Cenote Calavera, Mexico - Paco Ollervides

My family always took field trips to jungles, creeks and ponds because my father enjoyed learning about these systems. This particular exploration occurred in the area of Cancun, which at that time was not developed and was just a small fishing village, because of the elaborate systems of underwater caves. My father who was a casual scuba diver, lent me his scuba gear and that was the first time I ever dove and it made me fall in love with the water. I get chills thinking about this memory because this is the moment that I credit to pursuing a career in marine biology. My father was with me, he held on to me as I floated for the first time with a tank and mask and finally let me go to explore the deep. I can remember the bright colours of the fish and ocean as well as admiring the numerous shades of blue. All of this mixed with the warmth of the Caribbean and the anxiety of the unknown made me feel like I was back in the womb of my mother. The taste, feeling and temperature of the water brings you back to a human’s beginning, a primal experience.

My father was there the whole time and pushed me downwards with encouragement, and to this day I still like to roll around when I’m diving as I did that day - to feel that feeling of weightlessness that you get when underwater. As I stated earlier, the sinkhole was filled with the vibrant colors of the water, the coral and my father’s sunburnt skin. I could also hear myself breathing - I find that sound alone is extremely tranquil.

Who would have thought twenty years later I would be studying the effects of human sounds on the ocean and whales in particular. I have studied whales for many years on the west coasts of Mexico and the United States, yet I believe I became a Marine biologist the day I stepped in that sinkhole in the summer of 1985.

Claire Lawson
Paco Ollervides

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