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Blog Posts by: Alicia Fraile

OCEAN NATURAL HISTORY SOCIETY

The Oceana Ranger's Transoceanic Expedition represents a magnificient opportunity to enjoy sightings of different species of cetaceans and marine birds. During the crossing of the Atlantic, between April 21st and June 9th, 2005, we were able to observe, and in most cases identify, diverse species of cetaceans and birds that, although a bit scarce in terms of numbers of individuals and species, it resulted interesting enough to us, in most cases.

Ester Casado

Today we all got up early; we began leaving our beds since 5 in the morning to contemplate the spectacular view offered by the cliffs of Algarve's coast. Of course, this place has suffered the same urban abuse commited in any touristic place along the peninsular and insular geography of Spain.

Our entry to the Lagos marina is solemn, as we pass in front of the ancient fortress, which we reached through a natural channel and going under a drawbridge. A life size reproduction of an old caravel confirms to us we have arrived at port.

As you know, we have had rough seas, with the blowing hard on the prow side of the ship. By the end of the day, the weather improved. It is surprising how fast climate conditions change in the ocean. In a matter of hours, the situation can go from calm seas, without seabreeze in sight, to a storm, and vice versa. Although we know about the influence the oceans exert on the planet climate, it is in these circumstances when you really appreciate the dynamics involved, and how the sea as a whole is a living entity.

When silence reigns on board, it is a sign that no one feels like touching the keyboard. It has been the case with us the last couple of days, when the sea has been quite rough on us. As we draw near Lagos, in the Portuguese Algarve, the final stop in our Atlantic crossing, we are having the worse weather of the entire journey. The arrival in Azores is traditionally considered the end on the crossing, because the distance between Bermuda and Azores is the largest route for those who choose this course. However, outside this archipielago, we still have a good day's run ahead of us. We must not forget that the Azores are the summit of the Atlantic dorsal mountain range. When we set sails from its ports we still have another week of navigation through the Atlantic, before arriving at the first port of the European continent. And the weather is not favoring us on this crossing. We have winds of 35 to 40 knots, with high tides and sometimes really strong tides.

Today, we encountered a small turtle swimming all alone. This reminds me that we are navigating on marine turtle’s main migration route.

Map

Until relatively recently, the life cycle of marine turtles was unknown and it was not until 1986, when the American biologist Archie Carr-one the foremost experts on marine turtles in the world-published his theory that turtles nested on beaches of North America followed a round migratory journey along the Atlantic, using Gulf Currents. I say round journey, because the turtles come back to nest at the same beach where they were born. In 1993, Spanish researchers Ricardo Aguilar, Julio Más and Xavier Pastor-two of them are Oceana members-corroborated this hypothesis, adding new data on populations of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Ester Casado

During last night guard duty, the only new development was the proximity of a merchant ship that came close from the port side of the Ranger. Their potent headlights caught us by surprise, and it made us think it was a fishing boat; but they turned the lights off, and kept only the normal lights on. The ship kept coming closer and Bibi identified it as a merchant ship, so it was appropriate to establish radio communication with them to confirm our position.

“ Ship in position 35 degrees 17N and 26 degrees W, this is the Ranger. Do you copy? Over ".

“ Ranger, Ranger, ship in position. I copy. Over. ” They answered alter a brief wait. Whew!

“ We are at 2 degrees from your starboard ” Do you see us? Over

“ Yes, I see you, no problem ”

“ Ok, thank you and have a good watch. Stand by channel 16 ”

They had seen us, so our possible concern was gone.

My first nocturnal guard duty has provided for a perfect lesson taught by Bibi, though young, she is a highly qualified sailor, and with her fresh personality and serenity, she has instantly gained my trust. Throughout my three- hour guard dury shift, Bibi has taught me how to keep watch for any anomaly that may occur along the route, check for wind speed, or keep an eye on the horizon for some ship.

Bibiana Alvarez

Nearly Fifty miles from the islands of Pico and San Jorge is the location of the Joao de Castro ridge, an underwater active volcano standing at 1,000 meters from the bottom and whose summit is just 13 meters from the surface of the sea. The sight around them is impressive, because of the methane gas emissions in the form of sumbarine fumaroles we can see and in general the hydrothermal activity observed around is worth seeing. There are also very interesting ecosystems emerged in the area: it is an illuminated oasis at surface level, in the midst of a dark world at the heart of the Atlantic.

The visit to the surrounding area of Azores was planned since before our ship arrived in the archipelago, but our interest grew as we read scientific works on this underwater volcano and as we exchanged ideas with researchers from the Department of Oceanography and Fishing from the University of Azores.

Sinto Bestard

Our arrival at Horta (Faial) marks a new shift of crew members, but crew members at the Ranger are used to changes and always welcome new additions with a smile. Houssine, the underwater photographer, who was with us from the fist day, had to go back home for family reasons. Carlos and Guayo also left us, to take care of activities at the office. Two new sailors have embarked: Xose Manuel Gándara, a Galician based in Pontevedra, whose passion is sailing, and Nano Valdés, from Mallorca, who joins our expedition after navigating for 4 months onboard the Snooty and the writer, Ester Casado, I am the Director’s assistant, at the European office of Oceana.

 

Horta

Horta, the capital of Faial, is a small port city that was able to maintain its charm through decades, keeping the style on all buildings, restauring facades, and making sure no urban aberrations are built. They took care of every detail in order to preserve the city’s tradition and uniqueness. At the same time, its inhabitants have gained economic prosperity, and we perceive a sensation of affluence and general wellbeing among its 16,000 inhabitants.

It is a relief for a Mallorcan to find that some island inhabitants from originally poor regions have not necessarily become destructive beasts to the landscapes, cultures and ecosystems. Economic progress is possible while still maintaining respect for all that. Azores is a proof of this. A contributing factor may be the existence of governors among the islands who are endowed of some level of sensibility and decency.

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