TEDxCancún

Sunrise in Cancún

Sunrise in Cancún photo Colleen Flanigan

September 18th, 2015 was the first ever TEDxCancún. It took Mónica Alba and her team 4 years to get the license because there was some doubt at the top that Cancun is a “real city,” not just a Spring Break party destination. It definitely is a developing place deserving of critical thinking and ideas worth spreading. From the cenotes to the sea, to birth, communities, entrepeneurs, tech, there is a lot of growth and desire for intelligent change.

I was honored to be among the speakers (my talk is live now). It gave me such a warm sense of belonging, especially since I had a flicker of a thought about having a TEDxCancún back in 2011 when I was here making the Living Sea Sculpture, now titled, ZOE. How sweet to participate in this amazing event while still awaiting permits to install ZOE into MUSA, the underwater museum (ok, we did get permits on August 21st, yea! but are now awaiting copies of permits..like fractals it goes on). It is nice to be seen for what you are working on even while in process of the process towards the perceived goal – coral refuge in the water with live-stream webcams. This specific project has taught me that growth is not a straight line, and I have had to forgive myself and others for missing deadlines that evaporate like steam.

TEDxCancún was Incredibly well organized, so many super volunteers, workshops for us speakers, celebrations…I was moved to tears at the end by how hearty it all was because of the passion, generosity and commitment of the leaders and dreamers who made it happen. Initially, I went to the first planning meeting with Mélina Soto, Elisa Lopez Garcia, and Mónica Alba. I was excited to gather information from other organizers so they could prepare their speakers and volunteers. Lots of good energy builds up around these events, and you want to dive in. What a happy surprise when they asked me to speak! Grateful to be acknowledged and have the opportunity to tell my story about the “Symbiosis of Corals and Tango.” I tangoed in with Mario Oswaldo of InfecTANGO. Tango dancing was my metaphor for coral restoration, partnerships, and the journey of ZOE as an art and science collaboration. Over the top nervous this time, I wanted to practice and be truly present on stage so that I could enjoy, improvise a bit, and connect with the audience if possible. I had all the support in the world writing my words, rehearsing, and when I got on stage, there was calm and spaciousness inside. I could see all my words coming from the script while still able to think and react without losing track or being blinded by some adrenaline shock of white light. What a dream to feel solid and ease after so much inner struggle.

photo María González

photo María González

I am still in Mexico, here in quiet Puerto Morelos. Have been here with some trips away since late December. We have mineral accretion tank experiments going on since May to bring more of the coral scientists into the process. I love learning about the corals and how the electrolysis works; lots of variables and keeps me engaged with what I am so passionate about while the permit dance has been ongoing for ZOE.

…Something about being in Mexico has made me shy away from blogging. I don’t know why. I have been learning Spanish and wanting to stay in the moment with being here. And there is a lot of heat… yet, none of that explains why I shy. There is no excuse, so back to TEDxCancún! I hope you will visit their site in a month to see the talks.

The sunrise at the top of the page is my view on September 18th thanks to TEDxCancún and Secrets of the Vine. What a HUGE gift to have room service and such care while I was stressing and needing the love. It made all the difference to be well-fed and pampered by the friendly hotel staff. And again, all the TEDx volunteers who treated us speakers with glowing respect and joy, handholding and soothing. I was embraced by their presence. I can’t thank them enough!

ZOE looks ahead in the midst of spawning and pollution

Aerial view of Gulf of Mexico

I opened my window just as we were flying over Punta Nizuc where we plan to install ZOE. There is a lot of ocean in the photo, but I was so focused on Punta Nizuc, it was a great surprise to see the reefs and aqua clear waters where we plan to put our coral refuge. Without Google-Earthing, I could get an idea of the broader seascape of the area. We plan to locate ZOE near the resort in shallow waters.  There are species of corals that like being very close to the surface.  Actually, while snorkeling in the area, the healthiest coral reefs seemed to be in the shallows.

Not far out from the dock is the site where we will anchor the sculpture.  The rest of my August visit entailed meetings with the Director of the Marine Park and the MUSA directors, as well as scientists at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México (UNAM) in Puerto Morelos to develop our proposal for a scientific research collaboration between Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) and UNAM.  Growth monitoring is our main focus, as well as observing differences between neighboring natural corals and those on the Biorock® mineral accretion reef.

Autodesk has generously offered to come to Mexico to train us in their latest photogrammetry process, the cutting edge in 3D digital modelling.  They’ll train me, my team, including a group of university students, in how to capture the photos of our coral transplants and neighboring corals.

Coral scientist, Serguei Rico of UNAM, is working with me on our proposal to ensure ZOE is a conservation experimental project of the National Marine Park as well as a tourism attraction for MUSA.  He was telling me that another PhD student wants to start experimenting with taking photos to digitally model corals for monitoring coral growth as his thesis. As he was describing it, I couldn’t help but jump in and tell him that part of the project was to offer free training for just that! Perfecto.

Serguei has been following how corals have been effected by nitrogen run-off and other pollutants since the emergence of mega-tourism. Sewage from all those hotels along the Hotel Zone in Cancun and down the Riviera Maya is deep injected. It seeps into the aquifers and ocean causing corals to suffer new diseases.  There were only 3 inhabitants on Isla Cancún in 1970. Now there are over 722,000. With no treatment plants, you can see how this is an epic problem with all that untreated shit running into the sea. Corals are much more sensitive to the bacteria in sewage than humans, and the parts per million are well-beyond their standards.

While I was in Mexico this trip, I witnessed baby turtles being released on a full moon. (next post.) I wish I could’ve joined the small group of scientists watching corals spawn at night, but they want to protect the animals while they are making babies from too many intrusive people. I understand needing more privacy, and wanting to avoid the potential for humans to get crowded and bump into the reefs.

Sunset before spawning

Spawning gives a smokey milky appearance. Acropora Palmata aka Elkhorn Coral.

Endangered corals spawning in August, 2014

Spawning photos are from PN Costa Occidental de Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún y Punta Nizuc.

The dream to plant some corals onto ZOE is getting closer to being realized.  Working with the scientists, meeting the resort manager, connecting with other artists who want to be part of the local team to install and create future works…It was a wonderful process and we took many steps forward.

Look closely and you can see where we plan to install as soon as we do.

 

 

 

 

Too shallow? Can this be true?!

Putting our heads together to solve the latest puzzle: Nizuc Resort and Spa is ready to house ZOE. Yea!! They want to celebrate it, publicize, make it quite happy with simple swank elegant parties for people of taste. Any issues with guests having to wear weird shaming bracelets to snorkel a few meters can be worked out with the government.
Cool! this is easy and delightful somehow, I’m thinking. And feels pretty loving, reminiscent of the blissful dream I had just before waking in which Roberto Diaz (pictured), Pres. of MUSA/manager of Aquaworld, was wearing a robe from the same fabric as a dress I got for this trip. We had our heads together in the dream and the feeling was that we were in love. Not IN LOVE like hot-I-want-YOU love, but that comfort that our hearts and minds, souls and hopes were wanting things to happen for the better of culture and conservation however that plays out. Somehow we were “wearing” our synergy.Cut to snorkeling – wow, this is damn shallow. Let’s just walk around on the sandy seafloor a bit figuring how to make the sculpture shrink or the sea level rise a bit faster. Not quite that shallow, but not much higher than the 2M of ZOE. How can we make this deeper? Clearly that IS the problem with this place.  Gena Bezanilla, Executive Director of MUSA, was on the boat with us imagining how ZOE would look if it was half-size.  Possible?

OK, let’s all swim around the other sculptures in MUSA, look at all pros and cons of this resort, and put Colleen in a BOB tomorrow to see if that area of Punta Cancun where there are already approved plans for a 3rd exhibition gallery for MUSA might be perfect for ZOE. It’s 18′ deep, aqua blue waters, snorkeling and diving, and the Park wants to regenerate corals in the area that was hit hard by Hurricane Wilma. (Apparently a 400 ton sunken ship was torn in half and thrown 100M. Serious Act of God.)

Roberto told me so much about his adventures since starting MUSA with Jaime and Jason in 2009. The moral of this very longass FB post: do it because you love it, Colleen. There is no glory, often no thanks, and who wants to be a quitter? Roberto is also a sculptor with a piece in the museum. I’m grateful for his sensitive, generous far-seeing soul. (She says before getting on an underwater scooter with a bubble on her head. I’ll let you know if I feel so warm fuzzy tomorrow.)

BOB Aquaworld Adventures in Cancun

Made it to Cancun

Made it to Cancun! Room 2509 on the playa at Celuisma Dos Playas while they fix a water explosion thingy problem in my room on lagoon side for couple days. Variety. love that…the stolen/lost credit card hardly noticeable. No kidding, the Hotel Zone has swaddled me in its humid party of all-inclusivo-except-for-this-but-look-we’re-gonna-give-you-THIS! adventure already. Tomorrow is big meeting at 10AM. Feeling GOOD!! and so happy when I realized the little white car that wouldn’t open with my keys was the other little white car next to mine.

This was first time flying standby in maybe 20 years? Very exciting to have to keep hopping from gate to gate working with the airlines in New York to try and ensure I would catch one of only 2 flights to Cancun from either Philadelphia, PA, or Charlotte, NC.  Luckily, I was able to find the right navigators with US Airways to complete travels in 13 hours.  And it really didn’t seem that long, thanks to all the little hits of adrenaline and willful concentration.  Off to find ZOE’s ocean home and the many people that will be working with me in Mexico.

 

 

 

Turtles Tortugas in Akumal Bay

"ZOE" at Puerto Cancun 2011. Photo by Mike Gerzevitz.

I was recently in Mexico again. From Cancun to Akumal to Isla Mujeres, I was working on clearing our way to install the DNA-inspired sculpture into the ocean.  I brought a friend and technical adviser, Jennifer Indovina of Tenrehte, along to help me scout out the best locations for wifi and power sources since we are now going to be adding webcams to this coral, fish, and biodiversity refuge.  She is building a custom website so you will be able to watch the evolution of the coral reef ecosystem as a virtual aquarium.

I rented a camera to capture some of the underwater life and to document potential sites for this sculpture or possibly future ones.  We were swimming out from shore to look at the set up for the TurtleCams they have in Akumal Bay,

TurtleCams power supply - A View into the Blue and teens4Oceans project in collaboration with Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA)

and that’s when green turtles began to appear right below us.  They were grazing on the sea grasses. I didn’t know what to expect of their behavior.  They had a very casual easygoing style.  From my short experience observing, I’d say they are calm, mildly curious, and like to socialize with their other grazing companions.  When they swam up to the surface for gulps of air, they glided like graceful, slow-flying birds.  They seem like gentle beasts that have become trusting from so many tourists, yet are not interested in interacting in any way.

Swimming in Akumal Bay. Photo by Colleen Flanigan.

The area needs a new sewage treatment plant, which is one of the reasons the water gets so murky. If you visit the Yucatan Peninsula and stay at a hotel, ask the managers if they deep inject their sewage.  Long story, but water treatment is a huge issue in Mexico. Corals are much more sensitive to certain pollutants than humans. The movie, Angel Azul by Marcy Cravat, does a beautiful job sharing about the pollution through the intersection of art and science working for the environment in the underwater museum, MUSA.  She started with the story of artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, and like any good detective, she followed emerging clues, piecing together a puzzling and illuminating truth about our unsustainable systems and areas ripe for transformation.

It has been almost 3 years since we made the DNA sculpture in Cancun, so it was slightly bittersweet (chocolate) to see the steel sculpture making cameos in the background at Puerto Cancun as Jason’s and other cement sculptures were being deployed by boat. More sweet than bitter, actually, since I was so moved by the excellent filmmaking and knowing all the people and places in it.  It made things even more real. I’m committed to completing this project and to growing relationships in the region through this journey.  The sculpture is not in the water yet because of complications with land permits for the power source, but the ecosystem of diverse, caring people involved in this important ecological story is evolving, and so are our visions.  A few years isn’t that long in geological and bureaucratic time. BUT, since I’m a human trying to help save corals dying at rapid rates~  IN THE WATER IN 2014!

To the Future. Photo by Colleen Flanigan, 2014.