Whale sanctuary a step closer to existence
October 15, 1998
By Environmental News Network staff
The creation of the Ligurian Sea Cetacean Sanctuary came one step closer to fruition when the Italian government signed an agreement Sept. 29. The proposal has now been forwarded to France and the Principality of Monaco.
The proposal calls for the establishment of an international protected area for cetaceans in the Mediterranean Sea, approximately 100.000 kilometer wide, located between the continental coast of Italy, Monaco and France, Corsica and northern Sardinia.
The area is inhabited by eight cetacean species, including a large population of striped dolphins and thousands fin whales, which congregate there during summer to feed. The Mediterranean offshore waters support a major krill population.
Cetacean populations, heavily impacted by habitat degradation and unsustainable fisheries, are reportedly declining in the Mediterranean Sea. The concept of a cetacean sanctuary in the international waters of the Ligurian Sea was first proposed in 1989 by the Tethys Research Institute, a non-profit non-governmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the marine environment.
In March 1993, the governments of Italy, France and Monaco met in Brussels and signed a joint Declaration for the Creation of a Mediterranean Sanctuary for Marine Mammals. However, the process was stalled by formidable difficulties, not the least of which is the current absence of Economic Exclusion Zones in the Mediterranean Sea. Almost five years have elapsed since the signing of the declaration, and other than endorsements of the concept by numerous international organizations, nothing has happened until Italy's recent signing.
The region has been identified as critical habitat for several cetacean species, and has the highest sighting frequency of cetaceans in the Mediterranean. The basin appears to be the principal feeding ground for the fin whales in the region, which have been found to be genetically distinct from other fin whales. The fin whale is a swift swimmer that usually lives in groups. With its 24 meters it is one of the largest living whales, with a slender body, a flat head with a ridge from snout to blowhole and a high triangular dorsal fin.
Today, just 0.22 percent of the Mediterranean marine area is protected. The establishment of the sanctuary would increase the area protected to 4 percent. At the same time, the Ligurian Sea faces severe pollution, heavy vessel traffic (both tourist and commercial), and intense fishing activities, all of which serve as potential threats to the survival of marine mammals. In total, the park would cover approximately 100,000 kilometers, ranging from France's Giens peninsula, to Cape Caccia in northern Sardinia, and from the Bonifacio Strait to Grosseto in Italy.
Once officially designated as a sanctuary, all direct takes and intentional harassment of marine mammals will be forbidden, potentially invasive research activities and whale watching will be regulated; large-scale pelagic driftnet fishing will be banned; offshore speedboat competitions will be limited and eventually forbidden and special effort will be devoted to control and curb pollution harmful to cetaceans
The sanctuary would provide an opportunity to monitor cetacean population trends, facilitate the enforcement of existing legislation to curb pollution, regulate a budding whale watching industry, and increase awareness among the general public.
"For today's important result - a homage from Italy to the International Year of the Oceans - we should be grateful for the energetic action of Representative Sauro Turroni and of Hon. Valerio Calzolaio, undersecretary of the environment, and to a very effective awareness campaign undertaken by WWF," said Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, who first worked out the idea 10 years ago. "We know that Prince Rainier of Monaco is a great supporter of the sanctuary. Now we can only hope that France will respond with equal enthusiasm."
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