MEDTOP Program

The Mediterranean is like a miniature Ocean, a hotspot of biodiversity exposed to extraordinary pressures from the sectors of transport, security, tourism, fishing & agriculture, energy and others.

It represents less than 1% of the global ocean surface, yet is surrounded by 22 nations and has about 1/3 of the world’s maritime traffic. All of this makes it a unique “laboratory” to develop and test technological measures for mitigating risks.

The open sea ecosystem – the immense body of water beyond the continental shelf – is the largest and less-known on the planet. At Alnitak we like to call it the “Blue Serengeti” and we believe it is critical that it is better understood and managed for the preservation of biodiversity, mitigating the effects of climate change, and our own food security.

In MEDTOP, cetaceans, sharks, turtles, tunas and birds serve as indicator species that help us understand the complex dynamics of the open sea, and monitoring human risks such as ghost fishing or underwater noise is key to assessing the threats that these creatures – and their wider ecosystem – face from humans.

On board RV Toftevaag, we combine slow sampling with volunteers with cutting-edge technology such as telemetry. Thanks to this work since 1989, our database is one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the Mediterranean biogeographic region.

The main products from our surveys are scientific data complemented with high quality multimedia, which are ultimately used as contributions to international marine biodiversity conservation policy and sustainable development strategies. We don’t do science just for the sake of it, and all our research is applied to direct and pragmatic actions for the preservation of the Sea and it’s natural wonders.

oasis tourtle

OASIS – Turtle Oceanographers” In 2002 we began implementing NOAA and Stanford University – Tag a Giant’s vision of “animal oceanographers” which consists in using highly mobile marine animals as “oceanographers of opportunity” integrating their telemetry data in the Integrated Ocean Observation and Forecasting Systems (IOOS). The results of the modelling of this data can be used to design MPAs and develop management schemes in diverse sectors (energy, fishing, transport, tourism, etc.) to mitigate risks.

Dead turtle in a Ghost FAD

MED GHOST FADs: In the summer of 2019 our surveys retrieved over 120 Ghost FADs in just 90 days to the south of the Balearic Islands, and the rise of these artefacts made us begin mobilising experts and institutions for an urgent basin-wide concerned effort to mitigate this particular risk. To tackle the threat of ghost fishing in the open sea, and in particular ghost FADs, we are acquiring data to inform relevant authorities and management bodies. Our aim is to map the core sites of Ghost FAD production, identifying the key factors of risk. To achieve this, we need the collaboration between research and conservation institutions, fisheries, marine fauna recovery centres and port authorities.

Underwater photograph of Risso's dolphins in the Balearic Islands

Offshore Risso’s Project: The Grampus or Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus, Cuvier 1812), known primarily as the “calderón gris” in Castilian Spanish and “cap d’olla gris” in Catalonian, is the fifth largest species of delphinid, normally inhabiting tropical and warm temperature latitudes. In the Mediterranean they are widespread but not abundant, with occurrence and movements still poorly known. This lack of robust data is why the IUCN Red List classed the Risso’s dolphins as “Data Deficient” in the region, until November 2021 when the conservation status changed to “Endangered”. Alnitak began monitoring the local population of the Balearic Islands in 2018.

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