Following joint studies, Oceana and the Official College of Biologists of Euskadi (COBE), have proposed the creation of a marine ecological corridor in Jaizkibel (in the Basque Country), a major step towards cross-border marine conservation. However, the recently released Environmental Sustainability Report of the Master Plan for Infrastructures of the Port of Pasaia, includes the planned creation of a port in the area.
The report itself, which will be soon available for public claims to be submitted, acknowledges the detrimental impact this project would have on the environment. The construction is incompatible not only with the protection proposal made by Oceana and the COBE, but also with the effective protection of the Site of Community Importance (SIC) of the cliffs of Jaizkibel, which is included in the EU’s Natura 2000 Network.
“This type of project in protected areas is not viable. Its development violates international legislation and even the environmental report itself presented by the Pasaia Port Authority acknowledges this fact. Both the government of the Basque Country and the Spanish government should put a stop to these types of proposals that negatively impact the environment and should focus their environmental efforts on complying with international regulations and agreements”, stated Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research at Oceana Europe.
Over the past few weeks, Oceana and COBE have been diving in the area along the cliffs of Jaizkibel, precisely where the Pasaia Port Authority plans on building a new port. Slabs of rock covered by corals, communities of sponges, important communities of algae and a wide variety of marine species including conger eels, scorpionfish, jewel anemones, urchins and starfish are only examples of the species identified in the area.
The information collected by Oceana and COBE complements the scientific information that justifies the creation of the marine protected area in the region, which was publicly presented in April 2010 in a report titled “Protection of the marine area off Jaizkibel and Ulía, Euskadi”. In May, both organisations presented the project to the Basque Parliament's Environment, Planning, Agriculture and Fishery Commission. One month later, Oceana presented the proposal to the Marine Environment Development Commission of the Basque province of Guipuzcoa Parliament.
Recently however, this Parliament requested that the Basque Government and the Spanish Ministry for the Environment, Agriculture and Fisheries, exclude the space needed for the construction of the port, its access and communications, from any protection, should they decide to create protected areas and marine SICs in the area. Moreover, over this past summer Oceana-COBE’s proposal has been submitted officially for their analysing and discussion to the 10 city-councils of the affected towns located between San Sebastian and Biarritz.
The ecological corridor proposed by Oceana and COBE would occupy roughly 27,000 marine hectares over a length of 35 kilometres. If the 13,000 hectares off the cliffs of Jaizkibel and Ulía were added to the areas already proposed by the French government for inclusion in the Natura 2000 network, between Hendaia and Biarritz, this corridor would become emblematic of cross-border conservation. The corridor would be essential for the protection of more than 100 marine communities, as well as close to 1,000 different marine species, including some protected species, such as porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, sea lampreys, groupers, common sponges, European lobsters, etc.
|Sunset cup coral (Leptopsammia pruvoti). Punta Zabala, Hondarribia, Basque Country. July 2008.
©OCEANA/ Enrique Talledo
|Corals (Polycyathus muellerae). Izkiro, Jaizkibel, Pasaia, Basque Country, Spain. August 2010
©OCEANA/ Félix Aguado
Currently, less than one per cent of the marine area in the Cantabrian is protected, a figure that is far from the 10 per cent established by the Convention on Biological Diversity. In addition, European regulations require all Member States to create a network of protected areas known as Natura 2000. However, with respect to the marine environment, Spain is far from complying with its obligations, and even worse in the Cantabrian, according to an evaluation completed by the European Commission in 2009. Furthermore, Spain committed during the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic (OSPAR) to creating a network of marine protected areas by 2010, deadline now put off until 2012. Again, compared to the rest of the North East Atlantic countries, Spain was among the countries that received the worst evaluation, because it only designated two areas for protection.
“The situation in the Gulf of Biscay is terrible. It is one of the least protected areas and we continue to ignore it. We are not complying with any of the international environmental agreements and are continuously postponing the creation of marine protected areas for the future,” states Jon Ander Etxebarria, Dean of COBE.