En route to Vigo - Oceana USA
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October 7, 2009

En route to Vigo

We left Valencia this morning a little after nine, chuffing out of the harbor into a blustery headwind. Maureen and I sat on the prow, watching Valencia slip away behind us. The yachts and racing catamarans quickly disappeared, leaving a skyline of orange, black and red cranes framing the coastline.

Valencia is a major port for international shipping, and as soon as we were underway I saw two massive cargo ships creeping across the horizon. They were like bouyant whales, exposed gullets crammed with a giant´s Legoland of interlocked cargo compartments. One spouted a volcano of exhaust and I wished for a better camera that would make it look like it was and not as a rectangular block inexplicably floating on the horizon.

As we slipped south, the resorts in the seaside towns appeared organized and indistinguished as anthills. Mario and Nuño unfurled the sails and Silvia told me to look for basking sharks, a large tiburon that eats plankton and has moved south earlier than usual this year. I looked out on the placid azure sea, and every tiny whitecap promised more than it delivered. Beside me, a set of curled ropes hung from hooks, each in its place and slumped together like tree snakes. Terns patrolled the waters surface.

It wasn´t long before I spotted my first bottom trawler. The rust-stained boat moved northward just closer to the shore than we; our depth was 60 meters and we had to guess that they were just somewhere north of 50, the minimum allowed for bottom trawling. There is a plant called posidonia oceanica that is slow-growing and constitutes the largest being on earth in the Balearic Islands, just north of here. This plant is critical habitat for marine life, and so trawling at less than 50 meters is banned. While Oceana is not currently actively pursuing bottom trawlers on this voyage, if we see something suspicious, we check it out.

It was my first bottom trawler, but it was not the last. One after another they came, all along the 50 meter mark. Cabo de San Antonio. White pocked cliffs. Longlines each with a different homemade buoyed flag little more than a colored rag.