He’s a friendly Aussie diving instructor, with warm brown eyes and trademark long ponytail. Brad Robertson’s obvious passion for the local marine environment could inspire you to don a neoprene suit and the necessary kit to explore this magical underwater world for yourself. He is also the founding president of Asociación Ondine, the NGO that’s earned kudos for its marine conservation efforts in the Balearics.
Brad first dived recreationally in Sydney and, after 10 years working in construction, gained his Divemaster qualification on the Great Barrier Reef.
A dive instructor/marine biologist named Jon Burnett helped him make the connection between the mechanics of diving, and understanding the marine environment. “He was a real character … typical sailor, big beard, big shaggy hair,” says Brad. “He was showing me all the bits and pieces and making me lick coral … our tongues went numb!”
Brad met his Pamplona-born wife Bea while she was backpacking in Australia. They came to live in Spain in 2009, choosing Mallorca to be near water. “I had to decide whether I would cut my hair and get a job on a luxury yacht, and be away a lot, or try and start something here that I knew – which was diving.” The barber lost out: the couple started outdoor-pursuits business Ondine Escape.
Dos Manos is about empowering people to make a difference.
Local marine biologists helped Brad adapt his former Great Barrier Reef presentations to the Mediterranean. Education became part of the business and “people saw that we were genuine about what we were doing.”
He’d heard that the Mediterranean’s shark population had been devastated but, on learning of a population of stingrays in the Bay of Palma, he dived there every day for three months. “I’d never seen so many rays in one spot anywhere in the world,” he says. He and friend Gabriel Morey (a local marine biologist, shark specialist, and today the association’s vice president) decided to conduct a 12-month stingray survey,in collaboration with youth sailing charity Joves Navegants.
The budget was estimated at more than 30,000€. Funding for the initial Mallorca Stingray Survey came unexpectedly: After spending a family day diving with Brad and hearing about the project, his “good mate” Stefan Hearst offered the necessary funds. “I still get goosebumps when I think about it. I was man-hugging him and almost in tears.” With this sponsorship, Asociación Ondine was formally established some four years ago, and its marine conservation work began in earnest. Activities now also include Marine Protected Areas and the Dos Manos beach clean-ups. The latter have captured hearts and minds, bringing together people across all communities to collect detritus from some of Mallorca’s most beautiful beaches.
On Es Trenc, 120 people donned gloves to bag and record data on more than 500kg – mostly plastic. Over a year, around 500 people have collected more than 1.5 tonnes of rubbish, and been part of a campaign to raise awareness of plastics pollution, and initiate a reduction in the use of plastics. One beach haul revealed 725 Q-tips– the subject of a planned TV public service announcement.
“Dos Manos is about cleaning up your world, whether for 30, 20, or five minutes,” says Brad. “It’s about empowering people to make a difference: they get the feel-good factor, post photos on Facebook … the whole thing snowballs.” In addition, a schools programme teaches 11-16 year olds about plastics, and dovetails with the science and maths curriculum.
“A few cool people from the clean-ups have become association volunteers,” says Brad, who wants to put the running of the NGO on a more professional footing, to attract more corporate sponsorship. Two of the largest corporate sponsors are Doyle Palma and Master Yachts, but more are needed to continue conservation work in our Mediterranean waters – on which so many local business sectors ultimately rely. “I’d like to think the moneyed side of Mallorca could financially support me and a team of three other committed people,” he says.
As individuals – and lovers of this Balearic paradise – anyone can support Asociación Ondine’s work by helping to keep beaches clean (Brad can supply Dos Manos collection bags), or becoming an association member. “The Balearics are magical and need to be looked after,” Brad says, gazing out to sea.
Photos by Xisco Kamal