Changemakers at sea

Changemakers at sea

18-07-2020Inaki Aizpurua

Last week seven students, participants of the Changemakers At Sea Project, joined the Save The Med crew for a 10 day long research expedition onboard a unique, old Norwegian fishing boat which has been restored and turned into a beautiful marine research vessel. The conditions were ideal for wildlife sighting, but also for finding all kinds of floating plastic pollution; the exact topic that brought the students to the boat in first place.

The student team, called “Kokua”, had participated in the Dos Manos School programme after which they signed up for the Changemakers at Sea project organised by Save The Med. They spent months working on the development of projects to raise awareness about plastic pollution and reduce the use of single use plastics. Despite the difficulty of communicating and implementing their project ideas during the lockdown, this energetic team managed to overcome most challenges by identifying the individual strengths and talents of each team member. They programmed an educational game to teach small children about the importance of the 4 R’s (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle), developed an idea for how to replace single use lunch packaging in schools for reusable tupperware made of durable materials, created creative artwork to raise awareness about the impact on plastic pollution on wildlife and more.

Their efforts were rewarded with an expedition at sea during which the students, already on the first day off shore, were lucky enough to spot a sperm whale - the largest toothed whale on the planet!

“We put in a hydrophone in the water. It’s a long cable with a microphone attached at the end that allows us to hear them”, Nacho, one of the students explained. “The sperm whale creates specific sounds, kind of like clicks, when it is searching for food. It’s called echolocation. Sometimes you can hear the sounds becoming faster, like many fast clicks, which means it’s trying to pin down a prey. And if it then turns silent for some seconds it is probably because it is eating. If the silence is longer, then it means the whale is heading towards the surface to breathe. That’s when we take our positions and try to spot it on the surface! We can also hear dolphins with the hydrophone!” he says excitedly.

During one specific day, the students managed to spot two different sperm whales seven times in one day!

“Team work is important. As soon as it becomes silent, we work together to spot it. We each have our positions on different parts of the boat to ensure that together we have 360 view of the horizon, so that no matter where the whale pops up, one of us will see it!”

“They are incredible spotters!” confirmed crew member Beat, who has spent many summer seasons with hundreds of volunteers on the Toftevaag. “Almost every time we have seen something, the students have been the ones who have spotted it!”

Once the whale is in sight, the captain approaches so that the crew can take photo identification and poo samples, a very smelly job! Meanwhile, the multimedia team focuses on obtaining images and footage for a variety of research and education purposes.

When the whale is well rested and decides to head back to the depths, it lifts its’ fluke high above the surface in a powerful movement that leaves everyone onboard shouting excitedly! It is impossible to tell who is more impressed; the students who’ve never seen whales before, their teacher who has joined them onboard, or the experienced crew who never get tired of the view!

During their days onboard the students also sighted a big pod of Risso’s Dolphins, several pods of Striped Dolphins and five Loggerhead turtles, learned to conduct scientific surveys and log data, helped with boat handling, snorkelled and explored the National Park of Cabrera by land and sea.

“When I called my parents to tell them what we had seen they couldn’t believe me! They had no idea that there are whales here in the Balearic Sea!” says Jordi, another student.

“Unfortunately, we’re also seeing much more rubbish than we could have imagined”, said Victor. “People are worried about COVID-19 now, but plastic pollution is in many ways similar to the virus when you think about it: Once it’s out there, there’s no stopping it. It spreads uncontrollably all over the place and reaches all corners of the planer, and it kills so much life” he explains.

“I don’t think people realise the effect it has on these animals. It’s one thing to see a photo, but when you’re out here and you see it with your own eyes, it really changes you. I wish people would be more careful and more caring” he added.

“People should stop buying plastic they don’t really need. We have to find a way to make them understand how important it is! That’s why we’re here! We are THE CHANGEMAKERS!” the students say with pride and hope in their eyes.

“This project changes lives” teacher Heidi said. “I’ve seen it with all the teams, this and previous years. They are still taking action, creating change in many different ways. They haven’t stopped. This project is only the beginning of a lifelong change, and the ripples are spreading far!”

The Dos Manos School Programme and Changemakers Project are made possible thanks to the support of OceanCare and Fundación Jesús Serra. For more information visit www.savethemed.org.

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