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Oceana expedition in the Alboran Sea:

Documenting plastic pollution and other threats to marine life

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Unlike yesterday, we started off with early hour winds that died off throughout the early afternoon, giving us again an almost flat sea. We first sailed to the top of the Chella bank to check some possible trawl marks. On our way, we spotted several fishing boats, including two trawlers and one pot fishing boat. The good news is that we discovered that one of the trawlers that was more involved on trawl fishing in this area has changed to pot fishing.

Though the weather forecast was yet for another windy day, we woke up to a gentle breeze and a nearly flat sea.

Our first first scuba dive was in an area with maerl and coralligenous seafbed bording the coastal MPA of Seco de los Olivos. Later we moved a little deeper to look for trawl marks. We carried out several ROV dives in detritic sand. Most of the area is covered by damaged rhodoliths and few species. This area has been impacted by many trawlers, and the marks are difficult to differentiate. 

Another windy day and we can’t go too far off, rather we decided to stay close to shore near Roquetas de Mar. 

Our first scuba dive was in a seagrass barrier reef, where we found that trawlers have destroyed parts of the meadow. Though older, the marks were still very visible. In the deeper areas, there are some artificial reefs that have placed to protect the posidonia meadow, but these apparently haven’t been very efficient. Made from concrete, we found that these artificial reefs were covered in plastic, old fishing nets, lines, and crab pots.

The winds picked up today, but the Ranger resisted and we still were able to work, albeit with minor changes on where we’d dive. In all, we conducted several ROV dives and one scuba dive.

We took a couple short “inspection dives” at various points not far off the coast of Almerimar. This area is heavily trawled, and the seabed is devastated, so much so that we cannot differentiate the trawl marks. The biodiversity is very low with only some tube worms and soft tube anemones living on the nearly deserted seafloor.

We sailed towards Chella Bank to look for signs of trawlers at the top of the seamount. Despite the poor weather, we were able to conduct and ROV dive down to 100 m. From what we see, it seems that some trawlers are using a narrow, sandy path between two reefs dotted with sea pens (Virgularia mirabilis) to trawl. The surrounding reefs are covered with gorgonians (Viminella flagellum Callogorgia verticillata, Eunicella verrucosa) and sponges (Haliclona poecillastroides, Spongosorites sp.).

Aside from a handful of small surveys and maintenance runs, it’s been nearly 600 days since the last time the Ranger had gone out to sea. Before, we had at least one or more expedition per year for 15 years in-a-row, but the global pandemic unfortunately put an end to that, with our last expedition taking place in late 2020.

…and it feels so good to be back on the water, doing what we do best: studying and documenting the state of our ocean aboard our sturdy and beloved research catamaran, the Ranger.

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