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Canary Island whale species facing growing oil threat

canary island whale species

Pilot whales of the coast of the canary islands. Creative Commons: Tony Hisgett, 2007

The coastal waters of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, in the Canary Islands, are home to nearly a third of the world’s whale, dolphin and porpoise species.

A hotspot for marine biodiversity the waters are crucial for breeding, feeding, migration and the life cycles of some of the world most amazing sea mammals, as well as other threatened species, such as turtles, sharks and sea birds.

But this marine paradise is under threat.

Last month, the Spanish government gave oil group Repsol the go ahead to begin a $7 billion oil exploration project in the region.

It gave the company a three-year licence to drill in three sites around 50km off the coast of the Spanish archipelago – which lies off the northwest coast of Africa – and said it could begin prospecting three months after approval was granted.

The government had originally granted permits for exploration off the coast of the two islands – Fuerteventura and Lanzarote – back in 2012, but they were quickly frozen following widespread opposition to the plans on environmental grounds.

Despite protests by political parties, unions and environmental organisations and local groups, Span’s Supreme Court rejected appeals against the ruling in June this year – paving the way for exploration.

Opponents to drilling warn of damaging consequences of an oil spill or of vibrations caused by exploration and that the plans could jeopardise the region’s tourism – a key industry for the islands.

Greenpeace, WWF, Friends of the Earth, Ecologistas en Accion and SEO Birdlife have said they will appeal the decision in Spanish and European courts.

And in a new petition, WWF is calling on the Spanish government to abandon its search for oil and instead create a sanctuary for whales and dolphins in the region.

Over 18 thousand people have already signed the petition.

Sign the petition >>

The waters surrounding the Canary Islands are home to five species of marine turtles, three seagrass species and hundreds of algae, invertebrates, fish and seabirds.

At least 31 of the 83 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises known worldwide live in the region making it one of the most important sites on the plant for marine mammals, with resident populations including rare species such as beaked whales, pilot whales and sperm whales.

“We’re talking about an area that’s Europe’s richest when it comes to whales and one of the top in the world,” WWF Spain’s secretary general, Juan Carlos del Olmo told the Guardian.

The organisation are calling on the Spanish government to stop betting on old, out-dated oil and instead to look towards a future focused on quality tourism, nature conservation and renewable energies.

Social graphic to share: Yes to whales, No to oil

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