GONHS & Co Urge Tripartite Forum To Address Environmental Issues in Bay of Gibraltar

Environmental groups from both Gibraltar and Spain have submitted a letter to the Tripartite Forum asking it to realise its agreements on environmental issues in the Bay of Gibraltar, the Gibraltar Chronicle wrote today. Our sister charity the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GOHNS), the Asociacion Gaditana de Defensa y Estudio de la Naturaleza (AGADEN), the Environmental Safety Group (ESG), Greenpeace and Verdemar-Ecologistas en Accion addressed Spanish and UK Foreign Ministers Miguel Angel Moratinos and David Milliband and Gibraltar's Chief Minister Peter Caruana.

According to the Gibraltar Chronicle the environmental groups welcome the Tripartite Forum's agreements regarding the environment but urge the governments to present "an executable plan of action that will specify the measures that will be taken and when these will come into effect ... to ensure that the bay and citizens who live within it, are better protected from the excessive pollution levels in the area".

Previously to the Tripartite Forum Meeting in Gibraltar in July 2009, environmental groups of Gibraltar and Spain had submitted their demands and solutions regarding environmental issues of the Bay of Gibraltar. The Gibraltar Chronicle clarified, that according to the forum's media declaration after the meeting the forum agreed to tackle several of these points.

The Gibraltar Chronicle quotes Janet Howitt of the ESG: “Environmental groups have been campaigning and researching Bay environmental issues for many years now. We have protested and filed official complaints against the massive environmental degradation which has taken place in the Bay with, it is believed, lethal consequences for the environment and for public health, and we have repeatedly called for action from the authorities. The agreements reached by the Forum could bring about meaningful change in the many unsustainable activities in the Bay and we would like to form part of this change.”

GONHS: Concerns Over Go-Ahead of Power Station

Reacting to the Development and Planning Commission's (DPC) decision to give the construction of a fossil fuel power station in Gibraltar environmental clearance, our sister charity expressed concerns and called for an energy-rethink. Below you will find the whole press release:

GONHS' Press Release In Full Length

GONHS (The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History) has expressed regret at the Development and Planning Commission’s (DPC) decision to grant the proposed power station an EIA certificate.

GONHS feels that its comments on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) have not been properly addressed and that too many matters to do with the negative impact on wildlife, which the EIA itself acknowledges, are left in the air. While overall the original EIA appears thorough, it fails on certain key aspects. Not enough regard is given either to the massive impact the power station will have on the scenic nature of the south of Gibraltar, nor on measures that will compensate for, or mitigate the many ecological and landscape issues that will arise. This includes the potential decrease of the Barbary Partridge population at a time when GONHS observers are noticing a worrying decline in numbers. An independent assessment of the EIA, while scoring it highly overall, coincides with the GONHS points on landscape and ecology.

Despite negative impacts having been forecast by both the EIA and independent organisations, the DPC has decided to grant the EIA certificate before any mitigation or compensatory measures have been formally proposed.

Regardless of the EIA, GONHS also continues to insist that the whole question of power generation for Gibraltar requires more vision GONHS welcomes the fact that the new power station will mean an end to pollution in areas where there are power stations now. However, hedging Gibraltar’s bets on a power station that will burn fossil fuel will trap Gibraltar in the past when we have had the ideal opportunity to become forward looking leaders in energy production. A new power station should at best have been viewed as an interim measure whilst greener technology that is suitable for Gibraltar, such as renewable hydropower, develops. Rather, it is being viewed as a permanent measure, with higher rates of consumption of fossil fuel forecast for the future.

Not enough importance has been given to the need to reduce carbon emissions and to take real steps to reduce energy consumption in Gibraltar. There is a need for aggressive initiatives to reduce public consumption, and to give incentives to encourage private reduction in use of energy.

It is vitally important also that during construction and future operation, top priority be given to protecting the ecology of the area. It is now imperative – and required by European law – to provide a wide range of mitigation and compensation measures to reduce the impact, in as much as that will be possible. GONHS is aware that steps are being taken by Government to achieve this, but as an organisation has not been involved in the consultation process.

GONHS acknowledges having been able to put its points across to the Government, which it has not succeeded in convincing, and accepts that its officials for the most part feel that the current proposals are the best way forward. But it has to be assumed that once the power station is built it will be here for decades, with the environmental deterioration of the South District continuing for generations. And generations will regret the decision. Gibraltar is sealing its options and will be anchored firmly in the past at a time when fuel costs will spiral and stocks run out.

GONHS therefore makes a new appeal to Government to reconsider its plans and tackle the energy problem in an entirely new and different way.
One of the most serious concerns that GONHS has regarding this decision, however, is in fact a more general one about planning in Gibraltar. This is that there is no quantitative mechanism in place with which the DPC assesses EIAs. There appear to be no fixed criteria that EIAs have to meet, no boxes to tick. Therefore, acceptance or rejection of an EIA is left entirely at individual DPC members' discretion, regardless of the quality of the EIA or the impacts the proposed developments are likely to have on the environment. The DPC's meetings are still not public nor its minutes published, despite manifesto commitments by Government to the contrary.

GONHS Comment On EU Statement On SCI Dispute

Our sister charity today responded to the statement of EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas, who proposed Gibraltar's MEP Graham Watson an Anglo-Spanish management of marine conservation in Gibraltar's waters. Below you can find the press release in full length. For more background information please consult the information box on the right.

The Press Release in Full Length

The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) has described as "ridiculous" the statement by Stavros Dimas, the European Union’s environment commissioner in response to Gibraltar MEP Graham Watsons’s question. The response shows an incredible naivity on the part of such an experienced commissioner and a total lack of understanding of the situation in and around Gibraltar.

Apart from the legal aspects, and the implication in the statement that Spain has a legitimate claim to our waters, which GONHS is certain the Government will pursue, the suggestion that a joint management scheme will serve conservation is totally unrealistic. While there would be nothing wrong with exchanges of information and collaboration in developing protection strategies in the region as a whole – as proposed under the tripartite forum, and as is common practice in friendly neighbouring countries, which have adjacent protected areas – this is a totally different proposition.

And there are other complications. For example, there are parts of Gibraltar’s waters that Gibraltar and the UK have chosen NOT to designate. Would these now have to be managed as if they were just because Spain, without consulting anyone has decided to do so? Turning the argument around, how would Spain feel about Gibraltar policing those parts of their SCI outside Gibraltar waters, such as the area of Algeciras or Tarifa? Surely that would be part of a fully integrated management scheme?

The Spanish designation has meant an increase in tension and conflict, not the reverse, and the insistence on joint management is tantamount to ensuring that no agreement is ever reached and the marine environment does not get protected by anyone as the political wrangle worsens.

Taken further, as Gibraltar itself is claimed by Spain, would that in Mr Dimas’s judgement, justify Spain declaring a Site of Community Interest (SCI) on the Upper Rock which the EU would then suggest be jointly administered with Spain? How would Mr Dimas distinguish between the two using his arguments, and without entering the political debate, which he so painstakingly but unsuccessfully claims he wants to avoid?

The Gibraltar Government should now respond by an aggressive policing of all environmental matters in our waters, and initiatives to improve its conservation status to show to Europe that we can look after our waters and that we can do so on our own. The settlement in respect of the New Flame should provide finance for such an initiative, which GONHS would wholeheartedly support.

New Flame: Wreck Works Completed & £5.5m Compensation

More than two years after the Panamanian cargo ship 'MV New Flame' sank in Gibraltar's territorial waters wreck removal works have been completed; Government received £5.5m compensation which it will invest in "environmental protection and enhancement", the Gibraltar Chronicle wrote today.

The complex "operation to neutralise the danger to maritime safety, and the harm to the marine environment, posed by the wreck of the MV New flame has been completed," wrote the Chronicle. According to the daily the Gibraltar Government was very pleased with the result and the combined effort of "many Government departments, the Salvors, the Swedish Club [the insurers responsible for the wreck removal] and Gibraltar environmental groups".

Remaining pieces of the wreck will stay on the seabed: The independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by the renowned US company Polaris Applied Sciences Inc. had shown that "attempting to remove the remaining scattered bits of cargo, and the remaining bits of the hull itself, would cause more damage to the sea-bed and its marine environment (because of the abrasive nature of the recovery methods that would need to be employed) than leaving the remaining bits where they are. In sharp contrast to the damage that would be caused by attempts to remove the remaining pieces, leaving them in situ will enhance the marine life habitat, and will result in a very desirable diving and angling site," the Chronicle wrote.

Our charity is more than delighted about these findings as we have had the same concerns about a potential removal of the remaining wreck pieces. Instead we had hoped to claim the remains for Gibraltar’s Artificial Reef which we have constructed over the past 30 years. Especially at the location in question – called ‘Los Picos’ - the removal of the wreck would have caused significant damage to that reef (for more information go to Artficial Reef Project – A First in Europe !).
While according to the Chronicle the aftermath of the cargo’s sinking has resulted in a "mainly insurance financed operation" of "some $120 million ... the incident has ironically benefitted the local economy by some £20m in services such as scrap removal" and has not cost the taxpayer. The results of the EIA "now allowed considerable sums to be saved and Government negotiated [£5.5m] compensation of this which it has earmarked for environmental matters", the Chronicle wrote, adding that the Gibraltar Government concluded the settlement agreement with the vessel’s owners and The Swedish Club.

After the announcement of compensation, our chairman Dr Eric Shaw was interviewed by the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). He told GBC that in his opinion the money "should be spent where none has been spent before". As the marine environment is closely linked to the terrestrial environment, Eric said, that investments in marine environment should overlap on the terrestrial side as well.

Crowded Bay for Dolphins - Update 1

Since we started our monitoring program we have been out between two and three times every week. On some of our trips we saw small groups of common and/or striped dolphins, in some cases they were interacting. In one case we even saw the incredibly rare sight of a single bottlenose dolphin accompanying a herd of common dolphins.

Of course our data is not yet representative. We noted however that the groups of common dolphins and striped dolphins seem to prefer lingering in the northern end of the centre of the bay where there is little shipping traffic, but the data we will collect over the next year may paint a completely different picture. In any case: We will keep you updated.

During yesterday’s trip we again saw groups of striped and common dolphins (see pictures above) familiar to us from previous outings. The striped dolphins were interacting with each other and collectively feeding in a small area of around a thousand square metres – we could not see what they consumed as they were diving quite deeply. The common dolphins swam alongside our research vessel Nimo. They were in the same area as the striped dolphins, but they were neither feeding nor was there an interaction between the two herds. Both groups did not appear to be upset about each other’s presence.