A sailing ship with the value of science

The scientific ship Toftevaag returns to the Mediterranean Sea sailing under the MEDNIGHT flag

The century-old research vessel Toftevaag stops over in Mediterranean ports and becomes a sea classroom and travelling exhibition.

MEDNIGHT joins forces for an international volunteer programme aboard the century-old sailing ship

One of MEDNIGHT’s main objectives is to disseminate to the general public the problems of the Mediterranean Sea and the solutions offered by science through a network created with organisations and citizen participation. For this reason, MEDNIGHT has embarked on the Toftevaag, a research vessel that in 2022 will visit different Mediterranean ports, once again becoming a sea classroom and travelling exhibition.

In addition, in this partnership with Alnitak, MEDNIGHT is joining forces with an international volunteer programme on board the ship. The citizen science programme is called ‘Todos por la Mar’(all together for the sea), and in addition to including a travelling exhibition, it allows volunteers to enlist on board the ship to participate in its scientific expeditions.

The Toftevaag is a historic Norwegian fishing vessel that for 32 years has been engaged in research for the conservation of turtles, whales, and dolphins in the Mediterranean. In addition, it has been tracking illegal nets, the famous curtains of death, in a never-ending campaign against illegal fishing with driftnets.

Since 2016, it has also been one of the partnerships of the LIBERA Project, a network that unites society to tackle the problem of litter. This project is part of Alnitak’s mission, which has been working since 2001 to raise awareness of this problem in the fishing and recreational boating sector. In addition, Alnitak seeks practical solutions for the conservation of the sea by studying umbrella species such as the loggerhead turtle and the impacts of human activities on their habitat. It takes a holistic approach to the problem, with three main lines of action: knowledge, prevention and participation.

Since 2021, the Toftevaag has been flying the MEDNIGHT flag as a symbol of unity that aims to bring the most dramatic problems of the Mediterranean Sea to the public’s attention and to highlight the scientific efforts that are trying to solve them.

The Toftevaag kicks off its campaign for the conservation of the Mediterranean Sea with the raising of the Mednight flag.

‘Todos por la mar’

Between March and October 2022, the research vessel Toftevaag visited 18 Spanish ports in Andalusia, Murcia, Balearic Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, and 2 ports in Morocco. These stops go far beyond the provisioning of the ship as they represent a great opportunity for dissemination and awareness raising as well as to promote the participation of all citizens.

Ports visited in 2022:


  1. Almerimar (Almería) 
  2. Adra (Almería) 
  3. Carboneras (Almería) 
  4. Aguadulce (Almería) 
  5. Estepona (Málaga)
  6. Cartagena (Murcia)
  7. San Antonio (Ibiza)
  8. Palma de Mallorca (Mallorca)
  9. Cabrera (Mallorca)
  10. Portocolom (Mallorca)
  11. Andratx (Mallorca)
  12. Sóller (Mallorca)
  13. Colonia de San Jordi (Mallorca)
  14. Cala Ratjada (Mallorca)
  15. Mahón (Menorca)
  16. Fornells (Menorca)
  17. Ceuta (Ceuta)
  18. Melilla (Melilla)
  19. Al Hoceima (Marruecos)
  20. Marina Smir / Tetuán (Marruecos)

In the harbours the Toftevaag opens its deck to the public with its travelling exhibition “All for the Sea – LIBERA: Fishermen and Sailors custodians of the Sea”, showing the removed litter and encouraging the public to get more involved in conservation actions. It is mainly in these actions that the Toftevaag becomes an ambassador of MEDNIGHT, as it aligns itself with its values and contributes to the dissemination and promotion of Mediterranean science by encouraging citizen participation. MEDNIGHT is also a loudspeaker for what happens on the sailing ship throughout the expedition, disseminating its activities through digital content, social networks and events.


During the stops, training workshops were also held with fishermen and sailors, fundamental allies in the custody and conservation of the sea. Likewise, media were attended, and press conferences and events were held with collaborators, all of them actions that multiply the impact of dissemination and awareness-raising, in a perfect space, the research vessel itself and together with the researchers.

Learn about the Toftevaag’s mission in half a minute 

Citizen participation

Alnitak’s citizen science programme was open to families with children, secondary school teachers and students, university students and anyone interested in contributing to the conservation of the sea.

Along the same lines, the expeditions of the research vessel Toftevaag are open to the participation of the public, also promoting networking with other entities. During the activities carried out in 2022, 63 volunteers of different nationalities and between the ages of 8 and 73 participated. Special expeditions were repeated for young children and parents (VI Pirates) and teenagers (Changemakers) as well as schools.

“Changemaker” expeditions

This action invited the active participation of the public in 11-day expeditions, in which volunteers collaborate in all activities on board: research and navigation tasks, detection and removal of lost or abandoned fishing gear and litter, care and maintenance of the ship, theoretical content of the course “Monitoring the open sea”, and actions in port, such as support for the exhibition All for the Sea – LIBERA. This action is coordinated by LIBERA, OceanCare and the ASHOKA Foundation, with the support of Mednight.

The Toftevaag carried out 14 expeditions between March and October, involving 63 volunteers between the ages of 8 and 73.

VI Pirates expeditions

These are special expeditions targeted to families with young children. In 2022 they took place in June in Ibiza. It was a work of several days, very enriching and in which the crossing to Palma de Mallorca took place.

Schools on board

In the Balearic Islands, the Toftevaag made a sailing trip in which the crew was accompanied by the winning students of the “Kilometres of plastic for Iris” competition organised by 0 Plastics Menorca with the support of the Preservation Funds of Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza and Formentera. This is an environmental initiative against plastic pollution in which 626 secondary school, high school and vocational training students from 24 schools in Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza took part.

This expedition took place in July in the Cabrera Archipelago National Park. Not only were ghost fishing artefacts, ropes and marine rubbish collected, but an entangled turtle was also rescued, in collaboration with SASEMAR, the Guardia Civil and the Palma Aquarium Foundation.

MEDNIGHT visits the Toftevaag

In July the MEDNIGHT team had the opportunity and the honour to visit the centenary sailing ship again in the port of Cartagena, accompanied by a group of school children from the city.

It was an endearing experience for the crew and our team, as we share common concerns and objectives, many of which come to life on this very special vessel.

As Jon López expresses in the MEDNIGHT blog, “…between coffees, juices and toast, we listed the things that everyone can do so that the Mediterranean does not end up being a sea of plastic. How we can help preserve the species that inhabit it or how we can educate through the reality of a boat that has been sailing for more than 30 years in this old sea that, despite tourism, wars and inequalities, still hides wonderful secrets”.

We talked to Alex Sánchez, Clara Cánovas and Alfredo Humanes, Tooftevag referents.

Its scientific contributions

The main contributions of the scientific work aboard the Toftevagg have been the creation of 18 marine protected areas (MPAs), the reconfiguration of maritime traffic in Alboran and the Strait, the development of turtle bycatch mitigation measures in the swordfish longline fishery, and the involvement of the fishing industry in marine biodiversity conservation strategies.

With support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Toftevaag carries out the Wildlife without borders mission. The scientific baseline is to track turtles by satellite on their migrations, monitoring data on how they are affected by temperature, their habits on the move, and the effect of unfortunate collisions with boats or falling into fishing traps. During 2022, Alnitak set 1 satellite tag for loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), bringing the total number of tags used since 2002 to 90.

In addition, the Ghost Fishing project has been created within the OBSERVADORES DEL MAR platform. Ghost fishing is a problem linked to rudimentary, unregulated or illegal fishing activities that threatens biodiversity, sustainability of fisheries and safety of navigation. This project aims to create a multi-sectoral network to report observations, rescue entangled fauna and safely remove the devices for their appropriate management and discarding. During 2022, an impressive increase in the presence of rudimentary fishing gear has been observed, which is extremely dangerous for marine fauna, in particular sea turtles, and the safety of the sea. Out of the more than 40 m3 of rubbish collected this season, a large part was abandoned or lost fishing gear (APPA).

On the other hand, work is being carried out with fishermen to achieve a sustainable management scheme for the artisanal fishery of llampuga in the Mediterranean.

Finally, everything is translated into reports, impact videos and scientific publications to be presented in the relevant forums in order to influence national and international policies and strategies.

Interview with the captain of the Toftevaag on litter in the Alboran Sea

The Toftevaag’s scientific campaigns have involved the collaboration of some of the most internationally renowned scientific institutions: Earthwatch Institute, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Duke University Marine Lab, SOCIB, Hopkins Marine Station (Stanford University), NOAA, CMRE (NATO), SMRU (University of St Andrews), etc. It has also been a filming location for major documentaries by the BBC, National Geographic, ARTE TV, Thalassa, etc.

The 2022 campaign ended in Andratx in the best possible way: releasing two turtles recovered with Queen Sofia, thanks to the alliance between LIBERA and the Queen Sofia Foundation together with the Palma Aquarium Foundation and the Red Cross, and in collaboration with the Port of Andratx and the Guardia Civil.

In collaboration with the Queen Sofia Foundation

Sail with the Tooftevag through these short videos:

Next steps

In 2023 we will sail the Mediterranean again with the Toftevaag, and we will continue our work in all areas: research, prevention and innovation, alliances, communication and education, focusing on applied science, carrying out actions that seek to solve problems and involving more and more people in tangible responses that promote direct action and a change of awareness in the longer term. It will also be an occasion for social inclusion, providing the opportunity for disadvantaged students from public schools to take part in the event, and offering a “barrier-free” format for groups of people with disabilities.

The Toftevaag in 2022

Meet the ship’s captain

The captain of the Toftevaag, Ricardo Sagarminaga has been working for 39 years for the conservation of the sea, and especially sea turtles.

Ricardo Sagarminaga started with a project on the beaches of the Virgin Islands, followed by several years as an activist on the Greenpeace ship Sirius, and since 1989 he has been working on board the Toftevaag.

A “meeting place” in the Mediterranean Sea

The name of this old Norwegian fishing boat means “meeting place” in Viking, and that is what it is, since it was restored 32 years ago by two former Greenpeace activists for a new mission as ALNITAK’s research vessel for the conservation of the Mediterranean.

Since then, the ship has been showing a travelling exhibition on board called All for the Sea, supported since 2016 by the LIBERA project in its fight against littering.

Since 2021, it has also been part of the MEDNIGTH project, contributing to its mission: to show the common problems of the countries of the Mediterranean basin, and to give visibility to (mainly) women scientists and scientists who are researching to find solutions.

A ship with a history

The ship was built in 1910 on the small island of Halsnöy in the Hardanger Fjord (Norway). Its first mission was to fish for herring in the North Atlantic, sailing with the herring fleet between the Shetland Islands, Faroe Islands and Iceland. On board the Toftevaag were only three fishermen, manoeuvring the sails and nets in the icy and dangerous waters for two to three weeks’ tides.

During World War II, the Toftevaag was used by the Nazis to ferry pilots to an airfield at the North Cape. Old nautical charts bearing the seal of the Third Reich are still preserved on board.

Preparing the Toftevaag to sail the seas

From the south of Spain, specifically in the port of Almerimar in Almeria, the tasks of preparing the ship for the 2023 season were carried out.

“When we are not working on our scientific or educational programmes… we are always busy with the maintenance of Toftevaag,” says the crew. The Toftevaag requires continuous maintenance work and part of the team devotes time to all the required tasks. Among other tasks, when the vessel is in dry dock, cleaning and maintenance of the hull is mainly carried out.

As the team of experts puts it, “boat maintenance is truly an art” and it is not only done by the crew members, volunteers also play an important role in its execution!


We share the experience of 2021, the first year of collaboration between MEDNIGHT and the scientific ship Toftevaag.