Marcial Bardolet Richter watches over the protection of seagrass beds, which play a particularly important role in the marine ecosystem of the Mediterranean. Presented by TUI Care Foundation (Video lasts 6 min 50 sec.) | Video by Nova Producciones

Neptune grass produces oxygen and is considered the “lungs of the Mediterranean”. It is because of it that the Balearic waters are so crystal clear. It is a typical endemic plant of the Mediterranean. The seagrass meadows it forms is the basis of important marine ecosystems. “They are not only a habitat for fish and other marine animals but also play an important role for the climate and the quality of the air we breathe every day as carbon dioxide reservoirs. At the same time, the leaves catch dirt particles and ensure clear water. The plants also protect the beaches from erosion, because the long leaves weaken the waves,” explains Marcial Bardolet Richter.

The Mallorcan with German roots has been committed to protecting the aquatic plant for many years. Since 2017, he has headed the department for monitoring seagrass meadows at the Balearic Ministry of the Environment. In addition, Bardolet is a member of the “Posidonia Mediterranean Network”, which works closely with the French Biodiversity Office to strengthen nature conservation throughout the Mediterranean.

Marcial Bardolet Richter has been head of the seagrass monitoring department at the Balearic Ministry of the Environment since 2017.

“The Balearic Islands are themselves surrounded by seagrass carpets of around 650 square kilometres near the coast,” says Bardolet. The plants are also the largest sand producer of all. “Snails and mussels that live in the seagrass and whose shells crumble after they die become the fine, white sand that we value so much,” says Marcial Bardolet.

Up to October, Bardolet’s team sails out into the Mediterranean every day with reconnaissance boats to check whether yachts and pleasure boats are anchoring wrongly. A total of 19 boats are deployed on the Balearic coast with the task of protecting the Posidonia. Water pollution, shipping and climate change are the main reasons why the seagrass meadows are suffering.

TV journalist Sibylle Tiessen and cameraman Agustí Torres on assignment at sea.
Related news

In 2018, the Balearic Islands passed a decree that strictly prohibits anchoring on Posidonia. In the meantime, there are several apps that indicate the exact location of seagrass beds with geodata so that anchoring is not allowed there. These include, for example, the seagrass app “Posidonia GOIB”, which was developed by the state government. “The cartographic maps are gladly accepted by boat owners and charter companies,” explains Bardolet. Those who have problems finding the right anchoring spot can also request help via radio channel 68. Incorrect anchoring, on the other hand, faces heavy fines.

But it is not only boat anchors that stress underwater jungles. Climate change is also causing problems for the aquatic plant. “The Neptune grass likes moderate temperatures between 17 and 20 degrees. Due to ocean warming, however, the water temperature already exceeds this value on most days in midsummer,” explains Marcial Bardolet. At values around 28 degrees, the seagrass beds are acutely and seriously threatened. “If the temperatures continue to rise, the seagrass density will rapidly decrease over the next 30 years,” warns Bardolet. It could take 200 to 300 years for the meadows to grow again.

Neptune grass is considered the miracle plant of the Mediterranean. Here you can see Agusti filming Marcial when he checks the state of the Posidonia.

Wastewater also damages seagrass beds. Turbid water from whatever source reduces the plants’ ability to photosynthesise. Intensive building development and a developed tourism industry that prefers clean, clear beaches for its hotel guests are also “enemies” of the natural balance.
The often praised crystal-clear water of the Balearic Islands only exists because of the Posidonia. The “dirty”, dead seaweed that washes up on Mallorca’s beaches in the eyes of many is also important. It protects the beach from erosion when the autumn and winter storms sweep over it.

Overall, Bardolet rates the cooperation with charter companies and boat owners as positive. In recent years, illegal anchoring has steadily decreased. In most cases, people are grateful for the educational work and are cooperative, says Bardolet. In addition, the public is now aware of the important role that seagrass beds play for the environment. “Nowhere have I seen more willingness to protect seagrass meadows than in the Balearic Islands,” emphasises Bardolet. This is because everyone agrees on one thing: “Clear water, good air, a healthy environment, satisfied holidaymakers and locals are what everyone strives for. And that is only possible with an intact underwater jungle of neptune grass.”

Cooperation with TUI

Support from the tourism industry: The project is sponsored by Europe’s leading tourism group Tui and its Tui Care Foundation. The initiative was founded in 2016 with the aim of supporting sustainable projects in destinations. The foundation focuses on the potential of the tourism sector as a driver for social development, education and prosperity. The group promotes sustainable tourism in cooperation with local people.