We meet the charming madrileño Antonio González Clemente who notches up another year as general manager of Palma Aquarium. He’s worked for multinationals (including Pepsi and 7 Up) but is in his element in the leisure industry: “For an interesting period I worked for leisure park owners Aspro, as general manager for almost eight years. We had Marineland then bought Aquacity and Aquapark Magaluf.”
He visited Mallorca almost monthly, joking with friends that if he wasn’t in Madrid, they’d find him here. “When I heard about the possibility of managing Palma Aquarium, I knew that living here would be fantastic – but I wanted to see the installation because I’d only heard about it. I came here and fell in love with it.”
He enjoys the leisure sector “because our task is to make people happy and achieving that, especially in these difficult times, feels very good.” Customer research is an “almost daily” activity, with visitor and tour operator surveys indicating a high level of satisfaction: “People working closely with animals have different sensibilities . . . a vocation.”
He found “a very pleasant and professional manager’s team” but made some personnel changes, admitting it was a difficult task. Then – with his “fantastic team” – worked hard on positioning the product for the future. “We’ve introduced more activities for seniors, couples and families.” Adults can now enjoy a sleepover by the Big Blue . . . counting sharks instead of sheep.
New for summer was their diving introduction programme. In two months, some 1,400 people (a maximum of three at a time) experienced the underwater world of the Mediterranean Garden’s stingray pool – for an accessible price of eight euros.
What about the recession? “This year we haven’t felt the crisis, but we’ve worked hard and have the biggest commercial team and brand presence out there.” Mallorca’s sole attraction open every day of the year, it’s one of the only ones giving residents a discount. And unlimited visits can be enjoyed for a year with their Ocean Pass.
“We’re just finishing our strategic plan. In the leisure sector you have to provide new activities continually.” Such as? “I prefer to keep them secret, as we don’t yet have Coral World International’s approval.” He laughs: “And because we have competitors too!” Events are “very important”. The place was designed with unique spaces for weddings, birthdays, meetings and conferences.
Antonio González Clemente lives in nearby Las Palmeras. He and his wife have a daughter and two sons. And four dogs: “They’re part of our family. Bringing them was a condition of coming here.” The animal lover’s Blackberry contains photos of the dogs and his little granddaughter.
Life in Mallorca is good for the tennis and golf-playing madrileño: “When I’m driving to work, I see the bay and I’m the happiest man in the world!”
Campaign to Save the Tuna
Palma Aquarium’s philosophy embraces marine ecosystem protection and conservation, and a unique exhibition inaugurated in 2010 illustrates the reasons for their Save the Tuna campaign. The initiative of CWI president Benjamin Khan, its driving force in Mallorca is the infectiously passionate Debora Morrison, education and conservation manager for almost four years.
The stark truth is that the bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) – named red tuna in Spanish and French – faces extinction from 2012. Mass fishing with industrial nets has replaced traditional, sustainable methods, accelerating depletion. Many juveniles never reach maturity, being towed to fish farms for fattening to slaughter weight and shipped to Japan – the main consumer and trader. Eighty per cent of the Mediterranean bluefin catch becomes sushi. “In Japan’s fish market – the world’s largest – 25 thousand tonnes of bluefin have already been frozen for future demand. I’ve seen it for myself,” Debora reveals.
The creation of a marine reserve south of the Balearics (the world’s most important natural breeding grounds for the species) would prevent fishing there and allow the animals to breed. “The problem is that bluefin tuna is fished in all its cycles: as babies, young, before and after spawning,” she explains. “We hope there’ll soon be a ban on fishing this species until numbers have increased.” Breeding in an artificial environment isn’t successful: “At the moment, they can only be bred until they’re about 12 days old and then they die.”
Education is the campaign’s keystone: “I’ve worked in the marine environment virtually all my life, always in direct contact with animals. Being able to communicate and share what I’ve learned over the years – the experience of working with animals, seeing different places around the world, and spreading awareness of issues – is fundamental.”
Everyone at Palma Aquarium is involved with Save the Tuna: “We took it to heart and just went for it,” Debora says. Although bluefin tuna lacks the emotional appeal of dolphins, seal pups or pandas, it’s an extraordinary warm-blooded creature (hence the red flesh). Able to regulate its body temperature, it can live in icy cold and warm waters, accelerate faster than a Porsche, dive down to a thousand metres, and make twice-yearly trans-oceanic migrations. For now . . .
Taking the campaign to the broader community is a huge task, but collaborators are growing in number. “We’ve been out talking to anyone who’ll listen.” Municipal markets, supermarkets (Eroski and Alcampo are collaborators), schools, hotels, restaurants and public transport are targeted with posters, flyers, stickers, and an explanatory booklet (in Spanish, German and English).
“We don’t ask for economic support, only that people spread awareness. When we tell people what’s happening, they’re absolutely disgusted – especially young people, who are angry because they feel (correctly) that the problem has been hidden, leaving them unaware that eating sushi was pushing this animal towards depletion.”
And reaction from Mallorca’s Japanese restaurants? “Obviously it’s a very difficult situation because bluefin tuna is probably one of their star dishes, and we have to be sensitive to their position. We make them aware of the implications and suggest alternatives (such as Albacore tuna or Atlantic mackerel) – or bluefin tuna from a sustainable source.”
Supporting Save the Tuna isn’t difficult: say no to bluefin tuna, spread the word, and sign their petition: a staggering 500,000 signatures (and ID numbers) are required to solicit Spanish government action. Wouldn’t that be significant . . .