Happy World Ocean Day from the Ranger!
Today, the ocean gifted us with an escort of common dolphins riding our bow waves as we made our way to the Marine Protected Area (MPA), Maro-Cerro Gordo, off the coast of Almuñecar.
Our records show that trawlers destroyed a large part of the seagrass meadow in this MPA some years ago and bottom trawlers seem to still fish in this protected area, which is why we are going to document the state of health of this unique meadow. Luckily, there is still some seagrass left, but it is very patchy and dotted with rubbish, mainly plastics tubes, plastic bags, and some metal objects.
Meanwhile, we checked the seabed at two sites with the ROV. One closer to the coast, and another one near the outer border of the MPA. In both, we found sea pens, sand gorgonians, dead man’s fingers, and several red mullets (Mullus barbatus), greater weevers (Trachinus draco), and different species of sea robins (Chelidonichthys spp.).
In the afternoon, we moved to the eastern part to check the Almuñecar beach. Unfortunately, the wind increased, and it was not safe to carry out the scuba dive in this area, so we changed course towards two other beaches that are located to the east and are more sheltered from the wind and the waves.
And what very sad and disgusting seascape when we got there: beautiful gorgonians covered by garbage…
We continued with the ROV dives a bit further, at some 50 meters. The area has many soft gorgonians, but it is full of garbage. We suspect that the untreated refuse seems to come from an underwater pipeline that dumps out loads of wet wipes, plastic bags, lollipop and cotton bud sticks (to name a few) out into the open sea. When we brought the ROV onboard, some of this garbage got tangled up in the propellers.
Later, we sailed to another MPA, el Tesorillo de Salobreña. At some 50 metees, we spotted a large forest of soft bottom gorgonians (Spinimuricea atlantica). Soft bottom gorgonians are scarce and there is not any publication about this species forming forests. The main reason is that this species lives in soft bottoms, where destructive activities are allowed.
We decided to move to the south for a deeper area that is still inside the MPA. Here, we found some gorgonians—but not as many as before—and some old bottom-trawl marks. Though old, we could still see them perfectly.
Once we finished the surveys, we decided to sail instead of staying at Almuñecar. The wind and waves have increased, but we prefer to be on the move to arrive to Almerimar as soon as possible—hopefully, by tonight so we can get some well-deserved rest.