The creation of an ecological corridor between Donostia and Biarritz is vital for the success of the French Natura 2000 network in the Atlantic

The proposal for a Marine Protected Area off Jaizkibel, made by Oceana and the Official College of Biologists of Euskadi (COBE), is a step toward complying with European legislation.

Press Release Date: May 31, 2011

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

The construction of an outer harbour in Pasaia poses a threat to numerous habitats and species protected in France, and for fishing and tourism on the coasts of Lapurdi.

OCEANA and the Official College of Biologists of Euskadi (COBE) presented a proposal this morning in Bayonne for the creation of a marine ecological corridor off the Basque coast facing Donostia and Biarritz, affording protection to thousands of species and hundreds of marine habitats and communities. These two organisations propose protection for a marine area facing the cliffs of Jaizkibel and Ulia, in Euskadi (the Basque Country). This area, along with the others already proposed by the French government to be included in the Natura 2000 Network, will increase coherence and constitute a new step toward complying with European legislation.

The ecological corridor proposed by OCEANA and COBE includes roughly 27,000 hectares running parallel to approximately 35 km of coastline, from Donostia to Biarritz. This corridor is decisive for the protection of almost one thousand different species including some protected species such as bottlenose dolphin, basking sharks, seahorses, groupers, common sponges, European lobster and European spider crabs. Over one hundred marine communities and habitats that play vital roles as spawning and nursery areas for many species would also be protected, including sponge fields, intertidal mussels fields, slabs of sandstone covered by algae, sand banks, reefs and submerged caves.

Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research at Oceana Europe, states: “The creation of this type of corridor is not new.”  There are many cross-border corridors in various seas and oceans around the world, such as the Strait of Bonifacio between Corsica and Sardinia, the corridor of the Pacific Islands between Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama, or the proposed one between France and Spain at Cap de Creus. All of these prove that the corridors constitute an excellent tool to conserve biodiversity.” Aguilar adds, “Creating this corridor between Donostia and Biarritz would mean creating one of the most important ecological corridors in the European Atlantic, fundamental for activities like fishing and tourism.”

The European Commission categorised the Natura 2000 Network in the Cantabrian Sea and Bay of Biscay as “insufficient.” Despite the differences between the two states, both Spain and France are obligated to correct the deficiencies by creating new marine protected areas in 2012. This would constitute a step toward complying with the EU Habitats Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive 2008/56/CE that establishes the priority of coordinating actions between countries to achieve a good state of the marine environment.

Nicolas Fournier, coordinator of Oceana’s Brussels office, points out that, France has done its homework on the coast of Lapurdi. However, Spain is behind in its compliance with legislation and international conventions. To date, Spain has only protected 1.3% of its marine areas, very far from the 10% established by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.”

Pasaia outer harbour

In addition, OCEANA and COBE call attention to a proposal for a Master Plan for Infrastructures of Pasaia (PDIPP) presented by the Pasaia Port Authority and currently undergoing Strategic Environmental Evaluation, that includes the construction of an outer harbour off the cliffs of Jaizkibel.  This project is completely incompatible with the creation of a marine protected area in the same zone and would pose a threat to economic interests in Lapurdi.

OCEANA and COBE affirm that the outer harbour could strongly impact the French Natura 2000 Network facing Hendaya and Biarritz, causing serious environmental damage off the Lapurdi coast. In addition, both the construction work and the increase in maritime traffic foreseen by the Port Authority could negatively affect traditional fishing activities and tourism.

Iñaki Azkarate from COBE: This type of project is unacceptable in an environmental like the Basque coast.  Its development does not comply with international legislations and the serious impacts it would have on the Hegoalde and Iparralde coasts, as the Port Authority report admits, prove the project is not viable.”  Azkarate highlights the role the French government can play in halting the project. “Preventing this type of project depends both on the Basque and on the Spanish and French governments. Unfortunately, the French government has not made a declaration yet and we encourage them to get involved in this process and carefully study the impacts this project would cause on the coasts of Lapurdi.

Oceana expedition in the Bay of Biscay

In 2008, Oceana carried out an expedition in the Bay of Biscay on board the Oceana Ranger research catamaran. For over two months, a team of scientists, divers, photographers and videographers studied the sea beds. With the help of an underwater robot (ROV), the team documented habitats and species up to 300 meters depth. The important discoveries in the marine area facing the cliffs of Jaizkibel and Ulia led the Oceana team to return two years later to carry out new underwater research.

“Protecting the marine area of Jaizkibel and Ulia, Euskadi (Basque Country)”

Links to Report and Oceana TV

The outer harbour of Pasaia: 12 reasons why it is illegal and incoherent 

More information about the Oceana expedition in the Cantabrian