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Saving Ibiza’s underwater treasures

The Ibiza Preservation Foundation teams up with marine biologist Manu San Félix to develop an app that helps protect Ibiza’s Posidonia meadows.

Saving Ibiza’s underwater treasures

The Ibiza Preservation Foundation teams up with marine biologist Manu San Félix to develop an app that helps protect Ibiza’s Posidonia meadows.

Under the translucent surface of the Mediterranean lies a secret world of rolling green meadows. Instead of the fluttering butterflies and ladybirds normally associated with the word meadow, these underwater wonderlands are populated with sea creatures making a home for themselves amongst the swaying leaves of Posidonia oceanica. Unfortunately, these beautiful plains teeming with wildlife are under threat, for the main part, by the anchors of pleasure yachts, bilge water, and pollution. Luckily, the team at Ibiza Preservation Foundation has collaborated with marine biologist Manu San Félix to extend his Posidonia MAPS mobile app to Ibiza, allowing boating enthusiasts and skippers to choose anchoring spots that will not destroy the local environment. 

Unlike seaweed, Posidonia is a flowering plant that produces fruit, roots and leaves, gathering to create enormous colonies akin to old growth forests. The Balearics is home to Posidonia meadows dating back thousands of years. In fact, one such colony discovered in 2006 off the coast of Ibiza is estimated to be 100,000 years old. Not only do the Posidonia meadows create a safe home for myriad sea creatures, they also help keep the water clean, produce enormous amounts of oxygen and provide sand for Ibiza’s beaches. It’s estimated that just the meadow located in Ses Salines nature reserve produces enough oxygen and absorbs enough carbon dioxide to provide the entire population of Ibiza with clean air every single day.

Manu San Félix considers himself an adopted son of Formentera. The Madrid-born marine biologist first came to the Balearics in 1992 and within the year had moved here permanently. His passion has always been conservation and it wasn’t long before he became one of the most active ambassadors for the protection of the Balearic Posidonia meadows. San Félix is also an award-winning underwater photographer, videographer and master diver, all of which is combined with his knowledge as a marine biologist. Despite his commitment to working across the globe for National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project, he still finds time to commit to the protection of his beloved islands. 

“I fell in love with Posidonia when I saw my first meadow,” says San Félix. “I’m a very restless person which makes me very active and when I saw the problem, I felt partly responsible. I had to do something.” In the last 50 years alone, approximately 34% of the Balearic Posidonia meadows have been destroyed. Just one single day during the summer season Ses Salines nature reserve sees up to 4000 boats and yachts pass by. One anchor alone can destroy several square meters of meadow and it can take decades to regenerate. “I realised that people can’t see it,” he continues. “I see it because I’m under the water all the time, but other people just don’t see it.” San Félix knew it wasn’t willful ignorance that was destroying the meadows but a lack of information. So, he did something about it. 

Posidonia MAPS is an easy to use mobile app that helps skippers and boating enthusiasts to track the best places to drop anchor. When San Félix is not photographing Arctic waters or the coastal seas off isolated islands, he is busy mapping the Balearic Mediterranean, having so far completed charts for the meadows of Formentera and now moving onto Ibiza. Posidonia MAPS enlists sonar equipment, drones and divers to map and track the location of meadows and sea vessels. “We have apps to help us find parking spots,” says San Félix. “So why not one to help us park boats?” A stay in Ibiza should always include at least one day on the water and now with Posidonia MAPS, sea lovers can enjoy the beauty of the Med while protecting it at the same time. 

The app is free to download and has received support from almost all sectors including some of Ibiza and Formentera’s most well-known businesses such as Juan y Andrea, OD Group, Marina Ibiza, the Charter Association of Ibiza, LOEWE, the Able Matutes Foundation and Beso Beach. Now with the backing of the Ibiza Preservation Foundation, the project is at full steam with plans to map the whole island and eventually add Menorca and Mallorca. San Félix is positive about the future, believing in the aptitude of humans to turn things around. “The message is loud and clear,” he says. “We have the solutions, the knowledge and the technology to change. I really think we have the capacity to do things better.” It’s a refreshing attitude amongst the dire news feeds of environmental disaster but San Félix has seen enough of the world to know that time is of the essence. “Also, we have no other alternatives,” he adds. 

San Félix thinks individuals can do a lot to help protect the environment and encourages people to share information. “The best thing for people to do is introduce others to the Posidonia MAPS app and share it with people who like to go out on boats,” says San Félix. “And talk about what things they are doing to help the situation. There are so many people doing so many wonderful things. I really believe that together we can find the solutions. I’m convinced we can do it and that’s why I continue this work.” 

Available for both iPhone and Android, the Posidonia MAPS app is facilitated by GPS, helping skippers find the best anchorage closest to them while also providing lots of information and beautiful photographs of the underwater world. It’s a wonderful example of technology and human spirit coming together to find workable solutions that help protect the environment and enhance our enjoyment of it too.

Photography courtesy of Manu San Félix