International conservation NGOs OceanCare and NRDC, as well as Alianza Mar Blava, a coalition of non-profit organisations and the private sector of the Balearic Islands, welcome the statement published today by swiss and austrian tourism associations criticising plans to search for petroleum reservoirs in the waters around the Balearic Islands. Issuing a press release this morning, both the Swiss and the Austrian travel assosiations expressed their concern about the project by British petroleum company Cairn Energy. The two associations, representing more than 1200 travel agencies and tour operators, consider the risks as too high and the project as incompatible with long-term interests and the reputation of this top tourism hotspot.

“It’s a strong and necessary signal by the economic sector that is most vital for the Balearic Islands. Rejection of the petroleum industry’s plans is so overwhelming that one is wondering why the decision makers – who were elected by the people – did not yet dismiss this project, as demanded by the people”, says Sigrid Lüber, president of OceanCare. Recently it was announced that more than 125,000 people, 117,000 of them living in the Balearic Islands, filed their official objections against the project. This accounts to a tenth of the total population of the popular holiday destinations Formentera, Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca.

Already the exploration for oil and gas reservoirs is posing a big threat to marine wildlife around the Balearic Islands by applying unimaginably loud airguns that may displace, injure or even kill whales, dolphins and other marine animals, including commercially used fish. A few weeks ago, it was exposed that already last year seismic activities were carried out without a permit! “Scientists got alerted to the seismic activities by unusual behaviour of sperm whales. But authorities and petroleum industry keep their lips sealed”, criticises Nicolas Entrup, consultant to OceanCare and NRDC.

Drillings, especially in deep waters, pose a further threat. In case of an accident, irreparable damage is caused both to the economy and the ecology of the archipelago. “The petroleum industry and the Spanish government have to accept limits, too, and refrain from searching for oil in regions of special ecological and economical importance, like the Western Mediterranean”, demands Carlos Bravo, coordinator with the regional initiative Alianza Mar Blava.

The conservationists expect the decision on the project’s environmental impact assessment soon. But the Spanish government is playing for time. In spring 2015 there will be elections to the regional government of the Balearic Islands, followed by general elections in Spain in autumn. The dispute about the planned oil development is increasingly becoming a main issue. Not least will the decision point the direction of Spain’s future energy policy.