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Endangered Species Threatened by OIl Prospecting in Canary Islands

03 August 2012

CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN - Oceana has denounced oil prospecting plans in the Canary Islands in a report sent to the European Commission highlighting the dangerous impact of these activities on cold-water coral reefs, deep sponge fields, hydrothermal vents, black coral, angel sharks, cetaceans, tortoises, and almost a hundred protected species.

Oceana’s report lists a total of 25 protected areas, 12 kinds of threatened habitats and 82 endangered species at risk.

The Canary Islands Channel, where oil prospecting is planned by Repsol, shelters gas-based habitats which are regarded as protected habitats by the Habitats Directive. These habitats are the home of coral and sponge communities that will be physically destroyed when oil prospecting activities start.

“Accidents involving the spillage of hydrocarbons into the marine environment will be inevitable, and pollution will affect hundreds of local species and habitats”, alerted Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research at Oceana Europe. “Even though the islands most affected would be Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, the dominant currents in the area would eventually carry the pollution to Gran Canaria”.

Not only will local biodiversity be damaged, but two main archipelago activities – tourism and fishing – might also be equally affected. The Canary Islands Channel is highly important for such species as sardine, anchovy, tuna, hake, and bonito, among others. In fact, Oceana has documented a high biodiversity in the area, with more than 600 and about 350 communities and habitats.

The Canary Islands were declared a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for its biological wealth and its economic dependence. This establishes even stricter criteria to prevent all kinds of waste and pollution, criteria which have not been applied to Repsol when granting exploration permits.

The oil company has failed to inform the Spanish government about the presence of protected habitats in the area where it intends to carry out its activities, even though it was aware of their existence.

“Repsol consistently omits or conceals data. The Spanish Government and the European Commission should not allow this attitude, but should rather sanction it by revoking the permits”, said Ricardo Aguilar. “A very dangerous message is being sent: that the law doesn’t apply to everyone in the same way, and that some companies are exempted from complying with the directives and international agreements for marine conservation”.

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