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September 4, 2008

September 3-4, 2008

BY: Carlos Suárez


©OCEANA/ Carlos Suárez


My adventure on board the Marviva Med began as soon as I arrived in Palma de Mallorca. It is the first time for me onboard this ship and I am proud to be able to contribute to this expedition. My work will consist in taking photographs of the daily activities on board this 42-meter vessel and to take underwater photographs during the dives, supervised by the person in charge of this campaign, Ricardo Aguilar.

will not have any problems to get used to the routine onboard and this ship is more comfortable than Oceana’s other ship, the Ranger. I have been on the Ranger many times and am familiar with the work philosophy. The Marviva Med is larger and better equipped. This will allow us to work with the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) at greater depths and with more guarantees. Roverto, as we jokingly call this remotely operated vehicle, incorporates video cameras that allow us to see what is going on at greater depths and during a longer period of time compared to conventional diving techniques (with divers). It is an extremely valuable piece of equipment used to collect data from the deep seas.

After a day using the ROV off the island of Cabrera, we set sail towards Menorca, where we will concentrate on obtaining data and images. The next morning, a dive team gets ready to dive off the western coast of Menorca for the first time, Cape Bajolí. We conscientiously prepare the equipment: tanks, regulators, BCs. The zodiac is ready to go and the divers are prepared to begin their work in Menorca. Apart from Daniel Rodríguez, underwater videographer and close friend, we will be accompanied by Günter Kehren, the security diver, and Thierry Lanois, the dive team leader. Furthermore, this time, Marta Sales, will help us, as well. She is from Menorca and represents the GOB, Ornithology Group of the Balearic Islands for the protection of the natural environment and has much experience diving in these waters.

At last, I am in the water. I feel free and weightless. I like to think I am in my true medium, although I am conscious that it is only a sensation and that, as humans, we are actually intruders in the ocean. As soon as I dive into the water, the warm Mediterranean covers my face. I calculate the water temperature must be around 26 degrees, quite warm compared to what I am used to in the Atlantic, specifically in the Canary Islands, where I am from and where the water temperature is usually never above 23 degrees. I let some air out of my BC and start to descend towards the deep blue. The visibility is amazing, probably around thirty meters. First, I swim down a wall that is parallel to the coastline, approximately a 15-meter drop. Then, the slope becomes gentler, with some large rocks appearing amongst patches of posidonia. The rocks create cracks and grooves that harbour a variety of sessile organisms.

The underwater landscape is very beautiful, but something is missing in this idyllic spot: Where are the fish? A place like this should be full of life, but all we find are some tiny young fish. Hidden in the darkness of a crack, I see a small dusky grouper that swims off when he sees me, like a bat out of hell. This area in Menorca is not protected and the fish seem to know well that when humans and fish come together, the fish will definitely be the losers.

Thoughts of my last dives in the National Park of Cabrera last year fill my mind; I saw huge specimens of groupers and many other fish there. I can’t help but compare these two places; so close and yet so completely different. It becomes clear to me that reserves are necessary in order to protect many species and allow them to grow, become adults and begin to reproduce. Without a doubt, what we experienced in Cape Bajolí is the result of human predators. The dive, about which I was very enthusiastic, begins to get frustrating for me. Small seabreams hide amongst the rocks and only a few damselfish seem to be active, swimming around in the middle of the water column. I also spot a few small wrasses trying to remove parasites from other fish, but there doesn’t seem to be much demand for their cleaning services. I am pleased to see a group of cardinalfish hidden in a narrow passageway. Their metallic orange colour brightens up the shadowy-darkness of this place.

Starting 27 meters depth, the thermocline appears and a healthy posidonia meadow stretches out before us. The water here is quite cold, and only a few minutes go by until my body convinces my mind to swim up to the warm 26-degree water, closer to the surface. As I begin to swim up, I see the remnants of fishing gear caught on a small rock. It looks like a longline, or similar gear; proof of the overexploitation suffered by these waters and the life they harbour.

We are getting close to the hour and the air in our tanks is starting to wane. It’s time for a safety stop, to avoid getting decompression syndrome. Once we are again on board the Marviva Med, we inform Ricardo of what we’ve seen and I upload the digital images so they can see what we experienced. The data obtained by scientists and researchers will be supported by these images and will be included in updated reports about the current state of the Mediterranean, more specifically the waters of Menorca. I hope to contribute, in this way, to the conservation of our beloved Mediterranean Sea.

Ricardo has informed us that tomorrow we will be able to dive in the Nord Reserve of Menorca. I am anxious to dive in the reserve and hope to see that marine life has found a haven there, with enough peace so it can progress.