Magazine For Isla Mujeres Charities

Photo by Tony Garcia

Remembering Ramon Bravo: Environmentalist, Oceanographer, and Olympic Athlete

  By Ronda Winn Roberts 
Ramon Bravo Prieto was a leading oceanographer and conservationist, who founded the first environmental protection group in the state, in 1965, in Isla Mujeres.  The statue at the traffic circle by the entrance to Sac Bajo, near Mundaca Hacienda, commemorates him.
From Fidel Villanueva article TVIM
         Ramon Bravo explored the seas of the world as an internationally renowned underwater photographer and oceanographer. He was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila in northern Mexico on Oct. 21, 1925. At age 22, he competed as a swimmer in the summer Olympics in London, in 1948, and again at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952.  (Results).  He was a well known journalist and author in the 60's and 70's, winning the Mexican National Journalism Award in 1979.  (The Premio Nacional de Periodismo).

  Isla historian Fidel Villanueva Madrid says the Ramon Bravo visited Isla Mujeres in the fifties, upon an invitation from José de Jesús Lima Gutiérrez. Pepe Lima encouraged him to take underwater photographs, which attracted attention from Americans in Los Angeles, California, who were intrigued by the lush colors and artistic forms of the delicate plants and reefs.
      He became dedicated to diving and underwater photography in the 1960's, winning awards and fame in Mexico, the United States, and Europe. In 1969 Italian director Bruno Vailati invited him to collaborate with him as a cameraman , and for seven years they filmed scenes for "The Encyclopedia of the Sea", "The Seven Seas" and "Men of the Sea I".

Isla historian, Fidel Villanueva Madrid, says it was the discovery of the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks that put Isla Mujeres on the map, drawing international attention, and causing tourism.
“Válvula” Por Esto photo

  In the mid 1960's, Islander Pablo García (known as “Válvula”for his exceptional lung capacity) was hunting for large groupers and lobsters in caves east of Isla Mujeres when he discovered "The Cave of the Sleeping Sharks". At that time, scientists believed that sharks required movement to live, and when Ramon Bravo sent his photographs and videos to the Smithsonian Institute, they were thought to be fakes. A female marine biologist who specialized in sharks, Dr. Eugenie Clark (aka The Shark Lady), came to Isla Mujeres and studied the phenomena. Her research was featured in National Geographic magazine and earned her a gold medal from the Society of Women Geographers.

Jacques Cousteau brought his family to Isla Mujeres, aboard the Calypso, and worked with Ramon Bravo to create documentaries about the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks (link to video)  and the March of the Spiny Lobsters (link to video). 

   In 1979, Bravo began construction of his home in Isla Mujeres, "Villa Sirenia", where he lived until  age 73, when he suffered a heart attack caused by an electric shock at the residence, on February 21, 1998. His ashes were laid to rest in the Cave of the Sleeping Sharks.
     A movie was filmed in Isla Mujeres based on Ramon Bravo's 1975 novel "Tintorera".  It was produced in 1977 under the same title, and was set in Isla Mujeres. It is similar to "Jaws" and is available on YouTube. Its trailer is below. (LINK).

 He  photographed and directed underwater scenes for the James Bond movie Licence to Kill (1989). Its trailer is below.

 His list of works is HERE in English, and  a more comprehensive list is HERE in Spanish. It includes the 1984 movie "Against All Odds", which has scenes filmed in Isla Mujeres, and is available on YouTube. (link to trailer, which is below.)

     Bravo was involved with the sinking of the statue of Christ in the Palancar National Park in Cozumel, and the placement of the Cross of the Bay in the Parque Marino Nacional, Costa Occidental of Isla Mujeres (west coast underwater park.). He promoted the placement of The Cross of the Bay to distract tourists from the reef, because he was concerned about the effects of large numbers of visitors upon the Los Manchones reef. He said, "Since it is normal to dive for no more than an hour per day, the tourists will have less time to bother the life of the reef while they are visiting the cross."
From Fidel Villanueva article, TVIM
      In 1995, he made a three minute documentary for the state government about Manatees and promoted the creation of the Manatee monument in Chetumal, in an effort to draw attention to the basic need to preserve the life of these unique animals.  As a result of his advocacy for the nearly extinct animals, Chetumal Bay and the nearby tributaries became a Manatee Sanctuary.
  He made a variety of other short films for the state on spiny lobsters, the sleeping sharks, the Chinchorro reef, and many others. He wrote several books about his experiences as a man of the sea.
    He gave talks in the island schools about taking care of the environment and conducted cleaning campaigns above and below the sea. He worried about the large numbers of visitors to  Los Manchones, to el Farito, and la Cadenita, and the effects they were having.  
       The town historian remembers him sharing his love of nature with the island children, and demonstrating daily lessons in how to behave in the face of the unappreciated wealth bequeathed to us by our ancestors. He loved dogs and said, sadly, "I am like them... just barking at the moon." He once came to the defense of a crab, when a child was about to hit it with a stone, saying, 

"The animals of the land and of the sea were the real owners of the island, which we have invaded, and we must remember that."

 Link to article in Spanish by Fidel Viallanueva Madrid, February 2013, TVIM

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