On-board Diary: The Eolie Islands

Author: María Moyano
Date: June 7, 2007



After navigating along the Italian coast for two days, on the morning of 5th June we arrived at the Aeolian Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the north-east coast of Sicily. The objectives at this point of the campaign were: on one hand to continue with the search for and documentation of illegal netters; and, on the other, to make a number of dives to document the formation of underwater fumaroles. This interesting phenomenon is very characteristic of the area due to the volcanic activity of the archipelago.

On arriving in Panarea we contacted a diving centre on the island, which collected us on the Ranger and took us to the study area. As we approached, the air was filled with a strong smell of sulphur from the volcanic activity.

On diving into the water we were surrounded by several examples of Pelagia noctiluca, a jellyfish that ought to be just an example of the marvels of the sea, and is becoming an indicator of its decay. We began the descent, heading for the fumarole area and along the way we came across columns of small bubbles, which within a few minutes were all around us. Jorge and Carlos began to film and photograph this natural phenomenon. Once we had finished our work in this area we headed for an extensive meadow of Posidonia oceanica, with rocky formations crammed with giant fan worms that hid their gills as we passed.

At night we went out in search of our second objective, heading for the thousand metre zone, where the driftnetters carry out their activity.

On the morning of the following day we entered the port of Lipari and here we found the proof that we hadn’t been able to find on the high seas; a fleet of more than 15 netters is evidence of the illegal fishing in the area. After the respective documentation work we got ready for another dive with the objective of adding to the fumarole film archive, but this time at the foot of the “Vulcano” volcano. Underwater we discovered emissions of hot thermal currents, which produce strong thermoclines. We also observed large yellow patches on the rocks, caused by the sulphur emissions.

The following day we returned to Panarea, where the Oceana documentation team were able to travel around part of the archipelago by helicopter. The intention was to record the volcanic activity, record the Ranger during its research activities and attempt to locate the netters. From the air it was also possible to record the distribution of tuna fattening cages in the Mediterranean.

In the evening, with all the crew on board the Ranger, we left again in search of the netters. This time we had more luck than on the previous nights, as on the edge of the shallows at a thousand metres, although just a few miles off the coast, we found a large number of netters dotting the horizon. One by one we documented their activity and position, later advising the Coast Guard.