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Failing To Protect The North-East Atlantic


GENERAL - Oceana has criticised the EU, Norway and Iceland for once again postponing protection for the marine environment in the North-East Atlantic.

Oceana calls attention to the lack of will of EU states to protect the North-East Atlantic, which constitutes a failure to comply with international legislation and increases the pressure on an area of the Atlantic that suffers the most from the impact of human activities. Following OSPAR’s five-day summit in Bergen, Norway (The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment in the North-East Atlantic), European governments have not achieved the objectives of increasing the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and halting the deterioration of this region of the Atlantic Ocean.

The agreement reached during the summit postpones the creation of a network of MPAs until 2012, despite the commitments requiring the network’s completion by 2010. Oceana believes that 2012 should mark the starting point of the next step in conserving the Atlantic: protecting 30 per cent of the marine environment and developing management measures that foster the survival of all ecosystems in the North Atlantic.

The OSPAR Convention did see to the approval of six new MPAs, including the seamounts of Milne, Altair, Antialtair and Josephine, and two areas in the Atlantic ridge. These new additions bring the current number of MPAs to 165, making up less than 3% of the marine surface area of the North-East Atlantic OSPAR region, and significantly less than the 10% minimum required by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The least protected areas are in Belgian waters, the high seas and the area from the Bay of Biscay to the Straits of Gibraltar, where less than one per cent is protected.

“North-East Atlantic European countries have admitted they are incapable of complying with the laws and international commitments. If a citizen were to commit this type of infringement, they would be sanctioned or worse. The governments however, act with complete impunity. Not only is this unacceptable in democratic countries, but it also endangers the health and future of an ecosystem on which millions of Europeans depend”, explained Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research at Oceana Europe.

Currently, Belgium has yet to designate any protected areas; Spain only has two, El Cachucho in front of the coast of Asturias and the National Park of the Atlantic Islands in Galicia; France has nine MPAs but with the exception of La Mer d’Iroise Park, they are very small; and in Portugal, the protected areas are concentrated around the Azores islands, without any continental representation.

Meanwhile, the UK, Denmark and Ireland have the most MPAs, which represent 67 per cent of the total protected areas in the OSPAR region, though they barely account for 20 per cent of marine surface area. On the other hand, Norway’s eight protected areas make up almost 55 per cent of the protected surface area of the region, though 97 per cent is concentrated around the archipelago of Svalbard.

Unfortunately, this small network of marine protected areas still lacks representation of diverse ecosystems and ecological coherence, because 77 per cent of the network is located in territorial waters and the high seas only account for roughly 33,500 km² of the network. Germany has made the best efforts on this issue; its protected areas make up one fourth of the total surface area of this figure.

In 2003, the contracting parties agreed to create an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas by 2010. During the meeting, the parties admitted they had not complied with the objectives, postponing the date until 2012. Countries like Spain, France or Portugal will now have another opportunity to designate MPAs and comply with the UN Convention on Biodiversity.

The opposition of various countries, especially Iceland and Norway, has limited the surface of marine protected areas in the high seas to less than half the proposed extension that was initially accepted.

In addition, Germany’s proposal for a moratorium on the installation of new offshore oil wells, which received opposition from oil producing countries in the area, including Norway and the UK, did not pass.