Oceana on the Water
Mediterranean Expedition (2006): Overview
Oceana's main objectives for the 2006 Ranger Expedition were to document international illegal fishing in the Mediterranean as well as specific marine ecosystems in need of protection by the European Union.
Read a selection of expedition diaries below or check out the complete list of entries.
ROV and Pilot Whales
Today was the first day using the remotely operated vehicle ROV aboard the Ranger. On the way out to the research sight, most of the crew members were sitting in the kitchen area. Ricardo stuck his head in the door and yelled “pilot whales.”
I shot out to the deck; I don’t remember the last time I moved that quickly. I saw approximately 12 pilot whales from the front of the deck, which were most likely long finned pilot whales. I had never seen a pilot whale before so this made quite an impression on me.
Once at the study sight, we launched the ROV successfully. We were all able to see what the ROV was recording because the video was being projected in real time to a flat screen TV and computer monitors on board the Ranger. My favorite part was when we found a large octopushiding in some rocky bottom habitat. The images from the ROV were fabulous and the experiment was a total success.
I am sad to say that this will be my last journal entry. I will leave the Ranger tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. to return to Madrid. I will spend one day at the Oceana office in Madrid and then I will return to the U.S. My time aboard the Ranger has been a truly fabulous experience. The work Oceana is doing in the Mediterranean is vital for the understanding and protection of this ocean and I am honored to have been a part of it. I would like to sincerely thank the crew of the Ranger for making me feel so welcomed and for sharing this opportunity with me.
We left Aguadulce in search of sea grass beds again today. The first dive was in the afternoon and it was very hot onboard. After the divers returned, the rest of us went for a swim to cool off. The water felt fabulous and refreshing when I first jumped in but within five minutes, I was freezing. It’s amazing how cold ocean water is once you get offshore, even in August.
The second dive of the day was a night dive. During a night dive, the divers wait unit it is completely dark outside and then illuminate their way with bright lights. Many species of marine organisms are attracted to light and therefore come towards the divers. I was a bit nervous watching the divers disappear into the blackness but I quickly realized that unlike during day dives, you could actually follow the movement of the divers at night because of their bright lights and the glowsticks tied to each diver. It was very beautiful to watch the divers as they swam around like little fireflies under the sea.
Isla de Palomas
This morning, we brought divers to the Isla de las Palomas (Island of Doves). I stayed on the Ranger where Carlos put me on a bubble-watching mission. While diving, you breathe in air from your tank that later is exhaled to rise to the surface.
A group of four or five divers emits a steady stream of bubbles that is distinguishable between the waves. It's pretty straightforward to keep them within sight, but like everything with the sea, this can change rapidly. During the dive, the group might stray into twos or threes and if the wind blows it can obscure the pattern of bubbles. The Ranger maintains a safe distance from the divers and we also warn away other boats.
In the afternoon, we arrive in Cartagena, a beautiful city full of quiet meandering streets. I went walking through different plazas and to shake off the heat that has clung to us the past week I drank three ice slush drinks (two lemon and one horchata). During this ramble through the city, I met several people from Morocco and ate dinner in a Moroccan restaurant.
In this part of Spain, there is an intangible sensation of the proximity to Africa. It highlights the socio-political human lines crossed by marine fish, turtles, dolphinsand other animals. To follow them and document human impacts, it will be obligatory for us to also explore the African coast of the Mediterranean. Ranger's upcoming plans include searching for illegal driftnets on the Moroccan coast.
Last night, we laid anchor outside of the Mar Menor (Minor Sea) and this morning, we passed through a drawbridge and into this unusual world unto itself. In the weightless air of early morning, we moved ahead into emerald waters and thousands, actually more like MILLIONS of jellyfish.
We lined up along the front railing and my jaw dropped as jellies began to float by in groups of five, ten, thirty at a time in a continuous flow past both sides of the pontoon. Amazing, and in numbers beyond the imagination. Ricardo counted 2,774 passing between the pontoons of the catamaran in order to try and estimate how many there might be.
These jellies were unlike any I’ve seen before. Words are probably insufficient but to give an idea they are as spectacular as tutus of professional ballerinas, extravagant Easter bonnets or works of modern art in blown glass. The ones known as “fried eggs” (Cotylorhiza tuberculata) have a bell with soft edges the color of peaches. Beneath this cap, they reach out with four “arms” that are used to capture food. And the entire animal is surrounded by a mantle of brilliant jewels in shades of purple and white. When you approach them underwater, they pulse habitually and unconsciously, circulating nutrients through their body and maintaining their position in the water column.
Today I had the beautiful opportunity to dive with the Ranger’s official photographers and expert divers -- Juan, Thierry, Pilar and Jorge. We entered the water with a giant stride at the foot of the catamaran, to land in a great tide of non-stinging jellies. We spent an hour and a half observing them from above and below, from every possible angle. It’s easy to get caught up in watching the swaying tentacles, small and large groups of jellies turning in the light as it passes through the water.
How very cool to be able to dive on board the Oceana catamaran. At the same time, how amazing the amount of work to make it possible. Each day, the crew and Riki make plans on where we can find marine life, document human impacts and get into the water in a safe and straightforward way. On arrival, the next step is to look for an appropriate site with enough density of flora and fauna of species that we are interested in.
The divemaster stores all of the dive gear in the bow, conducting maintenance and repairs in a very small space. Between dives, the tanks are refilled with air one by one using a generator on deck. Before and after every dive, the photographers have to care for, clean and dry the video, still cameras and the custom waterproof cases used to carry their equipment underwater.
Did I mention yet how much fun it was to dive from the Ranger? On entering the water, you can look back at a distorted version of the boat -- the masts, pontoons, the Oceana logo. Below the jellies in this shallow sea, you land in a seascape full of marine plants native to this area, a carpet of short curly leaves (Caulerpa prolifera) with long strands of linguini reaching up in between. Colonial sea squirts and other animals grow on top of the leaves and fish hide underneath.
Before lunch, we left behind the scuba equipment and Juan and I returned to the warm water to free dive. We saw more jellies including the second species that was less common though just as impressive in its beauty and its extraterrestrial nature. The pearl-colored bell with a scalloped purple edge of Rhizostoma pulmo opens and shuts around complicated arms shaped like cauliflower or brains. The oceanographer we hosted on board mentioned the its latin name pulmo refers to its appearance reminiscent of a human lung.