April 15, 2023

In our second mission we went below the sea. Here’s why

We’ve all seen the shocking images of floating garbage patches in our oceans and washed up plastic piles on our beaches. But the much bigger problem lies below the surface.

We’ve all seen the shocking images of floating garbage patches in our oceans and washed up plastic piles on our beaches. But the much bigger problem lies below the surface. 75% of all ocean plastic sinks down to the bottom of the sea, where it suffocates marine life and is almost never retrieved.

In our second mission, we teamed up with Coral Soul from Spain to clean up the ocean floor 40 meters below the sea, and save a marine paradise from slowly turning into a coral graveyard. We supplied the team with the operational financing needed to get the job done, and with modern diving tech to increase efficiency and safety under water. And we got a glimpse into the beautiful and delicate world of a 400.000 year old coral reef.

Why we need to clean up ocean floors

Ocean plastic has a devastating effect on marine life. If it sinks to the ocean floor and comes in contact with corals, the odds of them dying rise from 4% to nearly 90%. This is a massive problem, not least because coral reefs are rare. They make up less than 1% of the ocean. And yet, they house nearly one-quarter of all ocean species. If corals die, that biodiversity dies as well.

And this problem is particularly severe off the coast of La Herradura, Spain, which is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in all of the Mediterranean.

The waters of La Herradura host an abundance of colorful marine life of all sizes, species and ecosystem functions, like dolphins, colorful fish, octopus, and countless corals, including the critically endangered Orange Tree coral.

But sadly, this ecosystem has been in decline for decades. What used to be a marine paradise has become under stress from pollution that threatens not only the future of the coral reef, but also all the life that depends on it.

More than 20% of the underwater pollution in the area comes from the fishing industry, made of up nets, fishing lines and other debris. And even though these grounds are technically protected from commercial fishery, the government is not enforcing its own laws.

A pile of netting on the ocean floor

That’s why our partner Marina founded Coral Soul in 2021. She and many other locals had been pushing for government action to combat the pollution crisis but in the face of political inaction, they realized they needed to take action themselves.

Who we’re working with

Coral Soul is the one organization that is facing the problem head-on. Marina has brought together a team of professional divers from the local communities. Together they go out week after week and do the difficult job of freeing the cold water corals from heavy fishing nets and other industry garbage. Without the restoration efforts of Coral Soul, the sunken fishing nets would slowly suffocate the ecosystems, starting with the coral reef that has been here for over 400,000 years.

When Marina started, 73% of the corals were seriously damaged. What seemed like an impossible mission eventually became a successful operation. Today there are more than 30 volunteers working together to save the reef.

The Planet Wild team with Coral Soul

Three times per week they dive down to 40m and beyond, to carefully free the reef from as many fishing nets as possible.

Why Planet Wild got involved

The work Coral Soul does is challenging. Diving at these depths requires technical diving skills that go well beyond normal scuba diving. The pressure down there compresses the air in your lungs so much that you use up much more air for every single breath. Technical divers therefore use heavy rebreathers that recycle the exhaled oxygen back into the system to increase bottom time and that require special training to use.

Adding to the challenge are the strong and unpredictable underwater currents at La Herradura. They can make the dive extremely strenuous and even dangerous, as they make it harder to get to your target, or react to changed circumstances. And even worse: strong currents mean more physical labor needed to move around or stay at your working location. This uses up oxygen faster and depletes the most precious resource down there: time. But there’s something we can do to help!

Your support

On our second mission, the Planet Wild community has equipped Marina and her team with two underwater scooters, also known as “diver propulsion vehicles”. These allow them to navigate the strong currents with ease and reach their destinations faster, making each single dive that much more effective.

An image of two underwater scooters

But that’s not all: Marina has managed to build up a highly professional operation - where throughout all these difficult dives, there has not ever been a single incident. And this crucial work needs support too. That’s why we’re funding one month of Coral Souls operational cost, covering the work of Marina and the back office team, who do the work necessary to keep the organization going. They complement the field work by raising awareness and educating communities in the whole region about the threats to local marine life, and of course do all  the meticulous planning necessary for each dive.

Seeing the team in action has been truly impressive. Experiencing their technical skills first hand  and witnessing the  community spirit that is ingrained into Coral Souls DNA was just super inspiring. Watch the video below to see for yourself.

The impact

Coral Soul’s efficiency is well documented in empirical reports. But you can also  literally see it with your own eyes. Areas that used to be covered by debris and damaged corals have been transformed into areas full of life, color and great coral coverage. We have documented the before and after in our video.

An image of the trash taken from the ocean floor

If Coral Soul weren't doing this work, the coral population would decline rapidly, as would the habitat they create, the biodiversity that thrives on it and the livelihoods that depend on it. Coral Soul is making sure that trend is reversed.

The tech we equipped them with, allows the team to do their work more effectively than ever for many years to come. Our financial support helps them continue operating despite limited funding and a small headcount.

We’re proud that the Planet Wild community has helped bring Coral Soul closer to their goal: restoring all of the corals of this precious underwater landscape and raising enough awareness to have its protections enforced for the long-haul.

A personal note

A huge thank you goes out to our community of early backers, who have supported this ocean cleanup, and who have believed in our cause from the beginning. Even as we’re just starting to build our track record. You guys rock! I promise we’ll do everything we can to make you proud of what we’ll achieve together.

It was so exciting to see our second mission come to life exactly 30 days after our first. In Germany there is a saying that everything you do twice becomes a tradition. And that sums up our commitment very well. From now on, we’ll take you on a new mission every month. On the very day this blogpost is scheduled for publishing, I’ll already be on the ground for our next one: planting thousands of trees to help turn a gigantic dying forest monoculture into a new climate-resilient and biodiverse forest ecosystem.

I look forward to sharing more with you very soon.

Markus Gilles

Co-Founder, Planet Wild

A bison wearing sunglasses

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