Tag Archives: atlantic coast

Summer Research Summary: Peninsula Valdes, Argentina

Over the summer 2013, I spent three months in Patagonia, Argentina, where I surveyed over 600 tourists on their wildlife viewing preferences, travel plans and expenditures, and motivations for visiting the World Heritage Site.

For a brief summary of my summer (austral winter) research experience and travels in Patagonia, Argentina, please read my latest Sage Magazine article:

Stephanie Stefanski in Patagonia, Argentina

Southern Right Whale by Puerto Madryn


Lonco: El Ex-Callejero

Originally written June – July 2013
A departure from the ocean to tell the story of a land companion found during my three month research stay in Patagonia.

Lonco en ruta
Some days here feel like a combination of Homeward Bound and the Discovery Channel. As I walk along the beach, my newfound companion, a former street dog, and a pack of still independent street dogs race ahead. To my right I hear a powerful splash as a whale breaches near to shore. Closer to shore, a few whales linger in the shallows, their exhalations overpowering the gentle ocean waves.

It happened a few days ago. While I am often followed by a stray dog on my walks through town, none has ever stayed longer than a few blocks, soon off to find a free meal or to meet another stray. Yet one day, as I returned from CENPAT, I found a large, German shepherd mix crying in front of our apartments. Most street dogs are independent, street-savvy creatures. While they enjoy the company of humans, they are equally happy chasing compatriots along the beach and down the streets. Occasionally, a fight breaks out. This abandoned dog bore two fresh wounds on his head, a sign of a recent scrap with another dog. He was skinny, but overall healthy.  He didn’t have the independent cadence of a street dog; instead he seemed lost and confused. Likely dropped off here with well wishes from an owner whose house he outgrew, or perhaps strayed too far from home, unable to find the route back.

Lonco en la playa
At first, I thought he would leave, like the other dogs. Find some other street to call his own, or take to the beach. But the next morning, I found him sleeping in front of our small set of houses. He seemed at a loss of what to do and, in turn, began to follow the neighbor’s dog and me around town. I tried to discourage him, tell him to leave, but when he chased the car I was in down several blocks as we tried to go to an asado, I knew it was too late. The following day, as I left for a scuba diving trip, he chased the boat into the water, crying from the beach. When I returned four hours later, I found him resting in front of the scuba shop. Ya esta… he was my new dog.

For a few weeks he didn’t have a name and his collar was  a red lanyard lent to me by my neighbor. She recommended I adopt him and, when I asked how that was possible, she put the lanyard securely around his neck and told me he was now my dog. They say Argentina es un pais generoso, and I suppose it really is – never have I seen the acquirement of a dog happen so easily (or affordably). Even the veterinarian visits were affordable – U$S 20 for his vaccinations and U$S 50 to neuter him. This may explain why I am still in a state of shock after a $300 “routine checkup” and vaccine at the local veterinarian in New York…

One evening, as I was conducting interviews in the hostel down the street from my home and the dog was waiting outside, an elderly couple asked me if I had named him yet. They began to discuss Mapuche words as possible names and recommended Lonco, the name of the tribal chieftain. I let the name sit on my tongue for a few more days before finally deciding that it was perfect – a name from the region, a name evoking leadership and power, a name similar to lindo and loco, my two most frequently used adjectives for the calm-natured, but easily upset, Lonco.

Over the next few months, Lonco became my steadfast companion. We would run along the beach, eat empanadas by the rambla, and spend evenings drinking with my neighbor and her dog Isabella. When I left for Puerto Piramides, my neighbor would watch after him. Upon my return, Lonco was sure to tell me how upset he was at being left (although my neighbor assured me he enjoyed his afternoons with Isabella and meat scraps from the local butcher). Tourists would ask me for directions and I began to feel more integrated into my small house and community.

So when it came time to leave my newfound home and local family, I decided to bring a piece of home back to the states with me. A quick trip to the vet for a travel certificate, signed by the SENASA office in Puerto Madryn, and 12 pesos per kilo at the airport brought Lonco with me to Buenos Aires. From there, we obtained an international travel certificate from another local vet, certified by SENASA in San Isidro and the Ezeiza Airport, spent a few hours of photocopies and verification at the American Airlines check-in, paid $175, and arrived to JFK in New York City on August 22. Just in time for my 90-day visa to expire.

Lonco en Buenos Aires

It was a long journey, from the flat coast of Patagonia to the humid tropics of Buenos Aires to the mountainous terrain of upstate New York, but it fits the nomadic, street dog lifestyle Lonco and I have become accustomed to.  For now, we will take a break and pass the days in the forests and mountains of upstate New York, dreaming of the day we return to the beaches and desert landscape of Puerto Madryn, and to the sound of whales exhaling along the beach as we run with sand in between our toes. 

Lonco en Nueva York
Special thanks to:

My dad, for watching Lonco while I am at Yale and unable to keep him in my apartment.

Milagros, my wonderful neighbor, for keeping a watchful eye on Lonco during my overnight stays in Puerto Piramides

Jackie, for offering her home to Lonco and me and helping me get Lonco fully certified and ready to internationally travel during my three days in Buenos Aires.

Miguel, for helping with transportation of Lonco and his extra large kennel in Puerto Madryn.

West Palm Beach: Tropical Dives on the Atlantic Coast

I recently journeyed to the other coast of Florida, to experience tropical diving in the Atlantic. The results far surpassed my expectations.

During the short two-day trip, I went on two afternoon dives, two night dives, and two morning dives. Most of the dives were on natural reefs in less than 60 feet of water, although I also explored the deep end of the reef at 80 feet and a collection of artificial reefs, known as the “toy box”.

The amount of biodiversity present was outstanding. The abundance of fish, sea turtles, and invertebrates such as brittle sea stars and long spined black urchins all indicated a healthy marine ecosystem.

However, I also found signs of significant human impacts on the reef. During the night dive, I cut up and collected at least two yards of lime green monofilament fishing line strewn all over the reef. Fishing line can entangle passing fish, sharks, sea turtles, and other species, resulting in strangulation or drowning. This line also poses a threat to divers, who may become inadvertently entangled.

If you find such fishing lines on reefs, it is important that you try to cut it up or collect with, while also taking care not to place yourself or other divers at risk.

Perhaps the biggest threat I found was the abundance of lionfish. Lionfish (Pterois volitans and P. miles) are an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific, entering the U.S. initially through the aquarium trade. In 1992, it is thought that Hurricane Andrew caused some to escape from an aquarium in Biscayne Bay. Lionfish also make popular aquarium pets for their exotic look, but tend to outgrow their aquariums and behave aggressively towards other fish. Aquarists may have released these unwanted pets into Caribbean and Gulf waters.This species has no natural predators in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, or Tropical Atlantic. Their long, poisonous spines and aggressive personalities have allowed them to invade and take over tropical ecosystems from the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary to the Florida Keys and even reaching the tropical Atlantic, as pictured above.

On each of my six dives, I observed at least two or three lion fish, primarily adults although there were some juveniles. The Dive Masters on board were equipped with spears to kill this invasive species, although none were killed during my dives.

In fact, Lion Fish meat is actually said to make a good seafood dish, once the poisonous spines are removed, of course. Next time you’re diving in the area, look into ordering some at a local restaurant or catching them yourself!

Amongst the array of biodiversity, the abundance of endangered sea turtles stood out. Hawksbill, Green, and Loggerhead turtles could be seen on every dive, especially at night!
As I was wandering wayward around the reef, separated from the group, I came upon a perfectly smooth rock. I dropped down beside it, only to discover that the “rock” was a large Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caret). Loggerheads are listed as endangered by the IUCN but are found all over the world. From April to September, the Atlantic coast of Florida becomes a crowded with nesting Loggerhead sea turtles. In fact, over 90% of Loggerhead nesting sites occur in Florida!
This trip marked the first time I had ever seen sea turtles in the wild – it was an incredible experience to swim alongside them. Despite their large size and substantial weight, they glide like gentle giants… perfectly buoyant in the water column.

Other indicators of a healthy coral reef were also present. Colorful Stoplight Parrotfish (Sparisoma viride) grazed on algae and coral.

Spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus), important reef scavengers, peeked out from their burrows.

Large French Angelfish (Pomacanthus part) and other beautiful reef fish decorated the natural landscape of corals and sponges.


On the artificial reef, sponges dominated the landscape and macro fauna swam by in a flash. Within the first five minutes of our dive on the sunken barge, a Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum), a Southern stingray (Dasyatis sabina), and a Spotted Eagle Ray (Myliobatis aquila) glided past our small group. The encounter was so brief that the photographs are but faded evidence of the sighting.


It is unfortunate that such a bounty of marine life and healthy reefs remain unprotected from human impacts. Unlike the marine sanctuaries I have visited, trash and fishing impacts were present throughout these sites – a testament to the growing anthropogenic threats to this area.


However, it seems that with research and community support, protection for this area as an important sea turtle nesting grounds is possible. Onboard our charter was a local marine biologist studying Hawksbill sea turtles and tracking those that have been tagged. It is possible that certain sponges in the area provide an important food source for these endangered animals, adding to the significance of the site and the urgency to protect it.

I would like to thank Pura Vida Divers for six fantastic dives on beautiful natural and artificial reefs alongside the West Palm Beach coast!

General Site Conditions

Dive Site: Breaker’s Reef

Date: 9 June 2012

Max depth: 62′ on the “shallow” side ; 87′ on the northern “deep” side (patch reef)

Temperature: 77 F

Visibility: 15 – 30′

Dive Site: Toy Box

Date: 10 June 2012

Max Depth: 63′

Temperature: 77F

Visibility: 20 – 30′

Overall, the conditions at both sites were good. Light winds, relatively flat seas at the surface and no surge present at the dive site. Each dive was a drift dive, so there was a decent current traveling throughout the sites.