Asociación Ondine welcomed international guests to Mallorca to conduct a 2 day expedition with two subjects of work to conduct. Surveying a site within the Bay of Palma as a possible new Marine Protected Area as well as visiting a plastic pollution hot spots in the Balearic Islands.
Our team was one large group of professional and passionate people who had given up their time and provided their skills to help Asociación Ondine and our objective of a clean and healthy Balearic Sea. Our international guests included Kip Evens & Courtney Mattisson from Mission Blue, Karl Lundin from the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), Dianna Cohen from the Plastic Pollution Coalition as well as Pam Lombardi from the Drifters Project.
The stunning workhorse and our expedition mothership, RV Bonnie Lass captained by Pete Lucas and crewed by his amazing wife Roo, kids Jaco and Chloe as well as super pooch Maggie, held all our stores, spare tanks and was the point of coordination for the expedition. RV Ondine, captained by Nick Stael von Holstein, was our VIP RIB and also the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) deployment RIB over the two days. TT The Islander, skippered by Simon Relf was our multi-media tender, zipping our photographers and videographers from location to location, capturing images of scientists at work, marine life as wells plastic pollution disasters. TT Bonnie Lass, skippered by Jaco Lucus and TT Fernando, skippered by Nora Dorian were dedicated to our scientific teams. This was a coordinated effort that, considering some of the challenges, went extremely well and all objectives were reached. A real testament to the skills and abilities of each individual.
The original MPA plan was to survey the outer edge of Sa Dragonera in the south west corner of Mallorca, we aimed to collect valuable data regarding marine life and habitats as this area has not been studied on a large scale, data deficient would be the best way to describe the wild side of Sa Dragonera. However, mother nature had other ideas for us as she decided that 20 knots of wind blowing down both sides of Sa Dragonera would be enough for us to change locations, she was right! Plan B turned into plan C and our new location was to be a small island in the bay of palma called Isla del Sec, a popular diving spot for recreational divers that has no formal protection at this stage.
Our scientific team conducted various surveys of marine life, some fish surveys and others of sea urchins. Urchins are an indicator of the health of fish populations. Basically if there are lots of urchins it means there are not so many fish and vice versa. Our biologists are still working with the data collected so we cant say too much officially at this stage, what we can say though is all participants were very positively surprised by the amount of fish at Isla del Sec. An area where there are no real expectations of encountering large amounts of marine life.
Whilst our science team was working hard, our international VIPs enjoyed a morning snorkel at El Sec on Saturday followed by some of Roo´s wonderful energy giving sandwiches. We also had wonder nurse Amanda Hewson on board as expedition nurse, but as always Amanda mucked in with the rest of the crew to help wherever she could.
Saturday afternoon saw us at Cala Figuera, one of the worst locations in the Balearic Islands for accumulated plastic pollution. This place is a cess pit with years and years worth of plastic pollution in layers throughout the dried posidonia and rocks on the beach. Plastic pollution in all forms, micro and macro plastic everywhere. One of the most common pieces of plastic on the beach are plastic q-tips and they are there in the thousands! Within the space of around 20 seconds DIanna Cohen from the Plastic Pollution Coalition had collected around 30. Whilst Pam Lombardi was on her hands and knees foraging through years and years of plastic accumulation. She found all sorts of items, fake leaves, tile spacers, straws, toys, parts of dolls, all of which could have been in the sea for more than 50 years.
Our international guests were shocked at the dire condition this beach is in and compared it to so many other areas of the world that collect years and years of plastic pollution. This issue is a local and global issue that is in the hands of governments and manufacturers to solve. Governments through effective policy and manufacturers of products to find environmentally friendly was of packaging their goods as well as alternative materials to create their products from.
Our first day was a huge success, so much so our science team conducted all necessary surveys in the first day. This left us with, for day 2, the ROV, some VIP diving at El Toro marine reserve and a round table discussion regarding plastic pollution and in particular the issue of plastic microfibres from synthetic and recycled plastic clothing.
Our science team were off in RV Ondine and the ROV team to explore the deeper water around El Toro and our VIPs were treated to one of the finest dives in the Mediterranean. We had the pleasure of diving with Kip, Karl and Dr.Sylvia Earle in El Toro a few years back but at a different time of year. Our fish stocks are at their highest in El Toro in summer so this was a chance to showcase the Balearic Islands most successful MPA and she didn’t disappoint. Comments from all our VIPs were excellent, they were all so happy that their last dive in the Balearics was in such an impressive location. Well done El Toro MPA!
Finally, our round table discussion covered various aspects of the work all represented organisations conduct and was the start of what we see as addressing an issue within the conservation world of reinventing the wheel. Sharing knowledge and programs is imperative for international marine conservation to succeed. Putting aside peoples egos, funding competition and the attitude that “this is mine” has to be achieved for an international success with marine related issues. It was a real pleasure to see how open and proactive Mission Blue, The IUCN, Plastic Pollution Coalition and the Drifters Project all are in regards to moving this international working relationship forward.
This was the first of many marine conservation expeditions Asociación Ondine have planned, it was a great training exercise for our crew, a great experience for us all to host our VIPs and a fantastic way to show the international world that the Balearic Islands is a beacon of hope for marine conservation within a very sick sea, the Mediterranean Sea.