Gabriel Vianna and Felipe Vallejo: ”A more sustainable relationship between people and oceans”

Gabriel Vianna
Greenpeace/Paul Hilton

Gabriel, or Gabe as we normally call him, is another one of our Brazilian nationals on board. He is currently the assistant leader for the dive team, responsible for documenting the marine life as well as patiently holding campaign banners under water, among other tasks. And by the way, Gabe is our champion FAD spotter! Thanks to his eagle eyes, most of the FADs we have on-board, were found by him.
This is his first time to join a Greenpeace ship and for this marine biologist and shark expert, this trip enabled him to interact with his beloved sharkies once more while diving around the FADs. Gabe shares with us his thoughts on Greenpeace’s efforts to save the tuna in the Pacific.

As a marine biologist specializing in sharks and rays, I’ve always been concerned about the fragility of the populations of fish that grow slowly, mature late and have low reproductive rates since it’s widely known that these animals are highly susceptible to overfishing.

As a dive instructor I’ve also been extremely disappointed about the lack of care by some companies and governments about the health of the marine environment. The current situation of the populations of big fish in our oceans, including species of tunas and sharks, is alarming. It’s estimated that up to 90% of some species have already been fished out and, if we don’t stop overfishing now, our oceans will be empty pretty soon…

Something has to be done and that’s why Greenpeace is here. Being part of the Defending Our Pacific tour to help reducing overfishing and reinforce the need for marine reserves in the high seas has been very rewarding. This makes me feel like I’m doing my part towards a more sustainable relationship between people and the oceans. On the Esperanza, I’m the assistant dive leader and my duties include helping organize dive operations and providing safety for the underwater photographer and cameraman during the dives. I’m also involved in underwater activities that we do as well as keeping watch for fishing gear while out of the water.

We have done quite a few dives, and documenting the marine life under fish aggregating devices (FADs) has been taking most of our time underwater. Considering that these devices are banned from the area for the period of August and September, the number of FADs in the high seas are just unbelievable. Although the dives underneath these devices are really interesting, with plenty of life associated with them, it’s revolting to think that purse seiners come here and wipe out these entire micro environments that are artificially created. We have found several species of reef fish such as batfish, triggerfish and sergeant majors hanging out under the FADs, as well as juvenile oceanic animals like silky sharks. One thing that caught our attention was the high number of injured fish associated with the FADs. Beneath one of them, we found that around 40% of the rainbow runners with deep scars from squeezing themselves our through the nets. This is a sad evidence of the intense fishing in the area…

The other day we had a pretty intense moment when we dived inside a tuna purse seine net that was being hauled. Although we found no big fish inside, those walls of net closing around us were breathtaking. When we were back at the boat I commented to some of the divers how claustrophobic that felt and found out that it was a mutual feeling. We spent the rest of the day wondering if that was how millions of tunas felt during their last moments at sea, before they find themselves canned for a cheap tin of tuna…

Felipe Vallejo
Greenpeace/Paul Hilton

Felipe Vallejo is our on-board Dive Leader and he hails from Greenpeace Ecuador.  If  Gabe is our resident shark expert, Felipe is the whale afficionado! He also works with Gabe to ensure that whatever the dive team needs for documenting marine life is complete and prepared, ready to be used any time. This is his first time to be on-board the Esperanza.

I am one of nearly 20 nationalities onboard the Esperanza. It is really interesting to live together with people from so many countries, from all of whom I learn something. Every day.

My job title in this trip sounds nice: Dive Team Leader, and as you can tell from it, I am in charge of the diving operations onboard.

Before I get into diving, I want to tell you that I ‘m a lucky guy. Lucky to be in this ship, lucky that I can dive in these beautiful waters, lucky to be in Greenpeace but, most of all, lucky that I get a chance to do something to save our oceans. I know that thousands of people out there would like to do this -and actually do it in other ways- but few can be here! I try to do my work here in the name of all of you, and I hope I am up to the job.

Since we departed Cairns almost one month ago, we have been patrolling the High Seas Areas that we are proposing to be converted into Marine Reserves. We know that for tuna and marine life in general, the only hope is that a big percentage of the seas are protected from fishing. We humans just can’t be allowed anymore to take everything from everywhere, we have seen many examples, very bad examples, of what happens when we are.

During this trip we have done some of the most amazing dives.

Our main job is documenting marine life. You might think that being in the ocean where some parts are really deep -4,000 meters deep in most of this area- and hundreds of miles away from any land, this would be a difficult job.

But it is not so, thanks to the FADs (Fish Agregation Devices) set up by the fishing vessels. This devices are used to attract fish from all over, and when they are together, thousands and thousands of them, fishermen lay their gigantic nets around and take them all out. It doesn’t matter what species, it doesn’t matter what size. If they don’t like something they get (which is usually every time), they just throw it back to the sea -most of the time already dead. At this rate, we are going to kill all the tuna in the oceans in just years -not decades- so we have to act fast.

So we have been using these same FADs in another way, to help us find the amazing marine life that the oceans (still) have. Every time we see a FAD, the diving team -photographer, videographer and at least two safety divers- hops in one of the inflatables and gets in the water to document what we see. It has been amazing to be floating in the middle of the Pacific with thousands of fish of different species, including beautiful sharks, dancing around us while we just can’t believe our eyes.

We have also dived inside a giant purse seine net; we have dived with whales. It is a real privilege to be able to see all these life, and we intend to do something so future generations are able to do it too.

Greenpeace is trying to stop these FADs from being used at sea, we are pushing for a global ban of these devices that make fishing completely unsustainable. The ban, along with the creation of Marine Reserves in 40% of our oceans may be the only chance to save tuna from extinction.

Every one of us, no matter where we are, can do something to help our seas: be a responsible consumer, recycle, save energy. At the moment I am really glad to be doing my part.

  • Gabe we are so proud of you and what you’re achieving on the Esperanza. Keep up the fight and the blogs – we’re all keen to live vicariously through our star bio. Miss you heaps, so good to see the sparkle back in your eye.
    Love the team at Waves x

  • Steve Davies

    Hi Gabe, I’m very impressed with your article and the work you are doing. Also, I love the beard! Keep safe and I’ll see you when you’re back in Cairns.