The biodiversity of the Mediterranean sea and the impact of human activity

During one of our last days in the project, we came across a very unpleasant surprise… But let’s start at the beginning. We are in Greece now… 

On one of the days, we decided to visit the beautiful Tigania beach. Its amazing blue waters and robust biodiversity made it an incredible destination for the objectives of our project. During the first couple of hours of our stay there, we explored the rocks around the beach. We did a bit of snorkeling where we managed to observe a lot of typical Mediterranean fish species, the most impressive being the Mediterranean rainbow wrasse. After that, we decided to explore the rocks of the area by climbing them, where we found a lot of big crabs, some snails, and a couple of hermit crabs inhibiting some pretty beautiful shells. That’s when we came across something that made our day turn for the worse.

At the far end of the rocks, we found a dead baby dolphin. It was an infant, no more than a couple of days old. Dolphins have umbilical cords, like most mammals, that tear during birth. Like human babies, it takes some time for the umbilical cord tear to heal and create the belly button. The belly button of the baby we found was still bright red; since its size was average for a newborn, we could estimate its approximate age.

Our first instinct was to try to rescue it, but pretty quickly we realised that it was far gone. It wasn’t breathing and its eyes were already starting to deteriorate into a pale blue colour. Its little body was covered with shallow scars from the rocks it must’ve hit until it washed up on the shore. It was indeed a horrifying view.

We hear a lot about the impacts of human activity on marine biodiversity, but you don’t really realise it until you witness it yourself. To see this beautiful creature that didn’t have the chance to live out the rest of its life swimming free made us think and research the possible reasons for this tragedy.

Our baby didn’t have any large lacerations on its body so we could rule out being hit by the propeller of a boat or tangled in some fisherman’s net, even though both are significant dangers for dolphins and other large sea creatures mammals. Another common death cause for dolphins is parasites, and bacterial and viral infections, which can be especially dangerous for a newborn that hasn’t had the chance to breastfeed and get its mother’s antibodies. The source for a lot of them is fisheries. The small environment in which the fishes are bred and the fact that a lot of them are not native to the Mediterranean Sea make it a perfect environment for the development and spread of pathogens, especially harmful to the native species. Another very possible reason for the poor baby’s death is pollution, invisible toxins and marine debris we humans spread daily can be extremely dangerous even for adult individuals, let alone a baby. There’s also the chance that the infant got separated from its mother due to a boat passing by, or it could be a combination of some or all the reasons above. The species of common dolphins found in the Mediterranean may not be endangered but that doesn’t make the loss of this youngling any less devastating.

After we managed to pull ourselves together following the heartbreaking discovery, we tried to figure out what to do next. We couldn’t just leave its corpse there to rot, it was heartless, unsanitary, and dangerous. In Greece, the authority responsible for the sanitary burial of dead animals is the local municipality. We managed to find the number for the appropriate department online and the website noted that it’s open until six in the afternoon. At first, we thanked our luck that it wasn’t six yet but then we called the number. And then we called again. And again. And again. And again. And you get the picture; nobody was at the end of that line. No one cared enough about dead animals in the area to work until the time they agreed. During their lifespan, no one cared enough so they wouldn’t die alone and after their death, no one cared enough to bury them. These animals, no matter if they’re dolphins, dogs, cats, seagulls, pigeons, or rats, are the responsibility of the people the nation pays to give them peace and protect the rest of the wildlife and humans around them from the dangerous pathogens created during decomposition, but they didn’t care enough to even pick up the phone.

This is not a happy story but there are a couple of good things that we can take away from it. There are people that did care, maybe not the people responsible, but still. The people of our team cared. They mourned the loss of an innocent soul and tried their best to help it even after death. And the people who worked at the beach bar cared; they promised us they would keep calling the municipality after we had to leave and bury the dolphin themselves if they had to. So maybe there is some hope, at least with the next generation. We all still need to strive to make real change and reduce our impact on the planet, so things like that don’t keep happening, but we choose to believe there is light at the end of this dark tunnel. 

Ecoventure bit: Yeah… we are smart, but we also have a great biology student among us 😀 

The content for this post is part of our online blog called “Ecoventure” which aims to share our experience in the Erasmus+ Youth Exchange ”Ecotourism Ventures for Youth Environmental Education”. The project was financed with the support of the European Commission through Erasmus+ Programme. This blog reflects only the author’s views, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

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