Science AT SEA

As we sail through the blue Mediterranean, we carry out scientific surveys with clearcut objectives. 

 

Marine Protected Areas and biodiversity

Commercial and recreational human activities are regulated in protected areas. This regulation gives marine life the space it deserves to feed and reproduce. This benefits biodiversity, fishing, tourism and communities. Over the last 25 years, Alnitak has provided scientific data for the design and management of 14 Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean and abroad.

We have worked hand in hand with maritime transport, security, fishing and tourism industries. We’re proud to have supplied one of the largest databases in Europe, helping to set up protected sites for marine mammals and sea turtles. Following the success of our conservation management in the Mediterranean, we’ve expanded our work to projects in Malta, Africa and Latin America, with the help of our Ashoka Fellowship award in 2014.


We conduct studies to assess and monitor risks to biodiversity, testing new technologies to reduce loss of marine life.


WHAT WE DO ON BOARD

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Mapping the abundance and distribution of cetaceans, seabirds and marine turtles

We use data modelling with visual surveys, satellite tracking and acoustic surveys to produce a geographic information system that will provide:

  • the foundation for the design of marine protected areas
  • trends in conservation status of animals and usage of different sites
  • a solid foundation for the establishment of management measures

 

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Identifying risk factors of sea turtle by-catch

We study the way sea turtles and cetaceans use their underwater habitat and investigate their behaviour on the surface. Using this data, we can identify the factors that lead to by-catch and entanglement in floating debris and fishing gear. We can then produce a series of recommendations and technologies to help fishermen reduce these risks. 

Our surveys also provide an ideal platform to conduct studies on animal health and welfare. We collaborate with teams of veterinarians from the Oceanogràfic of Valencia, looking at the effects of the ingestion of toxic substances and marine litter (micro and macro plastics) and stress produced by shipping, man-made noise and fishing.

 

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Modelling and predicting risk to fragile species 

Our “turtle oceanographer” program equips sea turtles with satellite tags. As they roam the open ocean, they feed back data in real time, giving us access to their secret underwater lives. This process, where information is transmitted wirelessly to a source, is known as telemetry, with the data we can develop mathematical models to predict their depth and movements. We combine this data with the oceanographic information from SOCIB to produce maps that enhance the efficacy of cleanup activities for fishing gear. Find out more here

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Ship strikes - Sperm whales and sea turtles are most at risk

Our solution: We have managed to reconfigure the maritime Traffic Separation Scheme in the Mediterranean, benefiting both the transport industry and the vulnerable species. Download our publication on reducing vessel threat to whales here.

Working hand-in-hand with fishermen

One of the main risks for sea turtles is long-line fishing hooks. We believe in the importance of communicating directly with fishermen, with mutual respect and trust. We share the results of our science with them, exchanging perspectives and incorporating their knowledge and experience. We then go out to sea to test measures together. This ensures that our measures are understood and accepted by fleets.

Our solution: In 2008, after we surveyed the diving patterns and habitat use of sea turtles, the Spanish Mediterranean longlining fleet started changing their fishing operation, using different bait and setting deeper hooks. They adopted new sea turtle bycatch handling and release protocols, saving thousands of turtles each year.  These actions were based on our suggestions, reducing sea turtle by-catch in longline fisheries by 95%. Find out more about our project here.

 

Documenting the beauty and the challenges of the open ocean.

Our surveys expose us to awe-inspiring experiences- working out in the deep blue. However, we also witness some of the major threats to the ocean ecosystem. Photography and videos are key tools to help raise awareness about these environmental issues and to supplement the educational activities we develop when we’re back in port.

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Getting the data out there!

After the excitement and adventure of data collection out at sea, comes the even harder part. We carry out data analysis, reporting, presenting, publishing, training and lobbying, to make sure our proposed management measures are implemented. Our main objectives are:

  • Design new marine protected areas (MPAs) and a new offshore National Park of over 100.000 Hectares
  • Assist in the management of already established MPAs
  • Reduce the risk of vessel strikes
  • Reduce the risk of noise pollution
  • Reduce negative interactions between fisheries and endangered species