DAY FIVE ON BOARD - Jumping overboard...

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!

Sam came onboard to learn more about the ecosystems in the Mediterranean and to see plastic pollution first hand. I also suspect he came onboard to roar around in the Zodiac when he got the chance, he always seemed to be on hand to drive it when needed! He is planning on coming back next year with his 10 year old son, who will love it, I am sure.

We also picked up a large old buoy and a large sheet of plastic, covered in barnacles.  Sadly for the barnacles, they will often be transported to a new environment whilst on the plastic, and it may well be one that cannot support them. The plastic also accumulates a lot of toxins (as does all plastic due to its composition) which the barnacles will ingest. This will either kill it or at least alter its reproductive capacity.  And of course, humans ingest those toxins when we eat fish that has eaten any plastic. In my mind, this is Mother Nature’s rather hilarious little circular economy joke.

But it’s the ghost fishing gear that is the most dangerous to the marine wildlife in the short term.  The gear causes a lot of entanglement or it can just sit in the stomachs of anyone who eats them so they cannot eat anything else, and so die from starvation. One possible solution is for all fishing gear to be tagged, so that it is more easily recovered if lost. Individuals and companies can be held accountable if a lot of their gear is repeatedly found.  Hopefully, this might be somthing that happens in the future, but it would of course take a lot of work to bring it to legislation. Perhaps that’s another one for Alnitak to work on...

The conditions changed in the afternoon for the first time all week, so we headed back to Cabrera early.  As we were cruising back, we saw an Osprey, in the rocks of the island.  I would have loved to have seen it fishing but it was too busy looking majestic on the rocks.  I am amazed at what we are seeing this week.

It also gave me a chance to chat to Ric and learn a bit more about him and how Alnitak got started.  His first job was with Greenpeace, working with their marine team. He increasingly found himself drawn to working in a slightly different way, on a more personal and collaborative level, spending a lot of time working directly with the fishermen to come up with solutions, instead of working on the front line. Greenpeace supported his vision to set up his own research and education boat; and Alnitak was born, 30 years ago.  

This collaborative approach is still right at the heart of Alnitak.  Ric has worked very closely with many fishermen over the years to help them understand the issues in the area, and help them see how beneficial it can be for them to protect certain species and to change their practises in some ways.  Alnitak helped reduce turtle bycatch by 95% in the area by simply talking to the fishermen and showing them their research findings.  In one area, they managed to help the fishermen completely eliminate the number of turtles they were catching by mistake, by encouraging them to use fish, instead of squid (which turtles love), and also to fish deeper at night, when the turtles where in shallower waters. This is just one example of how the data we collect on board is put to use to protect the local wildlife.

When we land, we all headed to the only bar on Cabrera for some well earned drinks and tapas..

Jasmine Spavieri