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On Board the Marviva Med 2008

A six-month expedition that documented IUU and destructful fishing and marine habitats in the Mediterranean

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After all of these months of work, it seems unreal that we have finally reached the end of the campaign. During these last days, there are mixed feelings of happiness and tiredness. On one hand, we are sad to have to leave the ship and stop being constantly on the water. On the other hand, the fatigue from the intense work aboard the Marviva Med and the joy of knowing that we have compiled very valuable information for developing the campaigns and reaching goals - that has to be analyzed- encourage us to leave the ship.

On September 21, the dive team contacted the ZOEA dive centre, in Palma de Mallorca. We had already worked with this dive centre on other occasions and they had always been very professional and shown much interest in raising awareness and protecting the reefs in the Balearic Islands.

I wake up at 7:30am to a little bit of boat rocking and the sound of the motor, and look out the small round window in my cabin to see the sea passing by. “Oh no! We´re moving!”, was my first thought. Although I was tempted to stay in bed for the remaining half-hour untill breakfast, thoughts of my seasickness the other day made me hop down from the top of the bunk bed and reach for the pills I had brought along “just in case”. Well “just in case” ended up being a necessity, as I got really seasick on Monday and have taken the anti-seasickness pills diligently thereafter.

After leaving Menorca due to bad weather on the northern coast of the island, we now find ourselves on the eastern coast of Mallorca. We’ve taken advantage to let the storm go by, seeking shelter on the coast of Santany. Then, when the storm was dying down (“julepe frescachón”… Felipe Mellizo “Los Tres anillos”), we anchored in the bay of Pollensa.

Today is the 13th. It’s neither Tuesday nor Friday, and I get this number that only substitute goalies wear proudly on their backs.

After an unsuccessful attempt to cross the canal that separates Menorca from Mallorca, due to the weather conditions, we anchor in Cap d´Artrutx, south-east of Menorca. We spend a calm night after a stormy day, and it is the beginning of these 24 hours that I must narrate.

End of the day. It’s 20:00 and we’ve just finished the first dive in waters of the Marine Reserve of Northern Menorca. This time, we were lucky, but the experience we have accumulated in the Cantabrian and the Mediterranean allows us to affirm that the absence of fish is alarming. We have verified the lack of fish in the sea during the dive with the ROV this morning off Cape Bajolí, on the west coast of the island, and in waters of the marine reserve. This time, all the members of the dive team agree that the fish are extremely sensitive and easily frightened.

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.

We don’t have many days left in Italy, because we plan to be back in the Balearic Islands at the end of the month, in Palma de Mallorca. So, we decide to continue working with the ROV, documenting the seamounts west of the Aeolian Islands, facing the northwest coast of Sicily and head slowly towards the Balearic coasts.

After the ROV took up all the hours in the water for a few days, on Saturday the 23rd, we divers submerged again with the intention of documenting the "Secca del Capo" bottom. This is a seamount located at a considerable distance from the coast between the islands of Salina and Panarea.

The mound rises from hundreds of meters deep up to just 6 meters from the surface. This makes it (at least in theory) a suitable place for finding abundant fauna, especially large and pelagic fish.

We set sail from Brindisi toward the south of Capo de Santa Maria di Leuca, in the Ionian Sea. This is an area where deep sea coral reefs dominated by Lophelia pertusa and Madrepora oculata have been described. Several scientific campaigns have recorded colonies of these species from depths of 110 to 470 meters. At these depths, 30 different species of sponges have been recorded in association with these deep-sea coral.

We arrived at the Bari coast, at the port of Brindisi on August 15. In most European countries, this date is reserved for spending a few days at the beach and enjoying its charm... All of us are attracted by the sea for several reasons: because the deep blue sea is calling us, it both pleases and attracts us. Even though its resources may seem inexhaustible to us because they are invisible to most of our eyes - and even for those who work in the sea - this does not reflect the reality. It is tragic, crude and cruel.

Taking advantage of a few moments of sailing time, Patricia Lastra, one of Oceana's scientists aboard the Marviva Med, has agreed to a short interview in which she tells us about her work.

Patricia is a thirty year old Sevillian who has been working with Oceana's crew since may. Here, she is one of the organization's scientific experts and she participates in planning and conducting larval sampling in the main red tuna spawning grounds to evaluate the protection of these essential habitats.

We continued in the Aegean Sea. The weather is great. The wind has died down and the sea is quite calm. This allows us to continue with our campaign plan without major changes.

Yesterday, at dusk, Patricia Lastra, the marine scientist who is who is working on the red tuna habitat conservation campaign in the Mediterranean, took several samples with the icthyoplankton net at different stations to the West of the island of Samothracia (Greece).

As I had already told Keith, on July 30, the Marviva Med was arriving in the port of Athens and the little changes in the Oceana's crew that were planned for that port were made. In Athens, we said goodbye to Alberto Iglesias, one of the safety divers, as well as Keith Ellenbogen, the onboard underwater photographer since the campaign began on the Marviva Med in late May.

Riding along the waves of the Marviva Med research boat at 10 nautical miles per hour, looking seaward towards Athens, Greece — time momentarily paused as the air grew still and the sea turned clear as glass. Within the stillness arrived a pod of dolphins that surfed the waves along the boat.

Looking down from the bow, during this surreal moment — that felt like an eternity — we danced in a mental dialogue of non-verbal communication and cerebral understanding. As the flatness of the sea vanished so did the dolphins — but I am sure they will share stories like I am with you.

Off the coast of Sicily are fleets of traditional “Harpoon Fishing Boats” with cables connected to ladders connected to lookout stations — 100ft/33m above sea level — that tower over the city and mountain peeks. Defying gravity 3ft/1m above sea level with a feeling of ‘walking on water’ is a horizontal ladder extending 150ft/50m from the bow of the boat to the harpooner station.

“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”— Henry David Thoreau

The swordfish,the only member of the family Xiphiidae, are one of the most beautiful marine animals living in our oceans — with big blue eyes, a long bill and brilliant sail — its spectacular. It’s a fish so great it inspired authors such as Hemmingway and artists all over the world.

If given an opportunity the swordfish can reach a grand size of 15ft/5m weighing 1,400lbs/650kg.

With mooring lines securely fastened to the bollard, the Oceana Marviva Med was docked in the Sicilian Harbor of Porto Di Messina, Banchina G. Marconi. From the ‘porto’ our expedition team of Maria Jose Cornax, Gorka Leclercq, and Keith Ellenbogen departed in a rental car, driving north, along the coast of Sicily to photograph fishing boats armed with driftnets in Catania, Santa Maria la Scala, Stazzo, Riposto, and Giardini – Naxos.

With the Oceana Marviva Med stationed off the coast of Sicily we launched the Grey Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) to photograph tuna farms along the Bay of Milazzo.

On this expedition, Xavier Pastor, Expedition Leader and Carlos Perez, Operations / Logistics Manager informed the underwater photography/videograhy team that if the opportunity presents itself we will try to jump in the water and photograph the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in the cages.

Submerged beneath the Tyrrhenian Sea is a seamount Seca Del Capo — that is 25ft/5m short of clearing the surface and becoming an island. The seamount descends to a maximum depth at the seafloor of 330ft/100m.

This seamount is well known as a fishing ground and the Oceana team of underwater explorers set out this afternoon to photograph and videograph the marine life surrounding the seamount. The underwater landscape was blue and beautiful but once again void of any large marine life.

At 4 am with only the stars and the moon illuminating the darkness of the sea — our expedition team Carlos Perez, Cesar Fuertes, Maria Jose Cornax,Gorka Leclercq, and Keith Ellenbogen rapidly descended down a vertical ladder from the Oceana Marviva Med into the Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) underway at 8 nautical miles per hour.

Our objective this morning was to use the RIB to get close (within 50ft/20m) to the driftnet fishing boats — and to photograph them catching pelagic fish such as swordfish or tuna.

Anchored 15 minutes outside the Harbor of Lipari Island, this morning with a crew of five team members we launched the grey Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) from the Oceana Marviva Med to discreetly document fishing boats and the equipment within the harbor.

On assignment, we noted at least 10-15 fishing boats potentially masked as longliners but armed with driftnets — most likely used for illegal fishing practices. From high above the harbor we photographed a number of fishing boats with winches — a tell-tale sign they are using driftnets.

Early this morning, expedition leader Xavier Pastor instructed the dive team — left to right: Gorka Leclercq, Underwater Videographer; Josiean, Dive Master; Alberto Iglesias, Dive Master; Keith Ellenbogen, Underwater Photographer — to prepare for underwater exploration of two small Italian Islands Lipari and Stromboli.

These islands were selected as they offered an opportunity to photograph and videograph marine life living in the Tyrrhenian Sea. The profiles for both dives were similar 65 minutes maximum depth 80ft/25m water temperature 18C/70F with visibility of 80ft/25m.

Once the ‘larvae-net’ has been raised out of the water, the microscopic larvae and small animals are sifted through a fine 500-micrometer mesh net and placed into ethanol containers. The larvae samples are reviewed onboard the Marviva Med by scientist Patricia Lastra. The larvae samples will be sent to the Spanish Oceanic Institute in the Balearic Islands, Spain for final analysis and identification.

Oceana is collaborating with Oceanographic Institute researchers, conducting essential research to sample targeted areas within the Southern Tyrrhenian Sea for larvae of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna and other pelagic species such as swordfish.

One of the many goals for Oceana is to utilize this data to confirm these are fertile breeding waters for The Atlantic Bluefin — and that conservation measures are needed immediately to prevent the endangered Atlantic Bluefin Tuna from becoming extinct.

Naples, spelled Napoli in Italian is the second largest city in Italy and the origin of the margarita pizza. Traditionally the pizza is made with mozzarella cheese, pomodoro (tomatos) and basil - each representing the red, white, and green of the Italian flag. The pizza was named after it was served to Queen Margherita when she visited the city.

At 5:30 in the morning, as the sun began to rise over the horizon — the Oceana Marviva Med is approaching the harbor of Napoli, Italy to re-supply the ship with fresh food and fuel. Under the bright yellow light, between the Isla De Ischia on the port side of the vessel and the Island of Capri starboard side our crew continued to watch for illegal driftnet fishing boats from the bridge of our vessel.

At 2pm this afternoon the Oceana Dive Team explored the underwater world around Isola Di Ponza, Italy. In calm seas protected by the leeward side of the island we descended to a depth of 100ft/30m for 60 minutes.

In contrast to the last dive where I focused on the environment — for this dive I concentrated on creating an image that captured my impression of the animal as it observed us observing them.

Onboard the Oceana Marviva Med, this afternoon at 2pm the Dive team loaded all the scuba diving equipment (scuba tanks, oxygen safety bottle, and camera/video) onto the yellow RIB (Rubber Inflatable Boat) hanging on a crane 15ft/5m over the side of the boat for a dive to Formicce — a short distance from the harbor of Isola Di Ponza.

Anchored outside the harbor of Isle De Ponza, Italy the Oceana team of photographers, videographers, scientists, and environmentalists boarded the yellow RIB (rubber inflatable boat) to in search of illegal driftnet fishing boats within the marina. Throughout the day we documented approximately 10 fishing boats with illegal driftnets — that were covered under tarps to mask their activities.

To help clarify some of the confusion of why driftnets are used in Italy I asked our lead scientist and fishing boat expert Maria Jose to explain:

This morning the Oceana dive team traveled an hour and half to the most southern part of Sardinia, Italy to dive around Capo Teulada (Chia Laguna), near Cagliari. With flat seas and the most spectacular turquoise blue the eye can see — we descended into the ocean below the steep vertical cliffs that ascended into the skies.

At 9am the Oceana Marviva Med research vessel arrived at the harbor Nuovo Bacino Di Punete in the South of Sardinia, Italy. Upon arrival our land based objective was to look for any illegal driftnet fishing boats docked within harbors Calasseta and Sant Antioco near Cagliari. In years past, fisherman armed with illegal driftnets onboard their boats docked in these harbors — before heading into the Mediterranean off the coast of Italy to illegally fish.

For a moment, imagine a net that descends 100ft/30meters almost as deep as the maximum depth at which recreational diver can safely descend. The length of the driftnet extends for 12 miles/20 kilometers. That is equivalent to the length of a half-marathon that takes approximately two hours to run from start to finish — if you are in good shape.

On the observation deck at 6:10 this morning — as I looked towards the horizon breathing the mist of the oceans morning haze I collected my thoughts and relaxed as I observed the subtle yet rapid change of night to day and day to night. With calm seas, I watched the rays of the sun dance along the surface of the fluid medium on a canvas in which ‘h20’ is the rhythm and light is the artist.

At 10am under the bright sun and flat seas we were fortunate to enjoy a brief moment watching a pod of common dolphins and a little baby surf the waves in front of the bow of our boat. One dolphin in particular seemed to enjoy swimming upside down watching us lean over the bow of the boat with camera and video lenses. They only stayed for a few minutes before heading back to the open sea.

Early this morning, with calm seas, at 6 am the Tunisian Navy Warship stopped our vessel and sent a platoon of 5 men onboard the Oceana Marviva Med from a small inflatable boat. At the time we were heading innocently westward towards Algeria in Tunisian territorial sea near the island of La Galite. Over the past few days the Tunisian Navy has been monitoring our activities in International waters — along the border of Tunisia and Pantalleria Island, Italy — outside the 12 nautical mile limit from the Tunisian coast.

The Spanish “furia” team is known for its technical agility, graceful ball movement. It has had a frustrating world champion curse —preventing the national team from winning the trophy over the last 44 years. Second to the WorldCup Championship the EuroCup is the most sought after football trophy. In the final match Spain versus the favored Germans — the tides have changed and Spain returned to days of glory!

A Day to Remember! June 29, 2008; 22:45

Spain is the Euro Cup Champion — defeating Germany 1-0.

Expedition Leader Xavier Pastor has directed the Marviva Med into the Italian waters South of Sicily along the boarder of the African coast heading west from Tunisia towards Algeria. Within this region near Africa, very little is known about the activity of fishermen and fishing boats. Additionally, Xavier explained to the Oceana Team that the Italian fishermen continue the illegal practice of driftnet fishing.

Throughout the world every day in every city there is a fish market just like this one — that we documented in Malta Harbor at 3:30 in the morning — that brings fresh fish to your home and restaurant each day of the week 365 days a year.

No tuna are sold here — for these fish are much too valuable. Rather the tuna are processed on boats at sea and shipped directly to Japan or to your local sushi restaurant.

In a twist of irony, with the absence of marine life, our exploration shifted towards underwater landscapes and prisms of light that dazzled the eye and sparked imagination.

From the surface, and as soon as I descended, I was immediately captivated by the vibrant colors of blue and blue/green light flowing effortlessly through the water. Looking towards the surface I could almost see the change in tone of blue as I ascended and descended with the absorption of the shorter spectrum of the red wavelengths concealed in the prism of white light.

Exploring the underwater environment of Gozo and Malta the Oceana dive team comprised of (pictured left to right) Alberto Iglesias, Gorka Leclercq, Keith Ellenbogen, and Thierry Lannoy noted very little marine life juxtaposed to some of the most scenic locations.

Over the next couple of days we dove the following dive sites:

The island of Gozo, is part of the Maltese archipelago, and is the second largest island in Malta. Gozo has a long tradition that connects — this current modern day island with the mythical island of Olygia in Homers’s Odyssey book V. Within Homer’s fabled poem, Olygia was ruled by ‘Calypso’, a nymph, (a nymph is any member of a large class of mythological entities in human female form), who detained ‘Odysseus’, the hero of the story, as a prisoner of love for seven years – who she desired to make her immortal husband — until Zeus freed Odysseus.

As sure as the sun would rise, in the morning with Mediterranean Sea as smooth as glass — the purseiner fishing fleets were busy catching and caging the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. Within 100 meters of the activity Patricia Lastra, tuna scientist as well as Gorka Leclercq, underwater videographer documented the purseiners using fishing nets. With an estimated 10,000 Atlantic Bluefin Tuna caught every day the size of these nets and cages are massive.

Under a full moon with strong winds, rough seas (category 7) and deep swells (reaching 8-12ft) the Oceana Marviva Med continue the course set by Expedition Leader, Xavier Pastor to monitor the purseiner fishing activity in the open Mediterranean Sea between Malta, Tunisia and Libya.

One hundred nautical miles from Malta, last night we anchored in calm waters adjacent Isla Pantelleria. This defining features of the island are beautiful steep vertical cliffs and a strong angular landscape.

With a half moon visible in the clear skies, expedition leader Xavier Pastor asked the dive team to prepare our equipment for a morning dive. More to follow….

After approximately 36 hours of rough seas and traveling 400 nautical miles we entered the unusually calm Sicilian Sea.

A sailors trivia: a nautical mile referrers to one minute of latitude (1/60) of arch, along the Earth’s meridian (line of longitude). One nautical mile = 1,852 meters or 1.15 miles.

Early this morning with grayish blue skies predominant wind changed direction and is now blowing from the North. With the force of the winds the sea condition changed from calm to moderate/rough. Now swelling with some force (5 -8 ft), the sea swayed the boat, the people and all the equipment from side to side. Starting to get our sea legs each of us found ways of suppressing the feeling of the swaying seas.

With the sun closing in on the horizon, at 8pm the Oceana Marviva departed the beautiful island of Mallorca and is now heading approximately 500 nautical miles southeast through the Mediterranean to Malta (an independent country since 1964). Sailing at an average speed of 8.2 knots per hour the voyage is going to take 72 hours and cover 500 nautical miles.

This morning we decided to launch the grey RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) into the ocean with Carlos Perez as the captain, myself (Keith Ellenbogen), photographer, Enrique Talledo, videographer; and Cesar Fuertes, deckhand to get close to the tuna cages and purseiner fishing boats.

From the RIB the Oceana Marviva is seen observing and documenting the French purseiner, Gerard Luc IV, ST 900236, transferring tuna into the cage.

With the break of light, blue skies, calm seas and a watchful perched on the boats A-Frame, we continued to follow the two fishing vessels into the Balearic Sea. At 10 am this morning with no land in sight, 30 miles South of Formentera Island, I could hardly believe my eyes. As I gazed at the horizon all I saw was fishing boat after fishing boat. It was an orgy of tuna fishing boats in a mad rush to catch the bluefin tuna in the annual migration to spawn in the Mediterranean.

On this Sunday morning the two French purseiner fishing boats Gerard Luc IV ST 900236 and Gerald Jean IV MA-916469 remain anchored in the Bay of Formentara Island. The only activity in the bay this morning was The Govern de les Illes Balears an environmental cleaning boat that was removing plastics or trash floating in the bay. On a positive note I have not noticed any garbage floating past our ship.

Many people ask me why we are following these purseiners bluefin tuna fishing boats? What do we hope to accomplish?

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” — Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

The first problem to address is tuna populations are seriously declining. These are not fabricated numbers or stories. It is real and worse yet really happening. Only two generations ago the tuna populations used to be healthy. Today they are in the eve of colapse.

With overcast skies and a slight sea breeze at around 8am two of the four purseiner fishing left the bay heading southeast. We decided to remain anchored and wait with the two other purseiner fishing boats.

A Little Visitor

This morning, while waiting and watching the fishing boats, we were greeted by a cute little yellowish bird that perched itself on the blue/green rope high above the bow of the boat and on the railing of the observation deck.

With the sea continuing to sway our boat from side to side like a pendulum we remained patiently anchored outside the harbor from sunrise to sunset — watching and waiting for the French purseiner fishing boats that are nearly out of sight to depart. At this point we are not sure for how long or why they are docked but we will continue to wait.

As the sun descends behind Ibiza’s mountains I feel fortunate to enjoy the tranquility of time and this ‘buena vista’.

On this overcast morning with occasional light rain we remained anchored just outside Ibiza’s harbor as a satellite communication equipment specialist came onboard the ship to install some necessary equipment. By mid afternoon with the break of the sun all our communication systems were successfully working.

This morning was filled with excitement as we tested both of Oceana’s RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) for maneuverability to document legal and illegal bluefin tuna fishing boats in the Mediterranean. At 9am the crew of the Marviva Med lowered the 18ft yellow boat using a crane into the relatively calm ocean.

Our expedition began early this morning — with overcast skies and swelling seas — navigating the waters surrounding Formentera Island, Spain in a continued search for bluefin tuna fishing boats.

During the course of the day we spotted two longline fishing vessels. They were the same ones we saw yesterday. But this time they were hauling in their gear. The technique of longline fishing is to release up to sixty or more kilometers of fishing line with thousands of individual baited hooks.

Today Oceana’s MarViva Med a 160ft conservation research and diving vessel set off leaving behind the charming island of Palma De Mallorca, Spain where the boats in the marina and the masts on the yachts accentuate the beautiful cityscape.

Navigating our course south our expedition leader and Chief Scientist Xavier Pastor briefed the team on the importance of this expedition to photographically and videographically document the illegal tuna fishing practices in the Mediterranean — to insure a sustainable bluefin tuna fishery for future generations.

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