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MEDTOP - Monitoring Top Pelagics in the Mediterranean

Studying open sea ecosystems for the conservation of marine biodiversity


  • Combine technology with conservation
  • Map the abundance and distribution of cetaceans, seabirds and marine turtles
  • Use “animal oceanographers” to explore our oceans and protect vulnerable species
  • Construct a strong scientific groundwork for the management and monitoring of Marine Protected Areas
  • Apply our research directly to regional and international policy
  • Involve the general public through our citizen science program
  • Document the beauty and the challenges of the ocean                                                                                    


Why Marine Protected Areas?

Our expeditions began in 1990 and have allowed the establishment of 14 MPAs (Marine Protected Areas), 10 of which in the Mediterranean and 4 in Africa. From sailing to fishing, commercial and recreational human activities are regulated in protected areas. This regulation gives marine life the space it deserves to feed, reproduce and regenerate. Protected areas are proven to benefit biodiversity, fishing, tourism and communities in general. One of our objectives is the design of MPAs as focal points of conservation action.

Our surveys are focused around the Balearic Islands, the offshore extended National Park of Cabrera, the NATURA 2000 site “Canal de Menorca”, the Biosphere Reserve of Menorca and the “Whale Migration Corridor”. These are all areas of high biodiversity that span the Emile Baudot Escarpment, a 300 nautical mile long ridge cut by hundreds of steep canyons that drops from the continental coast of Spain to the abyssal plains over 2000 metres deep, of the Algero-Balearic Basin. This area, adjacent to the Alboran Sea is a unique habitat for great pelagic species like sperm whales, fin whales, pilot whales, dolphins, marine turtles, tunas, sharks and seabirds. It is one of the planet’s biodiversity hotspots, being at the intersection of three biogeographic areas.

Why Marine Protected Areas?

Tagging "Animal Oceanographers"

In our “animal oceanographers” project we equip wild animals with satellite tags. As they roam the open ocean, they provide us with crucial scientific data on their ecology and habitat use. The tags will feed back information in real time. We can see where and at what depths the animals move, follow their migration route and learn in which temperatures and in which areas they spend most of their time. Whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks, devil rays and the blue-fin tuna are all extremely mobile species travelling huge distances underwater. They are vulnerable to threats such as by-catch in fisheries, ghost fishing, noise pollution and vessel strikes. They are also what we call “umbrella species”, protecting them will have an effect on many other species within their marine habitat, in the Balearic Sea and beyond. Knowing the areas and the depths at which these animals forage and spend much of their time can help design MPAs and develop management schemes in many different sectors, such as energy, transport, tourism, fishing etc.

Tagging  "Animal Oceanographers"

Satellite Telemetry

The process where information is transmitted wirelessly to a source, is known as telemetry. Satellite telemetry is one of the most efficient tools used to track and study the ecology and habitat use of marine megafauna, such as turtles, seabirds, whales, dolphins, sharks and tunas. The information we receive is added to the Integrated Ocean Observation System (IOOS), a revolutionary platform that receives data from satellites, buoys, gliders, hydrophones and cameras. The IOOS receives the data at once and uses it to model maps with physical characteristics. This amazing oceanographic tool is used to forecast tsunamis, storms and even predict the movement of oil spills. The “Animal Oceanographers” program allows us to add a biological dimension to this set of oceanographic data, investigating the movements of marine animals in high resolution. These observations give us a unique insight in the relationship between human activity, environmental factors and animal behaviour.


“All procedures conducted in the SAVE THE MED surveys are non-invasive or try to reduce stress to animals as much as possible. Furthermore, all approach and animal handling is conducted abiding national legislation with regards to protected species, international best practise guidelines and under permit of the relevant authorities: DIV/BDM/AUTSSP/58/2015 MITECO”

Satellite Telemetry

Mapping Marine Life


We use visual surveys to help us produce a geographical picture of the marine biodiversity in the Balearic Sea. Not only do we record the presence of pelagic species, but we also record human activity, such as fishing practices, maritime transport and even plastic pollution. While surveying, crew is constantly on the lookout, recording all observations into our LOGGER database. Some examples of the type of data we can produce:

• Species and human activities distribution, intensity and abundance maps

• By-catch risk zoning maps 

• Marine litter and ghost fishing risk management maps 

• Vessel strike risk and noise pollution maps 

• Develop ‘best practice’ guidelines for MPA management schemes, focusing on high impact sectors such as tourism, fisheries, transportation, energy and security.

Mapping Marine Life

Where does the data go?

After the excitement and adventure of data collection out at sea, comes the harder part – making sure our research has a real-life impact. We carry out data analysis, reporting, presenting, publishing, training and lobbying, sharing our data far and wide. We believe in evidence-based policies - making environmental decisions based on facts and knowledge. With our surveys, we aim to contribute robust scientific information to both regional and international conservation strategies and policies for sustainable management.

The data we collect provides scientific maps and numbers for the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive and Maritime Spatial Planning Directive, as well as the Bern Convention, the Bonn Convention for Migratory Species, the United Nations Environment (UNEP - MAP) and Development (UNDP) Programmes, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and its General Council for Fisheries in the Mediterranean (GFCM), the Bonn Convention for Migratory Species (CMS) and its Agreement for the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea and Mediterranean (ACCOBAMS), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations as the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

Find out More

Find out about more our research on plastic pollution, the wildlife we encounter and how you can join us on-board one of our expeditions.