Conservationists call for a whale sanctuary in the Canary Islands instead of an oil program | Spain


Months before the planned start of oil exploration in the Canary Islands, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) calls on the Spanish government to abandon the search for oil and instead create a sanctuary for whales and dolphins in the region.

The waters off the islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are home to almost a third of the world’s cetacean species. “We are talking about an area that is the richest in Europe in terms of whales and one of the best in the world,” said WWF Spain Secretary General Juan Carlos del Olmo.

The group launched its campaign as Spanish oil and gas company Repsol announced that exploratory drilling in the area could begin as early as October. If the project goes ahead, Del Olmo said, oil extraction would put whales and dolphins under constant threat from oil spills, contamination and loud noises.

Since launch on Tuesday, more than 5,000 people signed a petition supporting the campaign.

Del Olmo said the idea came from the Spanish government. In 2011, concerned about the death of several whales in the region due to noise pollution, the Minister of the Environment studied the possibility of creating a protected area. “What we’ve done is just take the government’s own proposal and say, listen, here’s scientific data showing that this area is vital for whales and this happens to be where Repsol has a license to oil prospecting.

Oil exploration projects in the area have been vigorously opposed by many across Spain, including environmental groups and locals who fear it could jeopardize tourism, one of the main drivers of the economy. regional economy. Last month, Spain’s Supreme Court dismissed several challenges to the project, clearing the way for further exploration.

Last week, Repsol spokesman Marcos Fraga said the company “respected” the protests, but the strong reaction was premature. The company was simply looking to determine if the oil reserves existed and the costs associated with accessing them. “From there, we can open a calm and calm debate about the pros and cons, to make a decision as a company, as a society and as a country,” Fraga told Teide Radio. “But the discovery of hydrocarbons would be good news for the country,” he added.

On Tuesday, Spain’s industry and tourism minister José Manuel Soria called exploration necessary, saying Spain ‘cannot afford the luxury’ of not knowing if it has gas reserves or oil on its territory. Spain imports 99% of its hydrocarbons. “Just knowing if these reserves are available is a strength for the Spanish economy,” he told a business forum.

Oil exploration would take place at least 30 miles from shore, next to where Morocco is prospecting for oil. It would be ridiculous, Soria said, if Morocco found oil or gas while Spain refused to even investigate the idea.

Soria, who is from the island of Gran Canaria, pointed to the 33% unemployment rate on the Canary Islands as a reason to go ahead with exploration. “It’s not because there’s a crisis, but rather because there’s just no industry there.”

Del Olmo dismissed the minister’s link between oil exploration and Spain’s fragile economy. “Betting on oil is betting on the past,” he said. “The future of the Canary Islands is not in the installation of oil platforms off its coasts, but rather in the culture of quality tourism, the preservation of nature and renewable energies.”


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