Oceana strongly welcomes the recent call from the EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki to tackle the failed management of marine protected areas (MPA). Ms. Damanaki’s initiative targets the most emblematic and largest MPA in the Mediterranean Sea: the Pelagos Sanctuary for marine mammals.
This international sanctuary, established in 2002 between France, Italy and Monaco, to protect marine mammals from the negative impacts of human activities, is known to host a high concentration of cetaceans like fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) among others, as well as a variety of other pelagic species such as tuna, swordfish, sunfish and sharks. However authorities have been unable to implement the sanctuary’s management plan, and it is essentially devoid of real protective measures for cetaceans.
The problem raised by Commissioner Damanaki is even larger and extremely worrying, as the EU faces an ever-present implementation gap when it comes to marine protected areas. In addition to the fact that the European ecological network of MPAs is far from being completed (only 6% of EU waters are covered), Oceana is alarmed that most of these sites are only “virtual parks,” with no real protection measures in place. A recent investigation by Oceana revealed that only 30% of Baltic MPAs have a management plan in place – and this is the region that has the best record of marine protection in Europe.
“We know that very few Mediterranean MPAs deliver real protection to the marine environment,” stated Xavier Pastor, executive director of Oceana in Europe. “In the vast majority of them, it’s business as usual: fishing, tourism, shipping - even dredging sometimes take place! Decision makers must address this, and strictly regulate activities in these tiny pieces of ocean that we have collectively decided to protect for their natural value”.
Current environmental indicators are already in the red in the Mediterranean: 91% of its fish stocks are overfished, while high levels of contaminants and plastic, as well as extreme effects on climate change are negatively impacting ecosystems. The latest assessments confirms that not a single EU marine species or habitat is in a favourable status, and it is estimated that the 2014 update will likely indicate a worsening of the situation.
“Turning these virtually protected zones into actual ones is not only a political obligation, but more importantly, is it an ecological necessity,” added Nicolas Fournier, coordinator of Oceana’s Brussels office. “MPAs normally serve as a refuge for species to feed, reproduce or rest, but when human pressures are the same both inside and outside of an area, marine creatures like cetaceans have nowhere else to go”.
Oceana hopes that this call for strengthened action from Commissioner Damanaki will indeed reenergise and inspire signatories the Pelagos Agreement to tackle some of the long standing issues facing the sanctuary, such as ships striking whales and underwater noise. Oceana heartily urges the next Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries to pursue this ambitious task in order to achieve the policy target of reaching good environmental status in all EU waters by 2020.