Costa Brava’s successful ecological project

Spain’s Costa Brava is one of the most visited touristic place in Europe, and yet somewhere on its Mediterranean shores, through the Pletera Life Project (2014 – 2018), nature activists and local authorities (as well as European Union through its generous funding), successfully worked together in returning to nature a large area of paramount importance for the local ecosystem and its wildlife.

The salt-marshes of la Pletera harbored a series of lagoons that were drained in 1987 in order to build an almost 1 km long promenade and six apartment blocs, of which only one was ever finished. The deconstruction and restoration of the site has regenerated the coastal salt-marshes and lagoons, which are now home to more than 80 species of birds as well as other small mammals. The place attracts also many tourists which love nature, here being able to enjoy fresh air, nature’s finest songs (those of the birds), long walks, excellent biking routes, and a long list of water sports, from swimming to diving and canoe, all in a nature-friendly way!

For me this is a great example that nature still has a place in today’s social and economic reality, and through understanding and willingness we can contribute into restoring nature and wildlife to their lost habitats! Others places and its people and authorities should follow the example! Kudos to all that made this happen!

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The Islands

Islands are ecological ecosystems. Isolated from the rest of the world, the species here may have followed their own evolution path. It is the wildlife in islands that the famous naturalist Charles Darwin studied and made subject of his famous book on evolution: The Origin of Species, considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology!

The volcanic islands of Canary (Spain, Atlantic Ocean) may not seem much today in terms of terrestrial wildlife, since they practice mass tourism or intensive agriculture (bananas and grape-wines are main mono-cultures). But visiting the islands outside summer season, and ignoring the mass of hungry feral cats in wait for the next wave of tourists, the Ocean rewards you with many wildlife encounters (marine birds, crabs, various species of dolphins and even whales), if only you take a walk along its shores or a boat tour around the islands!

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Other interesting activities may be stars and galaxies watching, since light pollution in some places is really reduced, thanks to astrological friendly policies of local administration.

Palma star-watch

Have fun, if you get the chance to visit!

The Red Sea corals

The Red Sea is a rich and diverse ecosystem, and one of the 10 most famous diving spots in the world. More than 1200 species of fish have been recorded in the Red Sea, and around 10% of these are found nowhere else! Not to mention the dolphins and sea-turtles, or other charismatic wildlife species! 8 countries have access to the coast of the Red Sea, these are: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Yemen, Jordan and Israel (our recent tourist destination – city of Eilat).

The rich diversity is in part due to the 2,000 km (1,240 mi) of coral reef extending along its coastline; these fringing reefs are 5000–7000 years old and are largely formed of stony acropora and porites corals (mostly stony corals, but also many soft species). Corals are colonial animals which construct skeletal structure of limestone, often forming extensive reefs. Corals, or polyps, attach permanently to a surface such as a rock face, and slowly build themselves the protective structures and networks we see as the coral reefs. They mostly live in shallow tropical waters, as they depend on algae, that live inside them, as a source of food. The algae need sunlight, and through photosynthesis provide oxygen to the coral, and in turn, the coral gives off the carbon dioxide that algae needs (a genuine symbiosis relationship). Fish species are also dependent on coral reef for food, protection and reproduction.

Approximately 10% of the world’s coral reefs are dead. About 60% of the world’s reefs are at risk due to human-related activities. The threat to reef health is particularly strong in Southeast Asia, where 80% of reefs are endangered. Over 50% of the world’s coral reefs may be destroyed by 2030! A healthy ocean, which is paramount to the full ecosystem from which we are part, depends on the health of its corals (a map of world’s coral spots attached below). Today coral reefs are under stress around the world, from pollution, over-fishing, disease, digging of canals, unsustainable tourism and broader threats like sea temperature rise, which may alter the pH and cause ocean acidification (associated with green house emissions), causing coral to break easier and eventually bleach (die). And their natural recovery period is taking much longer than in the case of forests or other ecosystems, so their destruction is more lasting!

coral map

Other type of negative impact the Lessepsian migration (also called Erythrean invasion) – the migration of marine species across the Suez Canal (Egypt), usually from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and more rarely in the opposite direction. To this day, about 300 species native to the Red Sea have been identified in the Mediterranean Sea, and probably others are as yet unidentified.  While some alien species can have a positive impact on an ecosystem, either by fulfilling a need in an area under stress, or by providing an additional food source, others can become invasive, displacing native species and degrading local habitats.

The Red Sea is already one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world, owing to high evaporation. In addition, there are at least 18 man-made desalination plants along the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia which discharge warm brine and treatment chemicals that bleach and kill corals and cause diseases to the fish. Other countries are not scoring higher in terms of sustainability. Even Israel, one of the smallest countries in the world (however one of most densely populated) but with most advance economy in the region, puts a lot of stress on the environment, due to its limited space, semi-arid climate, high population growth and resource scarcity, which may lead to water shortages and long-term unsustainable practices to produce it, pollution, shrinking of the Dead Sea (a human accelerated ecological disaster), waste production and its disposal practices.

We can always make a difference as tourists to assure sustainability and health of the Red Sea corals! While your presence will give the economic incentive to the authorities to protect the corals through special laws, your sustainable practices in terms of plastic usage, or chosen means of local transportation, or eco criteria of picking local providers of services, or other personal consumption habits, or usage of ecological sun-screams, or underwater coral protection from touching or hitting! This way we will protect nature and we will surely enjoy a wonderful time, allowing future generations also to benefit from these underwater wonders!

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sdrdavCoral Reef and Tropical Fish in the Red Sea, Egypt

More professional pics here: Eilat Underwater Observatory, enjoy!

Marine wildlife – the Fishes

We recently earned our Open Water Diving certification, which allows us to explore the marine wildlife more in detail. It is the beginning of a long journey to discover the secrets of a vast space, almost 72% of our planet being water! The Ocean is producing 85% of the planet’s oxygen, which links us all directly or indirectly to it! We first learned during the course to respect the Ocean as an ecosystem, as it remains today an extremely important source of life, specifically because it is home for many of the first links in the Earth’s food supply chain, photosynthesis in plans creating oxygen in the oceans just as it does on land (estimated that plant production in oceans may be 10 times more than on land), and this initiates the process of creating organic nutrients which serve to feed more complex organisms, which in turn are fed by larger organisms, and so on… Animal waste and plant and animal decomposition complete the food cycle by replenishing the sea’s basic nutrients and starting the chain of life all over again. One of the most exciting things about exploring the underwater world is that here are less people, as my girlfriend and diving buddy answer when asked, which is true judging by the fact that the marine wildlife has not yet learned to fear us and so they don’t avoid contact with us…yet.

We will keep you posted on our journeys by the means of this blog, but first I would like to recommend an excellent new book I was reading, to learn more about the fishes, one of most diverse, misunderstood and under-appreciated (unless grilled on a plate) of the wildlife species, yet one of the most explored by humans today! Jonathan Balcombe, a life long passionate, ethologist and activist, through his book What a fish knows does and excellent job building the case on the beauty and intelligence of the fishes, their superbly adaptive features making them masters of their environment, but also on the immense pressure on their environment as well as the dangers of the ways we humans irresponsibly chase with ever evolving technology the last remaining half of once thought “unlimited” supply of food on the bottoms of the oceans, and the pain caused by the existing methods of fish exploitation today, understanding what it means to be a fish in a today’s human world! (some quotes from the book in the Facts section).

What a fish knows

Famous related quotes by Jacques Cousteau, one of the early fathers of modern day diving science (“oceanographic technician”, as he liked to refer to himself), as well as one great environmentalist and naturalist:

“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to Earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free”

“The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: We are all in the same boat.”

“The happiness of the bee and the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and to wonder at it”

“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one!”

Jean-Michel Cousteau: “Protect the ocean and you protect yourself!”

plastic underwater world

Above a picture from Moscow Aquarium, to help visitors visualize human impact on the Oceans and raise awareness!

Spain’s Costa Brava natural wild beauty

The Costa Brava (“Wild” or “Rough Coast”) is a coastal region of northeastern Spain, very touristic area due to its known wild beauty. When here, trying one of the many offers for diving or snorkeling on your own, you will be surprised by the thousands of fishes around you, all seems indeed wild and unspoiled! But to remember that marine ecosystems are very fragile in general, and an impact on the smallest of species may have an impact on the whole ecosystem! What governments can do to help, in general, is controlling/regulating fish farming and fishing industries, put in place efficient recycling policies to avoid plastic ending up in the seas and oceans, as well as limiting/reducing the use of industrial fertilizers through regulations, prevent untreated wastewater from being channeled into rivers and seas and restore wetlands and natural coast defenses which help filter nutrients out of the water before reaching the sea! What you can do is: to recycle, to consume pesticide-free products and to respect the environment in general!