Whenever I meet diving instructor Brad Robertson I know I am going to be inspired. I’ve written about him a few times over the years, and I hope that by now the MDB readers will have heard of Asociación Ondine which he founded along with a small group of dedicated people. Ondine takes its name from a mythical spirit, a mermaid, living underwater, and focuses on science, community and conservation with the aim being to protect and improve our local marine ecosystems. At the recent Palma Boat and Super Yacht Show Brad and the rest of the Asociación Ondine were on site giving out information about their activities and projects. I passed by for a chat.
Vicki McLeod: Majorca’s been in the news in the past couple of weeks, did you hear about the “shark” spotted swimming in shallow waters near to Palma Nova beach? The tabloids certainly did, and wrote several scare mongering headlines about the “monster”. Taking a look at the photo it’s difficult for the untrained eye to know the difference between a shark and, well, a tuna
Brad Robertson: Marine biologists have confirmed that this is indeed a Blue Fin Tuna. The Mediterranean is a spawning ground for tuna and there are a few locations where they might do this. The Med should really be a haven for Blue Fins, it does have its hotspots.
Vicki: Why was the fish in such shallow waters?
Brad: That doesn’t bode well for the tuna, they are not normally in so close to the shore, so it probably meant that it was unwell.
Vicki: There are sharks here though, and you’ve recently been swimming with them haven’t you? Should I be freaking out?
Brad: The presence of sharks in our waters is a very good sign that the sea life is improving. The Smoothhound sharks, reported sightings have been of up to 18 animals together, are potentially here to breed. They eat shellfish, they don’t have teeth, they grind their food, they are not harmful to us in anyway. This is a very good mate, in amongst all the grim facts: the Balearic Islands are one of the healthier areas in the Med.
Vicki: When you first arrived here you came with the idea that Majorca was pretty much dead underwater didn’t you?
Brad: I did, but since I have lived here I have been taken to some pretty magical places around Majorca. I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing now with Ondine if there wasn’t some hope that we could improve the situation. I’m here to help people find a healthy respect for the sea.
Vicki: How do we support it, how do we change it?
Brad: Firstly, just go and take a look. Go and look underwater. Go for a swim, take a mask or some goggles and stick your head under the water. People will have mixed emotions: they will be surprised at the amount of animals and wild life down there, and distraught at the amount of plastics. That’s why we started the Dos Manos project. Dos Manos aims to encourage everyone to use their two hands to pick up litter from the beach and coast line of Majorca. It’s about raising awareness about marine debris and pollution. But it’s not “just” a beach cleanup. It’s underlying goal is to change mindsets. We know it will take generations to change attitudes, but Poc a Poc we are doing that. Anybody can do this, you don’t have to join an Association. Just go to the beach and collect rubbish. Take a photo of what you have picked up and then send us the photo. It’s an important activity for children to do as well.
We are going into schools to show them and teach them about plastics and the sea. We have taught them about how plastic is made, how it ends up in the sea, and how it affects animals. We take the kids down to the beach to do a scientific survey using a quadrant to accurately count how many pieces of plastic and micro-plastics there are present there. The results are always very worrying. The visits we have done have been very successful but we need funding and time in order to get this project going properly, both of which we are short of.
Vicki: And you’ve got the stingray survey going as well.
Brad: Yep, they went out today to start the tagging. But right now we are focusing on something which could prove to be very important to our island. We are trying to get the waters around the island of Dragonera to be declared a Marine Protected Area (MPA).
Vicki: I thought that it already was protected.
Brad: No mate, that’s the land, the sea is not protected at all. A ten strong group of prominent marine biologists and locals have put together a proposal which is being presented to the government asking for Dragonera to become an MPA.
Vicki: As our economy in Majorca changes and turns increasingly towards the more “sporty” and “luxury” ends of tourism so our interest to keep these resources should increase shouldn’t it?
Brad: One of the benefits that comes from having a healthy marine ecosystem is increased financial incomes: more fish to look at, means more divers and snorkellers, more visitors, more income. On an island where tourism is the biggest industry you’d think that a lot more attention would be paid to keeping the waters around it pristine. MPAs are the key and the soul of a sustainable economy when it comes to the sea. Every industry in our little island would benefit. The main objective of our team is to create an efficient network of Marine Protected Areas around the Balearic Islands. Strategically planning by merging the financial benefits of healthy marine ecosystems, applied sciences and management strategies. We think that a reasonably well-managed network of MPAs in the Balearic Islands would be hugely positive for nature and society itself. A recent petition from the Town Council of Andratx has been put forward for a marine reserve to be declared in the waters of Sa Dragonera so we have presented a proposal for consideration during the phases of design, declaration and management of the new MPA. The proposal addresses aspects regarding the geographical perimeter of the MPA, the regulation of the main uses and activities to be developed within its boundaries, the surveillance and monitoring program, as well as co-management mechanisms to support the participation of the stakeholders involved.
Vicki: What can we do to help?
Brad: Support us, join our Facebook page, sign up to be a member. Go down to the beach and pick up rubbish. Show the powers that be that this is something we ALL care about!
Vicki: It occurs to me that you always have to make the financial argument for what you are doing, but the environmental argument is even more important isn’t it? It must make you frustrated that you can’t just focus on that.
Brad: You’d be amazed at how few adults are interested in looking after our environment. To get the attention of most adults you have to talk about how it will affect them financially. It’s always the kids that get it, not the grownups. Kids are really going to be the ones to make the difference.
If you are either interested in improving the economy in Majorca or want to protect the environment then either way Ondine needs your support and your two hands. Get involved, it matters.