Spain, France, Italy and Monaco plan to send at the end of June to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) a proposal to declare the NW Mediterranean region as a Particularly Sensitive Marine Area (PSSA). It would be an area that would include the marine sanctuary that surrounds Corsica and the cetacean corridor of the Spanish Levant, as well as the intermediate spaces that currently do not have an equivalent protection figure.
Given the presentation of this proposal, the international marine protection organization OceanCare has filed arguments asking these governments to limit the speed of all vessels based on scientific evidence. in this important habitat for great whales.
The fin and sperm whale subpopulations in the Mediterranean Sea are classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, and it has recently been estimated that the fin whale population is only about 1,800 mature animalshalf of what was previously estimated by scientists.
Collisions with boats, the main cause of death
Ship strikes are the leading human-induced cause of death for fin and sperm whales in the northwestern Mediterranean, due to intense maritime traffic suffered by this area.
The movement of ships in this area is 220,000 a year, with average speeds of between 14 and 20 knots in the case of merchant ships or even up to 35 knots in the case of high-speed vessels. These collisions, notes Ocean Care, contribute significantly to the continued decline in abundance of individuals of these two species, and there is a risk that they will end up disappearing from the region.
“In this part of the Mediterranean, the areas where these large whales are present at any given time cannot be predicted, so the option for ships to divert their routes is not feasible. Therefore, there is only one possible option left to effectively avoid deadly collisions between ships and these cetaceans: that the ships reduce their speed”, said the entity in a statement.
“Spain, France, Italy and Monaco took a very positive step by agreeing to work together to create an PSSA in the northwestern Mediterranean, but this protection figure runs the risk of becoming a mere ‘paper park'”, declared Carlos Bravo, representative of OceanCare in Spain.
“Only by adopting a mandatory measure to reduce the speed of ships would it be possible to effectively protect the great whales while creating a framework of equal conditions for all shipping companies,” added Bravo.
In his opinion, the protection measures included in the current draft of the official proposal for the designation of the Northwest Mediterranean PSSA “will not serve to effectively protect cetaceans from the risk of collision with ships that navigate through said area . Is about mere recommendations to sailors, such as that they navigate with special caution in the PSSA when and where large and medium-sized cetaceans are present (it is suggested that, in such cases, they limit their speed to a maximum of [13 nudos])”.
The conservation entity believes that this proposal from the countries involved has not taken into account the experience and scientific evidence on what are the really effective measures to reduce the mortality of cetaceans due to collisions with ships. “Based on consolidated scientific data, the PSSA proposal for the Northwest Mediterranean must include a mandatory speed reduction measure to a maximum of 10 knotsapplicable to all ships”, says Bravo.
In addition, he adds, the reduction in speed would save fuel for the maritime sector and, therefore, would reduce CO2 emissions and atmospheric pollutants, as well as underwater noise, that is, the measure would result in multiple environmental benefits.
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