Madrid/Zurich, 18 December 2017: Alianza Mar Blava, OceanCare and Natural Resources Defense Council celebrate that the 20th Conference of Parties (COP 20) to the Barcelona Convention has decided to grant international protection to the Cetacean Migration Corridor of the Levantine-Balearic marine district as a Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI), like these organizations had been claiming for more than two years.

This decision of the Barcelona Convention was widely expected both in Spain and internationally because of the very high ecological value of this area. Its environmental importance is due not only to the fact that it is a migratory passage for the fin whale towards its breeding and feeding areas in the north of the Mediterranean, but it also is a habitat and feeding area for a great diversity of other cetacean species (sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins, common dolphins and deep sea diving species, such as pilot whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales) and other species of marine fauna (such as the loggerhead turtle, several species of birds, etc.).

“This is truly amazing news for marine wildlife in this part of the Mediterranean Sea, a kind of Christmas gift. But the decision is also a recognition of scientific research and its results, the voices of civil society and the sound application of nature conservation tools”, said Nicolas Entrup, spokesperson for OceanCare and NRDC, two international NGOs, members of Alianza Mar Blava, which are mainly engaged in reducing activities that cause underwater noise pollution in the world’s oceans.

“We want to thank for the significant support for the protection of this Cetacean Migration Corridor received in recent years by a large number of Spanish State’s institutions, scientists, cetacean study and conservation entities and NGOs from around the world. Their support was decisive to overcome the existing obstacles to the success of this process”, said Carlos Bravo, spokesman for Alianza Mar Blava, an intersectoral platform whose mission is to increase the protection of the Mediterranean Sea. The Alianza is currently made up of over 120 members, including public administrations (from the Balearic Island and Catalonia), the private sector (like tourism, fishing and nautical businesses) and civil society entities.

In fact, throughout 2016 and 2017 there has been, at the request of Alianza Mar Blava, NRDC and OceanCare, widespread institutional support in favour of the declaration of this SPAMI, including by the Spanish Parliament, the Balearic Parliament, the regional Governments of the Balearic Islands, Catalonia and Valencia, the island Councils of Majorca, Minorca, Formentera and Ibiza, and the City Councils of Barcelona, Valencia, Palma de Majorca as well as the councils of Ibiza, Mahón, Ciutadella, among many others in the Balearic Islands. This added to the support from civil society and the scientific community, e.g. the declaration signed by 39 internationally renowned marine scientists and 36 international marine conservation organizations, which together represent millions of members globally.

A direct consequence of this international protection is that the Spanish Ministry of Energy, Tourism and Digital Agenda must shelve all the hydrocarbon prospection projects and requests for hydrocarbon research permits that affect this protected area.

In particular, we must cite the hydrocarbon research permits “Nordeste 1” to “Nordeste 12” requested in the Gulf of León by the company Capricorn Spain Ltd (Spanish subsidiary of the oil company Cairn Energy), as well as “Medusa”, requested by four oil companies off the coast of Tarragona, whose sphere of action spatially overlaps to a large extent with the Cetacean Migration Corridor’s area.

As established in the Barcelona Convention decision about the SPAMI, the Spanish Government now has to publish the Royal Decree in the Official State Gazette (BOE) within a period of 6 months, thereby declaring the Cetacean Migration Corridor a Marine Protected Area and approving a preventive protection regime in the area. The official processing of this Decree is underway since November 2017, but not finished yet.

This preventive protection regime, which establishes the prohibition of seismic surveys with compressed air guns and other technologies, as well as any extractive activity in this area, will be in force for a maximum of three years from the moment in which this marine space be included in the SPAMI List. Within this period, it has to be replaced by the SPAMI’s Use and Management Plan mandated by the Barcelona Convention.

Within this Use and Management Plan, a general management plan must be included to reduce underwater noise levels. Underwater noise pollution puts at risk the survival of marine fauna populations, especially those of cetaceans, which due to the special physiology depend on sound for their activities such as spatial orientation, feeding, reproduction and breeding.