This morning was another beautiful day (I definitely didn’t need the wet weather gear I brought...), with wonderful conditions to see wildlife and ....plastic.
As usual, we saw lots of litter and old fishing gear and collected what we could. Alnitak and its volunteers pick up on average 4 cubic meters of waste each week. A lot of the rubbish out there is in the form of microplastics, just below the surface, so what we are fishing out, whilst useful, is just the tip of the iceberg. Today we picked up several helium balloons, one very long thick piece of rope, another polystyrene box, several water bottles, and another old buoy. One of Alnitak’s other successes has been to convince all the trawlers in Andalucia and Mercia to pick up plastic and waste, rather than actually dropping it overboard themselves. This initiative has now spread across the whole of Spain and the Med. It seemed like a usual morning on-board…. we spotted a small pod of Risso’s dolphins and several blue-fin tuna jumping through the air this morning. So when I heard Doris say “is that a shark?” I thought it was just a joke. ..
The conditions on the boat were just amazing for wildlife spotting this morning. The water was like a mirror. We saw several pods of Risso´s dolphins very quickly, and much to our delight, they played around the boat for almost two hours, and did lots of jumping around and pirouetting out of the sea. We then had a quick dip hoping they would want to check us out too, but sadly they weren’t curious about us!
We fished out some more Styrofoam boxes from the sea, I am guessing they have come from fishing boats, which are packing the fish onboard in ice to keep them fresh. Styrofoam is awful stuff, because it breaks down into tiny pieces over a relatively short amount of time. I was getting so incensed by these boxes, that me another volunteer, Sam, jumped into the sea to get a couple of them, which were out of range from the boat. We had a race to see who could get them first. That is how much these things mean to us, or perhaps we are just competitive!
Up as usual with the sun, and the gentle hum of the engine.
In the morning, we pulled up a lot of plastic, which has made me so happy, including a lot of balloons again – we also thought we saw a dolphin with a balloon on its head, which sounds funny, but in reality really isn’t – I just hope that dolphin doesn’t eat it. I also speared a large polystyrene box as we went past. It felt awesome! We saw swordfish leaping into the air, tunas, and lots of Mediterranean Shearlings (birds). As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the hydrophone, a special microphone which is draped off the boat and deep into the water, was making a lot of noise today. This means either whales or dolphins are closeby, and we could hear both, so we were all on watch! Ric climbed up the mast to spot the whales better, which means I got to take the captain’s seat and drive the boat! When there is a lot of clicking, it means the whales are sending echolocation downwards towards the squid they like to eat. When it gets louder, we know we are in the right place! When the clicking stops, it means they are coming up to breathe, so that’s when we have to stop the boat and just look out for them surfacing, either a tail fin or a spout of water…..
Up again at 5.30am, with the sound of the engine, and the waft of diesel. Despite the early hour, this is really the best time of day to sit on deck and just marvel at the ocean and the beauty of the space around us. It’s nice and cool and there are no other boats around, apart from the odd fishing boat.
I think about the wildlife around us… it has always been my dream to see whales in their natural habitat. Later on, when I’m on watch with Doris, I find out she is very keen to see some too. Doris is from Austria, and it’s her third time onboard Toftevaag. She’s been a member of OceanCare for 10 years and like many others, that’s how she heard about the Toftevaag. Doris was worried she would need certain skills to volunteer on the boat. When she asked, she was told that the only requirement for volunteers, was to have fun…
This morning we sailed out of Palma harbour towards the beautiful island and national park, Cabrera, at 5.30am. By 6 we had scrubbed the deck, had our breakfast by 7, and had been briefed on the cooking, cleaning and watch rota, all by 8am. Captain Ricardo Sagarminaga, and founder of Alintak, runs a tight ship* as the saying goes, but at the same time, he makes it feel welcoming, warm and relaxed. He has been running these expeditions over the last 30 years. During this time, Alnitak has been able to gather significant data on marine species and pollution, engage a wide variety of people on our oceans, and make some incredible progress with the fishing community. There is something very special about the Toftevaag, that’s for sure. I hear people talking about it being magical. I think part of that is the speed it goes; it glides through the water at a very pleasant, slow, 4 knots an hour. An almost meditative speed, which makes it feel like part of the ocean, instead of some of the smaller boats we saw in the harbour. As the saying goes, the slower you go, the more you see. And that certainly seemed to be true....
This afternoon I met the eleven crew members I would be spending a week with, volunteering on a boat in the Med just off the coast of Majorca. They all seemed really nice, but I was nervous about how it would be for a week without my son, living on a boat, so close together! I love camping, but generally just with my dogs and son; this was going to get much more cosy. I was the only British person onboard, and also embarrassingly, the only one who wasn’t fluent in at least one other language. We were four Spaniards, two Germans, two Swiss and one Austrian, so the main languages were Spanish and German. I am determined to try and speak some Spanish this week…
We were all volunteering for Alnitak, a marine research organisation dedicated to our oceans. I had heard about them through a friend whom I met when I was promoting my children’s book about ocean pollution:Finn the Fortunate Tiger Shark! She told me how inspiring the experience had been for her and how she was now working with them as she was so impressed. I realized I needed to get out in the field, as I was feeling a little jaded from the continuing barrage of single-use plastic I see everywhere, and the seeming indifference from too many people, despite this becoming such a high profile issue. So the chance to see lots of incredible animals and to remove some plastic from the Med was very appealing…..