«80% of the fish we eat is from outside because we have no fish left»

In the Mediterranean, temperatures increase 20% faster than in the rest of the seas. Adopting effective measures is essential to preserve the correct development of marine life. In this context, the 'Reserva30' initiative arises, born in Formentera to raise awareness and commitment to climate change. At the head of the project is the marine biologist, explorer and photographer Manu San Félix, awarded in April with the “Initiative/company” award of the Spanish Geographic Society 2023 for his work protecting Posidonia.

How did your love affair with scuba diving begin?

I have to go back many years. I grew up near the sea and have always been fascinated by its beauty. I am from that generation that grew up watching Jacques Cousteau and Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente. I was a young boy who was totally a fan of them and they impregnated me, they conditioned me. I wanted to do something similar to what they did. I studied Biology and, inspired by his long shadow, I became a biologist with a camera.

Quote a memory of yours at sea.

I remember an expedition in Patagonia (southern Chile), in which we were lucky enough to go down to the Diego Ramírez Islands: the last southernmost land before Antarctica and the hardest sailing area on the planet. Visit one of the most pristine places, one of the few that remain; get there and find absolutely no trace of human beings… When you see untouched nature, everything is perfect; The sound, the smell is different… It reminded me of the cover of my Natural Sciences book when I was little, which was a beautiful drawing. When that marks you, when you are lucky enough to see it, you think: “what a wonderful planet we have, that not only generates life, but when it does so, it generates beauty.” That's a bit mysterious, and more than enough reason to take care of nature. Because seeing it like this makes us happy.

But the protection of the sea has not been a political priority, right?

Well, at the end of 2022, 196 countries, including Spain, committed to protecting 30% of the land and sea surface by 2030. It must be the priority. What I am going to say next is not a criticism, but an analysis of realism: we have a tendency to make paper reservations, created in documents, and establishing protected zones that do not really protect anything. In the Mediterranean, “protected” marine areas represent only 6% of the total. But in 95% of them there is practically no difference in restrictions between what can be done inside and outside the area. In fact, only 0.23% of the Mediterranean is conveniently protected from fishing, and that is nonsense. If we look at Spain, in the national territory, in the Balearic Islands, 21.6% of its waters are protected. You hear it and say “good”, but closed to fishing is only 0.1%.

And what does he propose?

If we want to continue fishing, we have to leave areas without fishing. It happens in agriculture and it happens in livestock, because if it doesn't the business ends. I believe we must make 30% of waters closed to fishing to ensure the recovery of species and prevent the collapse of ecosystems. We have to legislate with common sense. There are no fish left. We live in a country where we really like fish and it is not known that more than 80% of the fish consumed in Spain comes from abroad because, although we are a country with more than 8,000 kilometers of coastline, there is hardly any left in Spain.

What will become of the Mediterranean in 10 years?

If we act, if we do what we have committed to with 'Reserve 30', and also stop dumping untreated water, we would see the Mediterranean Sea rejuvenate, flourish again, resurface. If we do not act and continue like this, by 2030 we could have a sea in a situation of serious and, in many respects, irrecoverable environmental crisis. We are on time, but we must act now. When I was young, the greats, Félix and Cousteau, said it. So there was time, and we haven't taken advantage of it. Now, there isn't any more.


They call him the Spanish Jacques Cousteau

He has been studying the paradise that lies beneath the sea surface for three decades, and believes that his work can “make things better.” Marine biologist, National Geographic explorer and founder of the Vellmarí Association, Manu San Félix is, above all, a lover of the sea. From his early years he remembers dreaming of being Jacques Cousteau. Today he is a close friend of his son. His love for water has led him to promote the 'Mediterranean Reserve 30' campaign to protect 30% of international ocean waters by 2030, supported by Bluewave Alliance, which seeks to recover local fishing and prevent the collapse of their ecosystems. «It is not an unrealistic goal, and it would be foolhardy not to do this; “It is a very low minimum,” he points out. What he does, he says, “is not activism, it is giving a speaker to common sense.”