Oceana proposal protects 15% of Canary Islands’ marine area

The proposal would multiply the current protected area by 100 to comply with EU legislation and UN commitments.

Press Release Date: March 31, 2011

Location: Madrid


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Oceana has filmed previously unexplored areas in the archipelago, at depths reaching 700 metres, with support from the Fundación Biodiversidad.

Oceana, the international marine conservation organisation, today presented a proposal to protect 15% of the marine areas in the Spanish waters of the Canary Islands. The areas pointed out by Oceana in its report (in Spanish), as part of the project developed with support from the Fundación Biodiversidad, the Ministry of Environment, Rural and Marine Affairs, at up to roughly 74,000 km2. This addition, along with the archipelago’s existing network of marine areas, would mean protecting an area that is 100 times larger than the current 0.15% [1] and comply with the measures established by international legislation.

The initiative was presented this morning at the Fundación Biodiversidad headquarters. “Oceana’s proposal addresses EU requirements,” points out Ricardo Aguilar, director of research for Oceana Europe. “After evaluating the Natura 2000 Network in the Canary Islands, the European Commission determined that the current network of marine areas does not guarantee protection for the habitats and species present in the Canary Islands. Because the Habitats Directive calls for their protection, the network should be expanded.”

Thus, the Spanish and Canary Island governments must create new protection zones to correct these deficiencies and permit the effective conservation of bottlenose dolphin, loggerhead and green turtles, submarine caves, sand banks (where important seagrass beds are located) and above all, reefs, because there is currently no area designated specifically for their protection.

Oceana’s initiative aims to create a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in order to comply with European legislation and protect a variety of species and habitats that are not currently included in management plans for conservation. As such, many threatened species are included such as the white gorgonian, the seahorse, the giant grouper, deep sea sharks, sea turtles and certain whales, including blue and right whales.

The conservation measures laid out in Oceana’s report also have a multiplier effect. “Protecting marine areas facilitates reproduction and provides shelter for a variety of marine species, including species of commercial interest,” explains Ana de la Torriente, marine scientist at Oceana. “As already proven in some of the archipelago’s protected areas, a “reserve effect” generates increased abundance of larger fish in adjacent areas, which benefits the fishing sector while controlling the growth of the lime urchin, one of the archipelago’s greatest threats.”

The obligation to create marine protected areas has not only been set by the Habitats Directive, but also by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which requires effective conservation of at least 10% of each one of the world’s marine and coastal regions by 2012. This date was postponed until 2020 at the last Conference of the Parties held in Nagoya (Japan) due to the lack of compliance of participating countries.

In its report, Oceana also proposes other measures focused on the correct management of marine resources and the conservation of marine ecosystems:

– Protect threatened species and habitats of ecological importance such as seagrass beds (Cymodocea nodosa) by including them in the Canary Island Catalogue of Protected Species and develop specific management measures to prevent their continued decline.

– Convert the waters of the Canary Islands into a sanctuary for sharks, rays and chimaeras.

– Reduce fishing pressure on overexploited resources and improve the control and supervision of this activity.

– Prohibit any type of exploration surveys for the oil and gas industries off the Canary Island coasts.

– Promote and develop renewable energies on the islands, such as wind and wave energy.

In 2009, on board the Oceana Ranger catamaran, the international marine conservation organisation carried out a 2-month expedition in the Canary Islands, documenting sea beds as deep as 700 metres down. During the campaign, professional divers equipped with underwater camera equipment completed various shallow dives close to the coast. In deeper waters and on seamounts far from the coast, like Amanay and Banquete or the Sahara seamounts south of the archipelago, Oceana used an underwater robot (ROV) to film marine species and habitats.

In order to analyse the information and identify the documented species, Oceana collaborated with experts and scientists from the archipelago who believe that it is essential to develop protection measures like the ones Oceana has proposed.

Thanks to this expedition, information about unexplored places was gathered, roughly 500 different marine species were documented, some never before seen in waters of the Canary Islands, such as the armored searobin, some black corals and the giant deep-sea oyster. Information was also compiled about habitats of great importance like those formed by bryozoans, sponges, gorgonians and corals. All of this information, along with an extensive bibliography, was included in The Canary Islands, Proposal for Marine Protected Areas of Ecological Importance, an extensive report completed with the support of EUROPARC España.

Proposal of marine areas of ecological importance. Canary Islands (report in Spanish)

More information about the Canary Islands

Oceana has photographs and video images available

[1] The protected area would increase from 0.15% to 0.5% if the management plans for Special Areas of Conservation are approved (SAC), currently being processed.