IFAW upset about European Commission’s failure to deliver on an integrated Maritime Policy

Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Brussels, Belgium
Today’s adoption of the European Commission’s Communication on a future Maritime Policy for the EU is a missed opportunity to fully integrate environmental concerns into all maritime sectors and to meet environmental challenges. With its lack of any reference to the Marine Strategy as one of the main political priorities (i.e. Lisbon “Growth and Jobs” and Göteborg “Sustainable Development” strategies), the European Commission fails to deliver on a truly integrated Maritime policy.
“Maximizing the sustainable use of the oceans and seas” is one of the key objectives of the EU Maritime Policy. “IFAW is particularly concerned that the expansion of economic activities at sea and/or in coastal areas as envisaged in the Action Plan will exponentially increase the level of pressure on cetaceans, other marine mammals and sensitive areas”, says Veronica Frank, Marine Campaigner at IFAW’s EU Office.
 
Increased maritime transport and other offshore activities will inevitably raise the level of man-made underwater noise, which may lead to behavioral disturbance, physical injury and even death of whales and other marine mammals and reduced catch rates of commercial fish. Highly reliant of their sense of sound, marine mammals use their sensitive hearing and unique vocalization to locate and communicate with each other, navigate, find food, and avoid predators. Even seemingly minor disturbance can have serious consequences when entire groups or populations are deterred from critical habitat or disturbed from life-sustaining activities. The EU Maritime Policy does not take these considerations into account although the proposed EU Marine Strategy Directive recognizes ocean noise as a form of pollution which needs to be controlled in European waters.
 
“The promotion of short sea shipping and motorways of the sea, as alternative to land transport, and the increased ship traffic that will follow, together with the development of faster and larger ships will increase the associated risk of ship strikes (collisions) with cetaceans”, according to Dr. Frank. Known and estimated levels of whale mortalities from ship strikes with cetaceans suggest that in some regions, including Europe and North Africa, ship strikes pose a significant threat to the recovery of some vulnerable populations of cetaceans (e.g.  Mediterranean fin whale and sperm whale population). 
 
Changing shipping routes in order to avoid whales seems to be the obvious solution and it can be done, for instance, by moving shipping lanes away from the area of highest whale density. IFAW believes that the “maritime spatial planning” promoted by the EU Maritime Policy could be an effective way to manage conflicting activities at sea and keep maritime traffic and other hazardous activities away from sensitive areas. However, it should be used to integrate environmental and wildlife considerations into the management of offshore activities, and not with the aim of maximizing productivity. Any spatial planning must recognise that marine life is not static and seasonal movements need to be taken into account.
 
In its 2007 report “Chronic Oil Pollution in Europe”, IFAW exposes the alarming problem of illegal oil discharges in European seas, which is seriously threatening marine wildlife. We welcome the coordination of surveillance and monitoring activities promoted by the EU Maritime Policy, which, however, needs to be backed up by the genuine political will of the Member States to address the problem.

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