater cameras, and even wave gliders to constantly monitor the are. That would also be an extra help the dive boats in patrolling the area against illegal fishing which unfortunately still happens.

The Revillagigedo Islands are known for their unique ecosystem. They have been part of Manzanillo municipality of the Mexican state of Colima since 1861, but are nevertheless under Mexican federal jurisdiction. The islands are located at coordinates 18°49′N 112°46′W. The total area is 157.81 km² (60.93 mi²), spread over an east-to-west extent of about 420 km (261 mi). A naval station in the south of Socorro Island has a staff of 45. On Clarión is a small naval garrison with 9 men. The islands are otherwise uninhabited. The islands are named after Don Juan Vicente de Güemes, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo, the 53rd viceroy of New Spain. The Revillagigedo Islands have been visited by a number of other explorers: Domingo del Castillo (1541), Miguel Pinto (1772), Alexander von Humboldt (1811), Benjamin Morrell (1825), Sir Edward Belcher (1839) who made the first botanical collections and Reeve, who witnessed the eruption of Mount Evermann in 1848.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Dr. Barton Warren Evermann, director of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California, promoted the scientific exploration of the islands. The most comprehensive biological collections were obtained at this time. The volcano on Isla Socorro was renamed in his honor. The islands are home to many endemic plant and animal species, and are sometimes called Mexico's "little Galapagos". They are recognized as a distinct terrestrial ecoregion, part of the Neotropic ecozone. Socorro is the most diverse in flora, fauna, and topography. The Mexican Government established the islands as a Biosphere Reserve on June 4, 1994 and the Islands are now being considered to receive World Heritage Status.

 

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Paschoa, Claudio
Claudio Paschoa is Marine Technology Reporter's correspondent in Brazil.
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