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May 31, 2010

Cancun Readies For Whale Shark Festival

By Pardhasaradhi Gonuguntla

Photo courtesy of John S. Vater Ceviche ToursPhoto courtesy of John S. Vater Ceviche ToursCancun, Mexico – Reported by Elite Traveler, the private jet lifestyle magazine

The Cancun Convention & Visitor’s Bureau is celebrating the beauty and culture of Isla Mujeres, one of Cancun’s “treasures” and welcoming the world’s largest species of fish, the Whale Shark. The Third Annual Whale Shark Festival, a community extravaganza that showcases the achievements, the traditions and the environmental splendor of Isla Mujeres, will take place from July 16-18th.

Championing the need to preserve a fragile marine ecosystem, ecotourism travel agency Ceviche Tours and the Isla Mujeres Department of Tourism have partnered for this special festival.

Whale Shark season officially started on May 15th. But, these harmless animals that reach lengths up to almost 50 feet, feed on plankton and pass through the Caribbean waters through the month of September. The Whale Sharks impressive size and ample mouths extend approximately 5 feet, making swimming alongside these species a thrilling experience.

A hands-on encounter with the marine world is even more attainable in Quintana Roo—home to the largest barrier reef in America, the Mayan Reef. The diverse marine life, crystal clear turquoise waters and stunning underwater coral formations make Cancun the ideal destination.

During this Whale Shark season, the Natural Commission of Protected Natural Areas, (CONANP) will install satellite transmitters on 15 different whale sharks as part of the Domino Research Project. This will help further investigate and research behavioral patterns once the animals leave. In doing so, the information will help gather valuable data for researchers, said Francisco Remolina, Director of the Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve.

Last year thousands flocked to the family-friendly Whale Shark Festival, which offers guests an opportunity to participate in ecotourism adventures such as swimming with whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean and an endangered species; traditional dancing performed by local troupes; exploring ancient Mayan ruins and much more.

The Whale Shark Festival is an effort to raise awareness of the need to preserve the area’s marine ecosystem. Isla Mujeres also serves as the nursery of the Caribbean and the migratory path of whale sharks as well as sea turtles, water foul and game fishes.

The following is a list of activities that are available during this year’s festival:

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Bloom of 200+ Whale Sharks — Kicking off the Festival will be the much anticipated whale shark bloom, where hundreds of these gentle giants will come together to swim in a group near the coast of Isla Mujeres. Last year was the largest aggregation ever witnessed.

Approximately 1,400 whale sharks make their way through the waters of Isla Mujeres every summer, according to Dr. Robert Hueter, Director of the Center for Shark Research, Mote Marine Laboratory and speaker at the 2009 Whale Shark Festival.

Swimming with Whale Sharks — Guests can swim with whale sharks and join an effort by Project Domino, a conservation program implemented by the Mexican government, to protect and preserve these graceful creatures. Guests can add their underwater photos of the whale sharks to Project Domino’s visual database of the unique markings, or spots that can identify individual whale sharks and track them. Images from the Project Domino regional database are shared with a global database from nonprofit ECOCEAN.

“International events, and especially those such as the Whale Shark Festival which have a strong local element as well, are absolutely essential to increase the conservation culture through environmental education,” noted Rafael de la Parra, Lead Marine Biologist for Project Domino, a sponsor of the 2010 Festival.

A Family-Friendly Event — The Festival will feature activities for kids to learn about helping the environment. “Educating children about the importance of recycling, showing them how they can get involved to protect the marine environment and its biodiversity — with beach cleanups, and just the choices they make every day – is vital to our future,” said Catalina Galindo de Prince, executive director of the nonprofit Amigos de Isla Contoy, A.C., a sponsor of the 2010 Festival.

Academic Seminars and Film Showcase — Scientists from around the world will attend to present a series of Academic Seminars on marine biology, sustainable ecotourism and Mayan architecture.

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