06 Oct 2017
Barcelona, Spain
Resource Efficiency and Sustainable Waste Management

In the basement of Barcelona’s Universidad Pompeu Fabra, just a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean Sea, a group of experts have gathered to determine how to best save the city’s bottlenose dolphins. For years, six dolphins had been held in captivity at the Barcelona Zoo, and in December 2016, the municipality decided to determine the best way to relocate those dolphins into the wild. This workshop is a key first step.

The room is teeming with experts, city staff, and students, all invested in the future of the dolphins. The result of the workshop will be a set of guidelines that can be distributed to aquariums and communities internationally — a document of best practices for releasing dolphins that have spent years in captivity.

Public events like this are commonplace for SUBMON, the Barcelona-based organization responsible for planning the workshop. Founded in 2008, SUBMON’s projects and events work towards a common goal: building a sustainable marine future and changing the relationship people have with the ocean.

With a background in engineering and masters degrees in oceanography, marine sciences, and the management of coastal and marine ecosystems, Carla Chicote is just one of SUBMON’s talented team members. Chicote is a project manager at SUBMON and in charge of overseeing some of the organization’s key projects. Those projects are as diverse as the organization’s staff — SUBMON’s team of 10 is made up of engineers, marine biologists, environmentalists, shark experts, veterinarians, and more.

Monitoring marine habitats in the Mediterranean and beyond | The Switchers

Changing how people see the sea:

In recent years, SUBMON’s focus has shifted to raising awareness about the public’s role in maintaining marine health. “We think this is the only way,” Chicote says. “Even if we have a huge project with a lot of funding, you need people to change their behavior and realize that our food, resources, a regulated climate, many sporting activities — everything is connected to the ocean.”

In response, SUBMON has launched more public campaigns with non-scientific audiences. One was a project called Mar Interior where SUBMON staff logged more than 4,800 kilometers as they visited elementary schools far from the ocean’s coast. Over the course of 30 days, the team gave presentations in 42 rural schools, offering students a chance to get a first-hand glimpse at the sea and the species that call it home. “Some of these kids had never even seen the ocean,” Chicote remarks.

Kids and aquarium goers alike are also benefiting from a partnership SUBMON has with the Seville Aquarium in southern Spain. At the end of summer 2017, the institution called for members of the public to help remove plastic and other waste from the ocean as part of its Message in a Bottle campaign. To put a face on the campaign, the aquarium said they were aiding the institution’s mascot, an adorable, long-eyelashed giant turtle named Chelo that dwells in Mediterranean waters. SUBMON is helping the aquarium with this sea turtle conservation project and has helped raise public awareness of other sea-related issues. “From our point of view, SUBMON plays a vital role in spreading environmental values through education on many different topics,” says Mar Pareja, a spokesperson for the Seville Aquarium.

Another SUBMON project, WildSea Divers, turns its focus to a different public audience: tourists. “The project is all about making sure tourism operators in the EU are sustainable,” Chicote says. “We have whale watching and diving, and we want to make sure people can travel and enjoy the landscape, but do it in a sustainable way. As part of WildSea Divers, SUBMON visited every dive center on the Spanish island of Mallorca to ensure they were following environmental best practices.

Navigating international waters:

Despite calling Spain home, Chicote estimates 40% of SUBMON’s projects are run outside of the country. Whether it is working on environmental impact assessments for the oil and gas industry or managing marine protected areas off the Greek island of Santorini, SUBMON’s diverse team means the organization is keen and capable of taking on varied projects worldwide.

The only challenge, then, is regulation, Chicote says. Look at a map of the Mediterranean’s governance areas and you get a patchwork quilt — a body of water divided into more than a dozen jurisdictions. Many of those invisible borders are disputed, making research into the sea’s marine health as much a political dance as it is a scientific mission.

“This is something that in the Mediterranean we have to work on,” Chicote says, frustrated by the limitations that regulations can put on research. “Countries won’t work together, so you develop conventions that end up as frameworks but have no effect as laws. The sea’s health should have no boundaries since our ultimate goal is to keep it safe.”

Back in the auditorium at Universidad Pompeu Fabra, the bottlenose dolphin workshop is just a small-scale example of the gatherings SUBMON is capable of planning. In 2019, the organization will help host the second World Marine Mammal Science Conference in Barcelona, bringing together marine experts from around the world. It is just further evidence of SUBMON’s efforts to start marine health measures in Mediterranean waters and eventually reach further shores.

Website: www.submon.org

Facebook: www.facebook.com/submon

Photos: Courtesy of SUBMON, Seville Aquarium


Hilary is a journalist, photographer, and maker of things. She loves working with entrepreneurs to share their stories and has done so around the world.Hilary Duff
Monitoring marine habitats in the Mediterranean and beyond | The Switchers
SUBMON Resource efficiency & sustainable waste management