Oceana presents the first results from its voyage on board the "Ranger" and announces the catamaran's arrival in Europe

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Transoceanic Expedition from the Pacific to the Mediterranean.


April 14, 2005
Madrid
Contact:
Marta Madina ( [email protected] )




Oceana’s European Director, Xavier Pastor, and Director of Research and Projects, Ricardo Aguilar, today presented in Madrid the first reports from the expedition of the Oceana Ranger catamaran. After sailing for three months, both researchers have just arrived from Fort Lauderdale (Florida), where the organisation’s vessel is preparing to start the Atlantic crossing within the next few weeks, heading for the Azores and then on to the Mediterranean.

After raising anchor in Los Angeles (California) on 17 January, the Oceana Ranger traversed the waters of the Pacific before – having crossed the Panama Canal – sailing along the coasts of Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, Mexico, Cuba and the United States. The Oceana scientists and film crew went diving in the Cortes Sea (Baja California) as well as the national parks of Cocos Island and the archipelagos of Coiba and Cayos Cochinos (Hog Island), amongst other locations.

The objective was to document the current situation of the natural underwater environment (*) and check on the management of some of these protected Central American areas, which is being implemented by means of an innovative collaboration between governmental organisations, NGOs and private initiative, with the incorporation of local fishermen’s communities and even, in some cases, the armed forces.

This joint venture has managed to either eliminate or very significantly reduce poaching or illegal fishing, and has sparked off a clear recovery of the ecosystems in these protected areas.

The crew of the Oceana Ranger also corroborated the existence of serious environmental problems in the seas of Central America. Notable amongst these is the practice of shark-finning by Asian fleets and local fishermen serving these same fleets, the bleaching and death of corals due to climate change, and lobster and mollusc harvesting by organised groups of hundreds of divers using compressed air bottles.

Having now completed its juncture in the American continent, at the end of this month the Ranger will be crossing the Atlantic Ocean towards European waters. On its journey, it will be undertaking research and documentation projects at the Bahamas archipelago, the Sargasso Sea, Bermuda, the Azores archipelago and the Gorringe Bank, before entering the Mediterranean. These projects relate to the migrations of sea turtles, the accidental catches of these animals by the fishing fleets of various countries, seamounts, and the impact of bottom trawling.

Once in the Mediterranean,” divulges Xavier Pastor, “the Oceana Ranger will be carrying out projects aimed at investigating and documenting the use of illegal driftnets by a series of Mediterranean countries, and will also be working in collaboration with the fishing sector to reduce the impact of surface longlining on populations of sea turtles and sharks”.

During the catamaran’s stopovers at European ports, the Oceana researchers will also be expressing the organisation’s concern about the high levels of mercury found in different species of fish, particularly tuna and other members of the tuna family, and the impact that this can have on consumers’ health.

The team of Oceana divers will also be carrying out projects on the seamounts and underwater canyons in the Mediterranean, and will be collaborating with the various protected marine spaces of Spain and other European nations .

(*) Summary of the problems detected by the Ranger on its expedition across the Central American Pacific and Atlantic oceans

  • Global warming, hurricanes and certain coral diseases have altered the composition of coral reefs, putting some species in danger, such as staghorn coral (Acropora spp.).
  • In the Pacific, the effects of global warming and the “El Niño” phenomenon have resulted in serious damage to the Meso-American reefs.
  • Catching sharks to remove their fins is leading to extremely precarious situations in certain populations, with reductions that in some cases exceed 80%, such as the case of the Oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus).
  • Deforestation, the use of bottom trawling and pollution have all caused an increase in water turbidity, affecting the ecosystems of seagrass meadows and coral reefs.
  • The lack of herbivorous species due to fisheries overexploitation or epidemics has encouraged the proliferation of algae on certain reefs, altering their ecological dynamism.
  • The transformations that have taken place in some kelp forests due to the overexploitation of the predators that lived there has led to a demographic explosion of species that feed on kelp, such as sea urchins, endangering the future of these valuable ecosystems.
  • Some species of grouper, grunt, bream, horse mackerel, lobster and queen conch have been heavily overexploited and their presence in some parts of the Caribbean has dropped by between 50% and 90%.
  • The presence of rubbish floating in the waters of Central America is a constant feature which, on numerous occasions, reaches significant concentrations in the areas where floating gulfweed is found.