This week, the Maltese town of St-Julian’s is transforming into a ‘hotspot’ of scientific discussion on how to improve the incomplete network of Natura 2000 marine protected areas (MPAs). The European Commission, together with scientific experts and NGOs, will critically assess the efforts made by each Member State to protect Europe’s most valuable yet threatened marine species and habitats by designating areas to be protected under Natura 2000.
For the first time in many years staff from our policy office in Brussels has joined an Oceana expedition in the North Sea aboard the Neptune. Usually more used to European meetings, political negotiations and the air-conditioned lobbies of the European Parliament, the policy team joined the boat’s crew in Grimsby, UK. At first impression the Neptune is huge (50 meters long!) and quite comfortable with well-equipped cabins, a crew of 9 Icelandic guys and even a small gym room organised between the engines in the hull!
It all started in 2008 when OSPAR, the international Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, adopted its list of threatened species and habitats. This list, essential to identify key marine species in need of conservation measures, was the starting point of active conservation policies for restoring marine biodiversity in the region.
As we know, our marine world is full of acronyms, so it is helpful sometimes to shed light on particularly relevant ones to Oceana’s conservation work, such as “VMEs”. This stands for Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems, and describes deep-sea ecosystems that are unique, rare, fragile and are particularly sensitive to the impacts of fishing activities, such as cold-water hard corals, soft corals, and their relatives; sponge aggregations; mud- and sand-emergent fauna, etc.
Earlier this week, a group of politicians and civil society organizations met with Karl Falkenberg, Director General of DG Environment - the environmental arm of the European Commission. The delegations came to Brussels with a clear message of strong opposition to the Spanish government’s plans to develop offshore oil activities on the Mediterranean coast. The plans would start with seismic surveys of an area as big as 4,200 km2, between the coast of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, using large underwater explosions to study the seabed and discover pockets of hydrocarbons.
Last week in Gothenburg, Sweden, OSPAR (the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) met for its annual Commission, and we are sad to report that the outcome of it was a huge disappointment.