GONHS: Pleased With New Flame Outcome

Last week the Gibraltar Government announced that works on the wreck of the Panamanian cargo ship 'MV New Flame' have been completed: Wreck remains will stay on the seabed, and Government has secured £5.5m compensation which it intends to use to protect and enhance the environment. Our sister charity - like ourselves - is very pleased with the outcome.

Both the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) and the Helping Hand Trust were concerned that a removal of the remaining wreckage - which already had been made save for shipping - would significantly damage the marine wildlife. More than two years after its sinking this would have disturbed the inhabitants of the seabed, while leaving it where it is, the wreck will even enhance the biodiversity.

Like the Helping Hand Trust our sister charity is also looking forward to see the £5.5m compensation being invested in the enhancement and protection of the environment. The chairman of the Helping Hand Trust, Dr Eric Shaw, had already been interviewed about the issue last week by the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation. Eric said, in his opinion, the money "should be spent where none has been used before". Investments in the marine environment should overlap with investments in the terrestrial environment, as both are so very much interlinked.

GONHS: Press Release In Full Length

The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) has welcome the final outcome of the New Flame matter.

GONHS has worked with the Government at all stages related to this issue, and fully supports the way the matter has been handled. While regretting the accident when it occurred, and supporting measures to avert this type of incident in the future, it is pleased with the prompt manner in which the wreck was made environmentally safe.

GONHS itself was of the opinion that the remaining wreckage, once made safe for shipping, should remain on the seabed, as removing it would cause more damage, considering also that it is already colonised by a rich diversity of marine life.

It is pleased that the marine consultants, Polaris, were also of this opinion.

The granting of £5.5 million in compensation is a significant achievement in itself, and GONHS looks forward to seeing it being used in enhancing Gibraltar’s natural environment.

Welcome Wagtail! Birds Settle In Queensway Quay Marina

During the construction of Gibraltar's Queensway Quay Marina our charity advised the developers on key features to increase the circulation within the marina basin - more and more species now opt for permanent residency. Among them terrestrial species such as the wagtail and the cormorant!
The Helping Hand Trust carried out the initial Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the construction of Queensway Quay Marina. As the developer thought it important to nurture and enhance biodiversity, we additionally advised him on how to realise this goal. The result is an eco-friendly marina which even harbours endangered and protected species - the proof that developers and environmentalists can work hand in hand (for details on the measures, go to our project page: Marinas - Queensway Quay ).

In the cycle of nature marine and terrestrial wildlife are inseparable. Birds such as the wagtail and the cormorant already feed in Queensway Quay Marina for the second year. This tells us that they can find sustainable food resources in this protected and sheltered area. It also shows that improving a marine habitat is of benefit to terrestrial wildlife.

But birds not only live off fish, sometimes birds and fish even share marvellous relationships: The ocean sunfish for example has forged an alliance with terrestrial species ever since: Many parasites nest on the thick skin of the sunfish. To get rid of them, this worldwide biggest fish takes 'sunbaths' on the surface of the sea, exposing one of its sides to the air. This way birds can land on the sunfish's body and feed from the parasites. The presence of birds is also one of the reasons, why predators like sharks avoid the vegetarian-living and docile sunfish. So with the help of birds the sunfish fish could survive all over the globe since ancient times.

Not only animals and plants but also humans have noticed that Queensway Quay is a little oasis. Some of them have told us of sightings of species such as flying fish . Others regularly feed the wild fish such as the golden grey mullet which safely can approach vessels and quay as fishing is prohibited in the marina.

Protected Species with Wondrous Characteristics

We are very pleased to see the Queensway Quay Marina in bloom. The biodiversity has significantly increased since its development and even attracted species protected under Gibraltar's Nature Protection Ordinance.

Among them you can find for instance a master of camouflage, the European spider crab , or the greater pipefish - its snout takes half the length of its head and it is closely related to the sea horse! Whereas, the pink sea fan or gorgonian serves as host for many shrimps and gastropods and can live for decades!
In our view these are excellent examples of how development can be of benefit to wildlife. We hope that more constructors will see the advantages of eco-friendly development, which not only encourages biodiversity but also attracts humans to back-pedal and marvel!

Campo Gets Off Lightly As Gibraltar-Based Fuel Ships Run Aground

Two Gibraltar-based fuel tankers ran aground in nearby Spain during yesterday's heavy weather; no injuries or pollution have been reported, but environmentalists from Gibraltar and Spain criticise the lack of marine safety, the Gibraltar Chronicle wrote today.
vermaoil xxi aground spain

According to the newspaper both vessels had been at anchorage off Gibraltar, but due to foul weather one of them dragged anchor and unhooked the others' chain: The empty Vermaoil XXI, a 6,000-tonne bunker tanker, came to a halt just metres before the rocky wharf in La Linea de La Concepcion, the 3,000-tonne product tanker Vermaoil IX carried a heavy fuel load and ran aground a few meters further out.

Both Spanish tug boats from the port in Algeciras and vessels from Gibraltar immediately came to the scene to free the tankers and tow them to the Spanish port, the Chronicle wrote, adding that Vermoil "has been asked to post a €200,000 bond per ship for the release of the vessels". A spokesman for the Algeciras harbour authority told Chronicle reporter Brian Reyes that the harbour authority is in doubt whether the watch-keeping at the ships was adequate at the time of the incident; the investigation now aims to shed light on these circumstances. According to the Chronicle, the authorities from both sides of the border cooperate closely in this investigation.

Criticism From Environmentalists

As highlighted by reporter Reyes, Gibraltar and the Campo had to deal with "a string of major maritime casualties" over the past three years, among others these "include the foundering of the New Flame and the Fedra off Gibraltar, and the grounding of the Sierra Nava and the Tawe in Algeciras" - in total more than six million tonnes of fuel are delivered every year from operators on both sides of the bay. Accordingly, environmentalists from Gibraltar and Spain as well as Greenpeace voiced displeasure regarding marine safety measures in the bay and the latest incident.

Dr Eric Shaw, Chairman of our charity the Helping Hand Trust, was quoted in the Chronicle, saying: "We knew it would happen again. We’ve been lucky this time but we never seem to learn the lessons."

The Gibraltarian Environmental Safety Group (ESG) likewise voiced concern about the cumulative maritime accidents due to foul wheather: ESG spokesman Janet Howitt told the Chronicle that "there is a clear need for stricter controls. Real-time monitoring of all vessels 24 hours a day is vital so that any ships adrift and in trouble can be picked up early and action taken promptly".

According to the Chronicle Greenpeace complained about "administrative incompetence", while Spanish environmentalists intend to file formal complaints over the aground tankers. A spokesman for Verdemar Ecologistas en Acción told the newspaper, that the authorities should be more active "in the face of a constant threat of pollution".

Criticism And Contra From The Authorities

Major of La Linea, Alejandro Sánchez, also appeared to be concerned about the incidents and commented in the Gibraltar Chronicle: "Sooner or later we are going to have a maritime tragedy in the bay if we don’t take effective measures."

The authorities on both sides of the border exempt themselves from criticism and told the newspaper that both shipping and bunkering activities are closely monitored and regulated; at the same time Gibraltar, Spain and the UK are working on joint protocols to optimise maritime cooperation and plan to conduct "joint cross-border anti-pollution exercises" in 2010.

Giorgio Our Oldest Male Monkey Died Today

Gibraltar's oldest free-ranging male monkey, Giorgio, died a natural death today. With 29 years of age he beat the Barbary Macaque's average span of life by ten years, yet we will miss him very much.

Giorgio was found dead during the day. Dr Eric Shaw, Director of Projects for the care of the monkeys, said, he assumes that the heavy storms and rains of the past two weeks were too much for him - Dr Shaw has been appointed for this post by the Gibraltar Government via our sister charity GONHS (Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society) and is also the Chairman of the Helping Hand Trust.

Dr Shaw and his team have cared for Giorgio for half of his life. Belonging to the troop at the popular tourist site Prince Philips Arch on top of the Rock, Giorgio had longed ceased to be an alpha male. Yet, he always managed to secure his place in the hierarchy of primates.

Toothless and suffering from arthritis in arms and legs he kept well in with the alpha males: In exchange with other males he always sided with the alpha males that succeeded him, while looking towards the females for guidance whenever one of these situations occurred. On top of this he learned to 'give five' from taxi drivers and tour operators. With this skill he became the star of tour operators and tourists who gave him treats for his performance.
Both these alliances helped him to get along despite his illness: He did not have to move much, he did not have to forage for food or get in the way of any alpha males by taking the most popular bits from the daily provision of fruit and vegetables.

We do not advise the contact between monkeys and tour operators or tourists as this disturbs the natural balance within the troops. For the same reason it is prohibited to feed the monkeys. Humans should not forget that they are wild animals, not pets. However, you have to admire Giorgio for using man to his own advantage, finding his unique personal niche and becoming a great character in his later life. We - like many others - will always remember him fondly.
The female Mercedes with her 32 years of age meanwhile continues to be the oldest monkey on the Rock of Gibraltar.

Rei-Yuin Chu & Alberto Buzzola: Welcome To Gibraltar!

Reporter Rei-Yuin Chu and photojournalist Alberto Buzzola from the Taiwanese magazine Rhythms Monthly (RM) have seen many of the wonders and problems of our planet. Now their work has taken them to Gibraltar and our charity. Despite their busy schedule they were so kind to give us an interview.

Mrs Chu and Mr Buzzola are both highly regarded in their field of work and have contributed to many documentaries. Mrs Chu - whose name has the beautiful meaning 'Little Branch Bamboo Dwelling' - has for example taken part in RM's multi-year project '3R - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' and thus travelled the world to report on ways to best preserve the environment.

Mr Buzzola is a contract photographer for RM, based in Taiwan. He has worked for magazines such as Geographic World, Forbes and Vogue and for many media from his home country Italy. Additionally he carries out his own works in places such as Afghanistan and Romania.

Travelling the World's Most Important Straits

Their current project – a piece about life in the world's most important straits – now brought Mrs Chu and Mr Buzzola to Gibraltar.

They explain that in their eyes "straits are very peculiar geographic locations with many implications. Straits divide land, people, cultures. At the same time they could unite people for a better understanding of each other and to become more tolerant towards diversity. A respective beginning could be to jointly work on the preservation of life in the water which divides the lands. They could share the knowledge that will definitely benefit to human awareness."
During their stay in Gibraltar they said they intend to interview people from all social strata, "whether government officials or ordinary people. To us everyone has an interesting story to tell and knowledge to share."

The Helping Hand Trust: In Tune with RM's Values

Talking about our charity, both Mrs Chu and Mr Buzzola said that the work of the Helping Hand "is very much in line with what our foundation 'preaches'. Working for the betterment of the ever endangered environment is what our foundation has at heart most. Covering the work done by organisations such as the Helping Hand Trust is essential to bring to our readers a better understanding of how we could all contribute to make this world a better place to live in."

The Taiwanese Environment

Asked whether there are charities in Taiwan which are similar to ours, Mrs Chu and Mr Buzzola replied, that there are several organizations which work towards the preservation of marine life. Mr Buzzola for example has made a photographic documentary on the endangered giant green turtles, which are taken care of by an organisation similar to the Helping Hand Trust. With Taiwan being an island they explained, that there is a lot of need for marine conservation and that Taiwan only recently became aware of the huge environmental problems due to over-fishing.

Speaking about both the marine and terrestrial environment they explained that during the years of high industrialisation, Taiwan suffered heavily: "Forests were chopped down and the rivers treated as sewage where factories could discharge whatever they wanted."

"At that time the government and people did not pay enough attention to what they were doing. Money was the only driving force and the only thing that mattered. Today, fortunately, some people have awakened and are pushing the government to do something about our environment whether it is marine or terrestrial."

Mrs Chu and Mr Buzzola said that things are changing for the better but not as fast as they would wish. As the aim of RM is "to bring some of the world to Taiwan", they said they hope that "reporting on the Helping Hand Trust will raise awareness towards safeguarding marine life and enforcing the belief that something must be done - soon and in good spirit."

Gibraltar: "Fascinating and Unique"

Asked about their impression of Gibraltar and its people, Mrs Chu and Mr Buzzola replied: "Gibraltar is a fascinating and unique place. People are incredibly friendly and we are enjoying every moment of our stay, except the weather which has been very bizarre so far."

"It is a privilege to be here. We are grateful of this experience in Gibraltar, as we are grateful for the warm hospitality received. We are especially thankful to our colleague Brian Reyes and Dr Eric Shaw from the Helping Hand Trust and all the people in Gibraltar who have been unconditionally helpful in our endeavour. They were and still are instrumental to the success of our assignment. Our job could not have been done without them."

Tomorrow they will head to their next stop: The African side of the strait. From there they will move on to the Strait of Bab El Mandeb. We wish them a safe journey and thank them warmly for their interest in our work.