Finally, They’re Back!

2016 March 2016 Nature Suzanne A. Marshall

By Suzanne A. Marshall from the March 2016 Edition

As the fallout from the severe El Niño weather patterns continue to ravage the globe, most of us look forward to the return of something we call ‘normal’. Given that the scientific age of the earth is estimated to be between 4.5 and 4.6 billion years old, I find it humorous to think that we can even conceive of some sort of ‘norm’ in our very short lifetimes. Even considering the centuries of weather records, the span is barely a blip on the radar pattern of life on earth.

But still this is how we all try to put perspective on our lives. Here in Manzanillo, the passing of Hurricane Patricia almost four months ago rarely comes up in conversation as everyone settles in for the winter months. Yet, for the past three months, it’s been noticeably quiet on the beaches of Manzanillo. Having become accustomed to the cacophony of seabirds soaring and skimming over the surf along the shoreline, it took me a while to pinpoint the change.

Living on the shores of Manzanillo Bay in Salagua, we are blessed to be enjoying the beautiful mountainous coastline. Sitting on our terrace, we watch the tankers container ships and cruise ships coming and going into port. The bay is very large and deep, so we are entertained by the spectacle of thundering surfs brought in from storms far out at sea. They can be so dramatic and forceful that we can literally hear the windows rattle and feel the vibrations as they crash
against the beaches. The storms dissipate and the seas become calmer again, having rearranged the beach from sloping expanses to 8 foot dunes and cliffs that creep up the various seawalls along the beach. The landscape will undoubtedly change again with the next
storm passing by. It is constantly changing.

So the quiet we are experiencing this year is quite specific. There have been almost no pelicans. We were missing them and their squawking entourages soaring and diving like missiles into the surf for fish after fish. It is difficult to describe the theatre that this spectacle can provide. Of course the birds follow the schools of fish and, given the unusually warm sea currents brought into the Bay via the El Niño currents, the fish have not arrived either. Still the local fishermen attempt to catch fish with spools and rods while others throw nets from shore, but the catches are paltry. Fishing skiffs with 8-10 men aboard circle and drop their nets and the men dive into the waters to pull the catch into shore. Alas, only a few stray fish are netted.

The local fish markets are suffering, too since they rely on the local fisherman for fresh supplies. Some of the restaurants are even resorting to ordering seafood from elsewhere or heading for the freezers where back-up product has been frozen and stored. I found myself worrying a bit for the hardworking local industry and hoping that the tides of fortune would soon change and give them the livelihood they so greatly depend on. About three weeks ago, a dramatic change took place. They finally came back. In deafening numbers, the strangely beautiful, brown pelicans arrived by the hundreds. Add to these numbers the entourage of sea terns that scavenge the leftovers and you can triple the number of birds in flight, diving, swooping, plunging, squawking and gulping. It was like nature’s symphony and truly music to my ears.

Now we watch life on the beach like theatre we’ve never experienced before. The fish are literally roiling in the surf and flapping on the water! As the waves heave skyward we can see the silvery images of the fish backlit by the sunlight. It’s a bonanza! Up and down the miles of beach, the local fisherman are running with rods and buckets and bait. They follow the flocks of birds as their chaos above the waves pinpoints the schools of fish darting up and down the shores like synchronized ballet troops.

I just can’t help feeling that things are normal again. Actually they are better than normal because I find myself truly appreciating the event like never before. Sometimes you don’t realize how powerful the ways of nature can be until something goes missing. I see the whole fish migration now with fresh eyes and ears and wonder at the bounties of nature.

Today, we were caught by the screams and whistles of sheer joy from a young fisherman down in front of our beach. His timing had been perfect when the birds had signaled a large school of fish darting back and forth very close to shore. He had tossed his net out into the surf and been rewarded with the best catch of the day, no doubt.

The joy in his whoops and hollering had us on our feet so we could better see what was happening. He was stumbling out of the surf, soaking wet, with a gathered net full of fish he could barely carry. I estimate he netted about 8 fish in the 7lb range. Later, as he strung the fish on his line to haul away over his shoulders, we hooped and hollered for him with thumbs up in the air.

He responded in kind as he happily tramped his way back up the beach destined for the local fishmongers markets and home for a good rest so that he could undoubtedly return to shore the next day. What  a happy ending to a story about life at the seaside in Manzanillo. Ya gotta love it!

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