Brad and the team at work saving the Med. | Save the Med Foundation
Australian professional diver, shark lover and passionate ocean conservationist Brad Roberston moved to Mallorca 13 years ago after having met his Spanish wife Bea while she was traveling.
“Bea is from Pamplona originally. We spent five years in Australia together and she wanted to come back to Spain. I need water to work, salt water preferably, so we simply looked at a map and saw a large Spanish island that is called Mallorca. It was a total blind choice, but a great one,” he said.
And no sooner had he set foot, or rather taken the plunge in Mallorca together they founded Asociación Ondine, an organisation for marine research and conservation. Five years later it had quickly grown and they decided, together with the team, to create Save the Med with the mission to “regenerate the Mediterranean basin through a holistic and integrative approach, contributing to the re-evolution of local communities into aware and active custodians”.
Brad, who started diving in 1991 and spent eight years as a diving instructor and guide on the Great Barrier Reef, admits that he is not diving as much as he used to or would like. He is now using the skills he learnt working with people to bring communities together in Mallorca and help them firstly understand the necessity of protecting and preserving the marine environment, and secondly, ways in which that can be done by working together.
Diving with 50 to 60 sharks
“Diving with so many different people on the Barrier Reef, I had to help divers in so many ways, help them deal with their emotions and anxieties” - Brad explains - “Just imagine how some people feel before they dive into the water with 50 to 60 sharks… this bring up so many different levels of emotions and once all the dots are joined up: any fears and anxieties lead to complete elation once they are under the water.”
“It was about understanding people and those are the skills I think I’ve brought to the Save the Med Foundation. My vision, our vision, is a clean, healthy Mediterranean basin and key to that is working with local communities and accompanying them on a process of evolution from stakeholder to custodian. What I have observed is that society as a whole, not only here in Mallorca but at an international level, has become so disconnected from nature and even from other human beings and that is one of the first things which needs to be addressed.”
“Furthermore, we all have to realise and accept that climate change is here. Just last weekend I was in Switzerland and it was in the mid 30ºCs while it was snowing in Johannesburg. Last summer we had a marine heatwave in the western Med., this summer could be even worse. While land temperatures are rising, the reality is brutal and we’ve got to do much more to mitigate it. It’s no longer a question of how we’re going to stop it, it’s how we’re going to live with it. Or rather how and if climate change is going to allow us to continue to live.
“If we continue to extract natural resources at the current rate and in the current form, it’s game over,” Brad told the Bulletin this week.
“And understanding what is going on is key. You asked me about the recent shark sightings in the Balearics and elsewhere around the Spanish coast which, as always, attracts so much sensationalist press coverage. The latter I get, it’s all about selling media and making money when most of the journalists, with all due respect, don’t know what they’re writing about.
“Obviously, sharks are not puppy dogs, they are apex predators. But each shark sighting close to the coast needs to be studied. Some of these sharks normally live at depths of between 600 and 1,000 metres, so why are they surfacing so close to the beaches?
“I have to admit, while I love sharks and have years of experience of living with them in their natural habitats, I’m not an expert. But, you will find that more often than not, the sharks in question are sick. They could be victims of all kinds of human activity, not to mention climate change, so we need to understand the bigger picture because this species, as apex killers, are vital to maintaining the balance of the marine ecosystem.
Dig deeper into our feelings
“As apex predators they keep the sea clean, they eat the sick and ill and also control marine populations, very similar to tigers and lions on land.” They maintain the eco status quo, so we need to be taking these sightings seriously and asking why. The changes occurring in the sea and oceans are clear to see. Just take the recent cases of turtles nesting in Mallorca. Changing sea temperatures are likely forcing them away from their natural habitats and we need to take heed of these signals. With land temperatures rising, humans will also be eventually forced to move away from their natural habitats in search of cooler and more comfortable climates and environments. Like I said, we need to be looking at the bigger picture.
“But, at the end of the day, it’s more dangerous to be driving a car than coming into contact with a shark in the Mediterranean, we need to stop being so sensationalist about things and be much more reflective. When people don’t understand something, the natural response or reaction is fear. And that is one of the biggest problems society faces today. We don’t understand each other, we have no time to sit down and reflect, we don’t slow down and talk to each other about issues or subjects which we’re concerned about and try to dig a little deeper into our feelings.
“The trouble is we’re all running around at top speed trying to chase the same goal, but what is that goal? If it’s one shared by most big businesses then it’s the wrong goal. I’m not anti-business, I’m anti irresponsible-business. If businesses had to pay for the cost they create to the community and to the environment we would see a series of very different and positive business models evolve. The world is not a limitless resource.
Out of touch
“We are so out of touch with the true realities and are untrustworthy. That has filtered into everyday life and society where there’s no trust anymore. And here in Mallorca, Save the Med, just as other NGOs around the world, is enjoying some great success in its promotion of bringing communities together again and accompanying them to thrive. We’ve been extremely active in Andratx and Pollensa and it’s working, largely due to the fact we take our time to build trusting and respectful relationships. One example of this is the partnership between Arrels Marines, a marine conservation NGO based in Pollensa, and Save the Med.
“In Andratx, the group Xarxa Dragonera Blava, which has emerged from the seed planted by Save the Med, has now an active role with regards to the protection and management of Sa Dragonera. It is starting to influence local government policy and has a say, and that’s a huge achievement. We’ve managed to engage local restaurants, fishermen, the local community, the marine industry hoteliers, for example, in the movement to protect and preserve the marine environment - they now understand and are taking proactive action, and the same framework is happening in Pollensa,” Brad said.
“It’s about building relationships in small communities, broadening the perspective and the realities that coexist and are happening in the area. It’s true, we need to make a living so we have somewhere to live, our kids can go to school and we all can go on holiday. And is that the be-all and end-all? No. If we don’t get to grips with what’s going on socially and to the natural world we’re rushing around all day for very little in the long run.
“We’re not only dealing with an environmental problem, but also with a social one, and irresponsible businesses do not help. Yes, the Balearic government did well with its single-use plastics policy, but it didn’t go far enough. Allowing bioplastics instead is not the solution but we all know why: plastics is a multi-trillion dollar business and these companies have top lawyers ready to fly to any corner of the world to halt or alter any anti-plastics legislation.
“The system is broken but every win, however big or small, is an important step in the right direction and we are seeing victories in Mallorca. More people are becoming receptive to this mission and vision and if we can continue on this path, there is no reason why Mallorca couldn’t become a little treasure in a very sick part of the world,” Brad stressed.
“And, the solution lies with us: the people, local communities, because governments and politicians come and go and they all have their own agendas. We, the world, need long-term commitments and the only way that is going to happen is by getting communities together and involved. Politicians, more than often, come from the system which caused the problem, hence the lack of trust in global politics and an impossibility to contribute to solutions if the same mindset that causes the issues is being used. At the end of the day, it is up to us and that is the message Save the Med and scores of other NGOs around the world are trying to get across to society before we really do pass the point of no return,” Brad said.