Oceana expedition to Alboran Sea uncovers underwater oasis and ‘wasteland’
Press Release Date: June 17, 2022
Gathered data will also support advocacy efforts to ban bottom trawling in European Marine Protected Areas
Single-use plastics, abandoned fishing gear, and untreated waste most common pollutants found in seven-day expedition
Madrid – Oceana concluded its expedition to the Alboran Sea (South of Spain), where the organisation gathered first-hand evidence of plastic pollution and bottom trawling impacts on the seabed, including inside marine protected areas (MPAs) that are meant to safeguard marine life. Underwater research showed that the seabed within the MPA Sur de Almería – Seco de los Olivos, a Natura 2000 site, is heavily damaged by destructive fishing activities, while areas near Almuñecar are affected by poor wastewater management. The data gathered throughout the seven-day expedition will now be studied in depth to see how these human activities are affecting marine life and endemic ecosystems.
“Oceana’s expedition has highlighted the significant ocean damage that results from uncontrolled economic activities on land and at sea. We urge the Spanish government and decision-makers in Brussels to open their eyes to this reality, and take the decisive action needed to ban destructive fishing from all EU marine protected areas and to phase out the plastic that is polluting our ocean,” said Pascale Moehrle, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe.
Oceana’s expedition team, composed of marine scientists, scuba divers, and other experts, observed significant anthropogenic effects on the various habitats found within the Sur de Almería – Seco de los Olivos MPA. These impacts included a devastated seafloor off the coast of Almerimar with evident scars on the seabed from bottom trawling, lost trawl nets, and other lost or abandoned fishing gear like crab pots and longlines.
In surveys off the coast of Almuñecar, Oceana’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) provided images of a harrowing sight: an underwater seascape of soft-bottom gorgonians covered in rubbish, such as wet wipes and hygiene items, and also single-use plastics like plastic bags and lollipop sticks, probably originating from a nearby sewage pipe. Plastic waste, especially that linked to coastal recreational activities and single-use food packaging, was found in every ROV survey and scuba dive, and floating on the surface.
Despite these negative findings, there is also hope for these areas that are known as biodiversity hotspots. Oceana surveys revealed an underwater oasis of marine life: an uncharted coralligenous reef with many gorgonians and sponges, off the coast of Adra (Almeria, Spain), inside the Natura 2000 MPA Sur de Almería – Seco de los Olivos.
“Within the same marine protected area we studied, we saw immense natural beauty and richness juxtaposed with the extensive damage that bottom trawling and plastic pollution cause to marine life,” added Ricardo Aguilar, Senior Advisor and Expedition Leader at Oceana in Europe.
On the coralligenous reef, Oceana discovered dense colonies of common antlers sponge (Axinella polypoides), a large sponge that has disappeared from many places in the Mediterranean Sea and is protected under the Barcelona Convention and Spanish national law. In addition to these colonies, scientists recorded many gorgonians including orange sea fan (Leptogorgia sarmentosa) and pink sea fan (Eunicella verrucosa) as well as violescent sea-whip (Paramuricea clavata) — which is listed as a threatened species in the Mediterranean.
Oceana will now study the gathered data to support its advocacy efforts to ban bottom trawling in European MPAs and to reduce the use of single-use plastics, including by replacing them with reusable alternatives.
 The Barcelona Convention is an international convention involving 21 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, and the European Union