New proposals for the creation of marine protected areas at the Third Meeting of the ACCOBAMS Contracting Parties

The creation of marine protected areas is one of ACCOBAMS’ contributions towards achieving the 2010 goals. With this in mind, during the Third Meeting of the Contracting Parties which is being held in Dubrovnik from 22nd to 25th October, the Contracting Parties to the Agreement will be called to express their opinion regarding a new proposal to create vast protected areas in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, geared towards certain populations of the most endangered whales and dolphins in the world. This proposal is the outcome of an ad hoc workshop which was held on 5th November 2006 and whose conclusions were adopted by the ACCOBAMS Scientific Committee during their fourth meeting. The scientists have defined the criteria for choosing specially protected areas and have also identified certain important areas for the feeding, reproduction and weaning of the fin whale, sperm whale, beaked whale, killer whale, as well as the bottle-nose dolphin, common dolphin and porpoise. « Marie Protected Areas undoubtedly represent one of the strategies for putting an end to the decline of whales and dolphins. The amount of work needed however is tremendous in order to set up Specially Protected Areas that are both appropriate and efficient - the President of the ACCOMBAS Scientific Committee, Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara stated – and to avoid those that only work on paper and give a false impression of security with regard to the conservation of cetaceans. The one feature of these projects that has the most impact is the inclusion of the Alboran Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar, in other words approximately 25000km2, with a significant section in Spanish and Moroccan national waters, as well as in adjacent high seas. This region, located in the most productive and diversified areas of the Mediterranean Sea, house a large number of the ten species of whale and dolphin found in the Mediterranean. It is also a channel through which cetaceans are able to move from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. However, it should be noted that this area is under great pressure due to fishing activities, maritime traffic and marine pollution. Amongst the other areas put forward: § The Strait of Sicily – a sector frequented by both the fin whale and many species of dolphin off the coast of Italy, Malta, Tunisia and out at sea -. This area could represent an important wintering area for the fin whale and evidence of collisions with ships has been brought to the fore. § The Golf of Amvrakikos (to the north west of Greece) where approximately150 bottle-nose dolphins live in a semi-closed area which could be used as a natural research laboratory. § Three important areas for dolphins and porpoises in the Black Sea. § Eight areas for the Common Dolphin of the Mediterranean – five in Greece, two in Italy, as well as the previously mentioned Alboran Sea. « These proposals are based on solid science and are some of the most far-reaching and significant to be recommended in European waters,” says Erich Hoyt, WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society) Senior Research Fellow and who helped to set up the ACCOBAMS scientific workshop for Specially Protected Areas. “They aim both to protect critical marine ecosystems as well as to reduce persistent threats to the whales and dolphins and the species and habitats they depend on “. In Dubrovnik, the ACCOBAMS Parties will be asked to consider the aforementioned proposals which represent potential extremely high priority Marine Protected Areas. Also of significant importance with regard to marine protected areas is the official launch of a new website called cetaceanhabitat.org, sponsored by WDCS, a partner of ACCOBAMS. This website, dedicated to the conservation of the critical habitats of whales, dolphins and porpoises in national waters and on the high seas of the world’s oceans, is aimed at whale and dolphin researchers, marine protected area practitioners, local conservationists and the interested public in more than 100 countries. The ACCOBAMS Secretariat has given a warm welcome to this new tool and deeply congratulates WDCS for their significant efforts. The Meeting of Parties is the decision-making body of the Agreement and takes place at regular intervals that do not exceed three years. The area highlighted for protection in the Alborán Sea and Straits of Gibraltar is being proposed in a number of Special Areas of Conservation and Ocean Reserves, as well as an international SPAMI (Special Area of Mediterranean Interest) under the Barcelona Convention whose signatories include most Mediterranean countries. Except for the Alboran Sea proposal, the new proposals do not include the vast southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean due to lack of knowledge; this will be the next frontier for ACCOBAMS work on cetaceans and protected areas.

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