Assalam o alaikum Gentle Reader. Greetings from IWC 62 in Agadir, Morroco.
Whilst we try to make sure that our diaries from IWC meetings include light-hearted elements, the nature of the forthcoming meeting is going to make this difficult. The Chairman’s proposal for peace or compromise (or however you wish to dress it up – we shall call it THE DEAL here) is a proposal for the re-endorsement of commercial whaling – you will find discussion about the fuller implications of this elsewhere on the WDCS websites - and this is deadly serious. Nonetheless we shall seek to inform and entertain.
Our location is Agadir. This is seaside resort in
The ‘Golden Dunes Conference Centre’ is where the IWC has already been holding its cycle of annual meetings for the last 3 weeks. The meetings so far have been closed and have consisted of two weeks of scientific committee meetings and then some technical workshops, including further discussions on The Deal.
Whilst WDCS has been in attendance, we are not able to report from these closed meetings until the Commission’s plenary – the Sixty Second Annual meeting - which opens on Monday 21st. Meanwhile, let us tell you a little more about the locality. Whilst the ‘Golden Dunes’ may now have disappeared below the touristic developments; this is a friendly place and there are neighbouring towns which can be easily reached (for example the lovely Essauira and silver-edged Tifnit) where Moroccan architecture and other aspects of its culture shine through. But back to Agadir, the new red brick promenade (still under construction at its northern end – providing some interesting trip hazards for the unwary) is the focus in the cooler evenings of an amazing cavalcade of cultures. If you want to meet the locals and experience the carnival of nationalities here, take a stroll on a cool Sunday evening. Morocco is popular with the French, the British and the Russians; and flocks of them come and nest in the numerous hotels along the shore; they browse in the numerous souvenir and craft emporia (small camels made of camel skin being one purchase option) and feed in the many cafes and small restaurants. Many now come and stare at the signs outside the conference centre announcing the IWC is here – indeed it seems to have become something of a tourist attraction.
One strong element of local culture which is certainly alive here is the fine and ancient art of bartering – and perhaps this is relevant to the IWC meeting to come – here if you want a small model camel, a taxi-ride or, in fact, to purchase pretty much anything, you expect to have to haggle. And if you start this process, you should not expect to walk away without concluding a purchase; that would be seen as rude. IWC member nations take note!
And of course we shall be haggling in the IWC. One side is saying ‘we will accept your interest in conservation of whales, in whale watching and even in issues relating to the smaller cetaceans (the small whales, dolphins and porpoises which are disputed as relevant to the IWC’s work)… if you accept our right to kill some whales for profit’.
In reply, some are saying something like, ‘that is kind of you, how many whales would you like; we would like to see less whales killed than now and it must of course be sustainable’.
Others, of course, express a view that the whales should be left alone!
And so it is that under the strong Moroccan sun in a meeting hosted (we anticipate) in part in a tent, the whale’s future will be bartered.
Assalam o alaikum Gentle Reader. Greetings from IWC 62 in Agadir, Morroco.
Earlier this month, just five days before calling an election, the British government designated the world’s largest marine protected area — the Chagos Islands MPA. Located in the British Indian Ocean Territory, the 60-island archipelago has an area estimated at 544,000 km2. This is more than twice the size of the UK’s land area and over 2/3 the size of all United Kingdom waters extending to its full 200 nautical mile limit.
Most conservationists celebrated the announcement of this gesture from the (maybe soon to be) outgoing British government. Resembling in largesse and circumstance George W. Bush’s outgoing gift to the world of three large highly protected MPAs of similar size in the North Pacific (gifted by presidential order in his last days as President), the celebration over the declaration of such a large area was muted in other quarters.
The ocean desperately needs new marine reserves and protected areas. Countries, including the UK, are far behind on their international targets promised by 2012. On the positive side, this MPA would protect a large portion of precious Indian Ocean coral reefs in highly protected IUCN Category I reserves (although not specified where or how much). On the negative side, the Chagos Islanders — forcibly removed from the largest island of Diego Garcia to make way for the US military base some decades ago — were not properly consulted. The MPA was also created without consultation to the government of Mauritius which claims the islands and to which the UK government says it will return the islands when they are no longer needed by the US for defense. (Stay tuned.)
At least some people, including the Pew Environmental Group and a few of the Chagos Islanders think that the move is positive and will not negatively affect the situation. The list of other supporters is impressive. Let’s hope that this will turn out to be a brilliant conservation move. Yet, it still doesn’t take away the poor form of the British government and its failure to have a true consultation, to be inclusive of all parties involved. Yes, everything was ‘legal’ but is this the way to make the best possible MPA? Every book on creating MPAs says that the process needs to work from the ground up to include all stakeholders in order to be successful. No wonder the British government has received some criticism saying that this is electioneering.
With or without the Labour government, conservation groups, tourism bodies and local councils will soon be entering negotiations about marine reserves and MPAs around the UK. We hope that the UK government will be as generous with protecting its own waters as it has been with those on the other side of the world with controversial, contradicting claims.
We surely need a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park or Chagos Islands MPA in the waters of Scotland. It is clearly time to launch some big outstanding conservation measures a little closer to home.
The Scottish Marine Bill is now the law of the land, or better said, the 'law of the water', at least out to 12nm and maybe in future 200nm although that still needs to be worked out between Holyrood and Westminster. The bill, passed last week by the Scottish assembly in Edinburgh, includes new powers to select and manage Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scotland’s seas, and to manage the various competing uses of the seas from fishing to marine renewables to wildlife tourism and the protection of biodiversity in what will hopefully be a coherent marine plan. After years of work on every aspect of this bill, there was a lot of hand-shaking going on and pats on the back but, as always, the proof of the value will come with the implementation. A special note of thanks must go to Scottish Environment Link, the umbrella body representing 34 environmental organizations in the UK including WDCS, that worked hard to give a voice to Scotland’s amazing marine wildlife. Now we need some proposals that will truly inspire the world — perhaps a Great Barrier Reef-scale marine park or MPA that gives wildlife the protection and place in our hearts that it deserves?!
There you are – perfect example of the ‘law of inverse optimism’!
The moment that I suggest it might all be going well in
Meantime, we have had violent clashes between Danish police and protesters over the weekend; UN chief Ban Ki-moon has urgently told nations to get on with it and "seal a deal"; the British Environment minister has been telling us about the perils of ocean acidification (another result of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere); and the world conservation union has announced that it is not all just about the polar bear (we know).
Meanwhile, climate has fallen off the front page of most British newspapers already.
Time is, however, really running out now!
More about ocean acidification and the whales here. BBC blow by blow blog from the conference here.
All marine conservation eyes are turning to Australia where Environment Minister Peter Garrett has some very important papers in his in-box. He is being asked by a large number of Australian conservation groups, the Save Our Marine Life (SOML) consortium, supported by international cetacean scientists, to set aside substantial portions of southwest, northwest and northern Australia in highly protected marine areas.
This is part of the same region that has just experienced the devastating Timor oil spill, so Minister Garrett’s decision will be very timely.
Nearly three decades ago Australia launched the modern movement to protect marine areas with its designation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Over the past few years, however, marine protection efforts in Australia have slowed down while designations in the Pacific and portions of the Antarctic have accelerated. The Great Barrier Reef is no longer the largest MPA in the world, nor is it the most highly protected; several areas in other countries have now surpassed it.
Many Australians are eager that their government revives its leadership in marine conservation affairs. With its dominant location in the great southern ocean, Australia has the capacity to make huge strides now for marine conservation in the lead-up to 2012 when countries are going to be evaluated on what they have done in terms of creating effective marine protected areas and restoring marine biodiversity.
The decision is going to be made on Southwest Australian MPAs and reserves before Christmas 2009, with the northwest and northern areas to follow in early 2010. WDCS is asking people to send an urgent email to Minister Garrett to recommend he vote for the highest possible protection levels for whales, dolphins and marine life. Click here.
Much has transpired since the last blog entry. The spill, of course, continues to flow out into the marine environment and atmosphere (not forgetting that light crude and gas are both leaking), the Government’s rapid assessment has reported significant number of animals within the slick ... oh, and now the rig is on fire!
The company which runs the well, PTTEP Australasia, has told the media that the fire broke out as it made another attempt to plug a leak deep underwater at the Montara rig. Thankfully, no workers were onboard the rig when the fire started and workers on the West Triton relief rig, stationed 1.2 miles (2km) away, were safe from the enormous blaze.
By anyone’s standards this is now a major environmental disaster, and politicians are baying for blood. At the same time there has been another hit to the reputation of the oil and gas industry, with confirmation of a second gas leak in the Timor Sea. Without doubt the next week will focus on who is to blame, and less attention will be focused on the enormity of the tragedy.
But other more probing questions have also started to work their way in the quiet background of public discourse.
Ten weeks into the uncontrolled and continuing oil and gas spill from the Montara wellhead, with anywhere from 10 to 20 million litres of oil spilled into the ocean, the Rapid Assessment of the Impacts of the Montara Oil Leak on Birds, Cetaceans and Marine Reptiles has positively identified at least 4 species of cetaceans - 462 individuals (along with 23 species of birds, 2 species of turtles and 4 species of sea snakes).
Andrew Crook, on Crikey.com, has asked will Timor Sea oil slick be curtains for bluefin tuna? Good question really, given the tuna's status is already precarious after decades of over fishing and the spill is in the bluefin spawning grounds. Perhaps his question will spark some further investigation in other areas of the media
The impacts for most marine life in this region are likely to be huge, and on this note WDCS has once again made a public comment into the media sphere “We strongly concur with the assessment recommendations a four-five year minimum time frame for the long term monitoring of the impact to cetacean behavior and populations numbers as a result of the spill, and in truth we believe it should be more like a decade. The Monitoring Plan is silent on the duration of commitment the Government has secured from industry. For all we can determine, they may monitor for a year and then walk away. A renegotiated plan must extend monitoring for at least ten years.” Dr Mike Bossley, WDCS Australasian Managing Director.
“We still don’t see the commitment we expect from the Australian Government. If they were serious about mitigating the threats of oil spills they would immediately freeze all new oil and gas exploration applications; develop much stronger conditions and controls over all oil and gas rig and shipping activities including contingency plans before approvals are given; and identify and fully protect all whale and dolphin critical habitats in a network of marine sanctuaries before any oil and gas acreage is released again” Dr Bossley concluded.
As we drag ourselves towards the bad news that week 11 will certainly hold, it is difficult to stay optimistic about this sad an sorry affair. But, to end this blog with some heart, the wonderful campaigners with the Wilderness Society in Australia staged an oil spill protest on Friday 30th October. Volunteers gathered in a colorful action to protest against the oil spill and campaign for greater protection of our the marine life in this region (which we Australians call The Kimberly). Thank you TWS!
Today dawned with an argument raging in the media about the failed attempts to cap the leak. There is no doubt in my mind that the industry want this leak stopped and I am sure that every attempt is being made to do so.
For my focus, every day that the spill continues brings more bad news for the species and ecosystems of this part of the world. It also brings disheartening news about how seriously this is being treated by the Australian Government
Last week the Government and industry released their joint West Atlas Monitoring Programme (15 October 2009) - six weeks after the spill started. Hooray we thought – now we can see the plan to recover some lost ground.
Saddly, even a cursory read of document reveals how much baseline information has to be gathered. The question immediately comes to mind - why was this not collected before the drilling began?
But, what remains the biggest thorn in the sideis that Government seems content to continue a line of denial about the scope of the impact.
Within the document are unsubstantiated statements that impacts of the oil spill on whales and dolphins 'remain unlikely'. The document claims that experts have been consulted, so why then does WDCS need to remind policy makers that marine animals can ingest oil-derived toxic compounds either directly from the water or with their food. That poisonous vapor can also be inhaled by whales and dolphins and especially when the volatile components evaporate into the air from freshly spilled oil.
With anywhere from 10 to 20 million litres of oil spilled into the ocean it is a good bet that there will be chronic longer-term effects of oil entering the food-chain potentially affecting the whole system. Much of this will happen far from sight and if whales or dolphins are killed or otherwise affected - days, months and years into the future - we are unlikely to be witness to this.
None of this information is particularly ground breaking nor new. We have know most of this information for a few decades.
Dolphins have been filmed moving through the slick. We know that many other species call this region home.
It is time that the Australian Government woke up to the full reality of this situation and imposed much stronger conditions and controls over all oil and gas rig and shipping activities in Australian waters.
And, doesn’t it seem sensible to know what is present first … before you decide the level of risk that you might destroying something?