More than 30 experts from a range of countries gathered last week for the 10th meeting of the Scientific Committee of ACCOBAMS, the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area. OceanCare has been represented by two experts: Silvia Frey and Nicolas Entrup.

The meeting served as an exchange of recent information and data on the status of cetaceans in the agreement area, and on the threats they are facing. Another main point of the meeting was a discussion on the necessary conservation measures. Finally, the committee adopted recommendations to the signatory states that shall be passed at the next meeting of the parties to the agreement in late autumn 2016, as well as a three-year priorities plan.

To OceanCare, key aspects of these recommendations include:

  • a call for conducting environmental impact assessments prior to seismic activities, including a list of criteria that have to be considered; an appeal to NATO and to national navies to cooperate with the ACCOBAMS Scientific Committee and to carry out risk mitigation measures for whales and dolphins prior to manoeuvres;
  • stepping up research on population structures of common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, Cuvier’s beaked whales, orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar, fin whales, and harbour porpoises in the Aegean Sea; assessing the red list conservation status of several species. Further, the parties to the agreement are reminded to facilitate research projects that intend to explore the distribution and population size of cetaceans;
  • a call on ACCOBAMS riparian states to increasingly integrate cetacean conservation measures in their national action plans for implementing the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive;
  • international cooperation to reduce collisions between sperm and fin whales and vessels in the agreement area – by reducing vessel speed or by small adaptations to main travel routes within critical whale habitats. OceanCare is currently supporting a project to prevent ship strikes in the Hellenic Trench;
  • parties to the agreement shall transpose the ACCOBAMS guidelines and code of conduct for cetacean watching into national law; this would also eliminate commercial swimming with cetaceans;
  • development of an observer program for seismic surveys (training in spotting cetaceans); such programs are important, but can in no way replace measures that reduce threats to the animals; further the competence of these observers has to be clarified (e.g. if airgun use is halted, when animals are spotted). OceanCare is a member of the working group that will work on developing the observer program.

A further focus of OceanCare is on completing a joint-report on ‘hot spots’ of noise activities in the Mediterranean. This report is essential for noise reduction and will serve as the basis for a decision by the parties to the agreement.

Once more, quite progressive recommendations have been developed, but efficient protection of marine mammals stands or falls with the implementation of measures (for example OceanCare demanded the designation of protected areas (‘quite zones’) where noise-intensive activities are prohibited). Exactly this implementation issue will be the focus of OceanCare’s work within the coming months, calling on the states to live up to their responsibility.

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