On Friday, 25th of November, the 6th conference of the parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Mediterranean and Black Seas (ACCOBAMS) ended and left behind mixed feelings with many NGOs. OceanCare particularly welcomed the adoption of a range of activities to proactively address the negative impacts of underwater noise. Further, the parties instructed the Scientific Committee to assess the recommendations on Common Dolphin conservation in the Mediterranean Sea which had been developed in a workshop carried out by OceanCare, Oceanomare and other institutions.

On the other hand, the OceanCare team at the conference was worried about the lack of enforcement of decisions by the parties to the convention. The forum established three years ago in order to survey the implementation of ACCOBAMS decisions so far hardly addressed any of the complaints and showed little ambitions. It is essential to remedy this grievance within the next three years, which would also improve the credibility of the agreement.

At the conclusion of the meeting, representatives of many organisations and scientific institutions agreed on a common statement criticizing parties for failings of the conference and decidedly calling to mind where the priorities have to be set.

Ahead of this statement, Mark Simmonds directed some personal words to the parties on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the agreement, to the creation of which he had been instrumental.

Mark Peter Simmonds, Senior Marine Scientist at the Humane Society International, offered salutations across the years from his younger self of more than twenty years ago, noting that he had been involved in the ‘conception’ of both ACCOBAMS and ASCOBANS when he had been working at the time for Stichting Greenpeace Council, which was involved in the early negotiations of these agreements with first the Bonn and then the Berne Conventions. He recalled that the aspiration at that time from civil society was to make the world a better and safer place for cetaceans and to ensure not just their survival but also their good health and that of their habitats and ecosystems. Since that time we, he added, we have learned a lot more about these remarkable animals, their intelligences, capabilities, vulnerabilities and their cultures, and more than two decades later the aspirations remain irrevocably the same.

He then handed over to Nicolas Entrup, Consultant to NRDC and OceanCare, who presented the following joint statement to the Parties:

Dear Chair, dear Madam Executive Secretary, dear Representatives of the Parties to ACCOBAMS,

This statement is provided on behalf of EcoOcéan Institut, GIS3M, Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Mare Nostrum, NRDC, OceanCare, Oceanomare Delphis Onlus, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and WWF.

First of all, we would like to thank Monaco for its hospitality and for providing excellent facilities to make us all feel comfortable and welcome during this 6th Meeting of the Parties of ACCOBAMS.

We would like to use the opportunity of providing a closing remark – a kind of reflection about the purpose of why we have met and why we celebrate the 20th anniversary of ACCOBAMS.

When ACCOBAMS was originally developed, it was a reaction to the fact that cetaceans in the region were in trouble. A spirit rose to take on the challenge to protect these important marine mammals that contribute to the health of the Mediterranean and Black Seas and the people that depend on these ecosystems.

Twenty years are now gone, dozens of decisions have been adopted; plans developed; and actions defined. We still believe in this Agreement; we believe that we have jointly made progress and achieved successes. And that “success” is only defined by one parameter: that the situation for the animals improved.

And yes, there are many examples for such successes. And this is the reason why we celebrate the existence of this Agreement, the only reason.

At the same time, there is also an important reason why we continue to meet. Because we still witness that some species and populations are still in peril and decreasing; new threats are arising and old ones are returning.

For us, through the two decades of its life, ACCOBAMS has been a friendly and cooperative agreement – built on parties working hand in hand with their NGO friends and partners. However, in our discussions this week, we fear something significant may have been lacking.

Yes, procedure, provisions, sound preparation and rules are important and are the framework and solid platform for the professional delivery of work. However, we are concerned that there was very little time available during this MOP to explore, debate and discuss the substance of many of the very important issues affecting cetaceans and their environment, leaving many documents and plans provided for us largely “untouched”.

We note that the ACCOBAMS observer organisations have spent many hours volunteering whether in the field or within the bodies of the Agreement, and contributed a significant amount of funds to the objectives of the Agreement. Indeed, the bodies of the Agreement rely to a certain extent on these contributions to cope with their tasks.

To conclude: Yes, we do appreciate many of the decisions adopted and progress being made, but at the same time we would like to remind all here that it is the conservation of cetaceans that is the shared purpose of this gathering, and the motivation to continue engaging in this forum.

So, we encourage everyone here to rekindle the spirit which established the Agreement; find again our enthusiasm and our energy; and again join forces to prevent whale and dolphin populations from continuing to decrease or even disappear.

Thank you.