Kevin Bennett – WCA Intern
10/11/2016: Cleaning Beaches
After a couple of weeks of working with Bottazzi, a film crew arrived and spent a few days with us on board to get some footage of the whales for a short documentary commissioned by the national bank. The reason was very interesting. In Argentina they were about to release a new 200 peso bank note, and on this note would be the southern right whale, one of the countries national treasures. I felt it was fantastic that the government were recognising and iconising the Southern Right whale in this way, an action that surely can only benefit these amazing animals and help to protect them in the future. I hoped to get my hands on a 200 peso note before leaving Argentina as it would be a great souvenir to take home with an interesting story behind it.
The waters around Peninsular Valdes are a protected environment and for that reason the northern half of Golfo Nuevo and the whole of Golfo San Jose is free from commercial fishing of any kind. Before I had arrived in Puerto Pirmaides, Emma had carried out a beach clean, to the surprise of the locals who weren’t really familiar with the idea. Analysing the finding there was a lot of plastic and some pieces of rope, it was more human waste than commercial fishing waste. And to the credit of the locals and the tourists, for a popular beach, it was surprisingly clean. However we were informed of another beach on the peninsular that wasn’t quite so lucky.
Through a friend we were introduced to a local farmer and landowner who would occasionally have a group of school children come and help him clean up the beach in return for an Asado (Argentinean BBQ) in the evening. Part of his land included the Eastern coastline of Golfo San Jose where an ocean current would place a lot of marine debris. One quiet afternoon he collected us from the office and we went with him to his beach to see the situation for ourselves. The beach was amazing and we trekked along over sand, dunes, cliffs to a small sea lion colony. On the way we encountered Guanaco, various types of cormorants and a Southern Right Whale just about 100 meters from the cliffs. To our surprise we did also see a few dead penguins, cormorants and sea lions too, we took photo’s to document them but we were unsure of the cause of death.
The beach was amazing for other reasons too. We were told to keep our eyes peeled for fossilised shark teeth and although I wasn’t really sure what to look for I scanned the sand anyway. After about 20 minutes Alé, the landowner found a huge sharks tooth in the sand, bigger than a milk bottle top it was a huge specimen and probably tens of millions of years old! We continued walking but now scanning the ground more intensely. We also visited a beach that showed evidence of the Patagonia’s original inhabitants, the Tewelche. In the sand were rocks that were obviously not local, they were more like flint and had been worked, they had been carried across Argentina from the riverbeds closer to the Andes so that they could be used for making tools and weapons.
After exploring we began cleaning up the beach and it was soon clear that it was such a big job that the 4 of us were only able to scratch the surface with today’s effort, the remoteness of the beach also adds to the difficulty of removing waste, it has to be carried for up to 30 minutes to the track where it can be loaded onto a vehicle. However between us we removed large pieces of net, floats, weights (plastic containers filled with sand), rope, shoes, glass bottles and we carried it all in fish storing boxes that we found on the beach. Once we got to the truck, it was enough to fill the whole loading bay, but unfortunately it was just the tip of the iceberg.
Thoughout my time with Bottazzi one thing that stayed with me is that every trip was unique due to experiences, encounters and weather. I spread the message of the Net Effect literally to all four corners of the globe with passengers from every continent (except Antarctica, only the whales came from there). Together we talked about the problems and potential solutions to the issue of entanglement whilst we were treat to some of the finest wildlife encounters on earth. Giant breaching whales that created a thunderous noise as they smashed back into the ocean, very curios calfs who would often come within a couple of meters of the boat for a closer look of us, amazing views of huge tails as the animals dived to deeper waters, several albino calfs, mating behaviour and pods of dusky and common dolphins that were so fast they were almost impossible to photograph, these are just some of the encounters we shared.