A Helping Hand: Meet Our Volunteer Vicky Howard

Monkey care, seamanship and research assistance: Vicky Howard is full of energy and always up for joining us in the field. Here she talks about the volunteering experience in Gibraltar, cheeky monkeys and wild life.

"I have always been certain, that I want to work with mammals in the field," explained the 18-year-old gap year student from Herne Bay in Kent, who in the next term will start to study environmental science at the University of Sussex.

In Vicky's opinion it is crucial to carry out practical work to understand the subject of study. Additionally, she said, it is important to her to get to know some places of the world, to learn about different cultures, to meet new people and to benefit from that input.

When over a friend of her mother she learned about the Helping Hand Trust, Vicky enquired about us, applied successfully and took up on the challenge to come to Gibraltar on 2nd January 2010, staying at our research field station in the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.

Despite the unusually constant rains and storms of the first three months of her stay, Vicky has been out with us every day since. She was introduced to marine biology, seamanship, bird watching and has assisted the primatologists, marine scientists and botanists who stayed at the field station – and of course she also works with the Ape Management Team of Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society (GONHS) taking care of our free-ranging Barbary Macaques.

"I keep a work journal to memorise properly the different fields of study, the methods and techniques I encounter. It is all very exciting, but as I love working with animals the work with monkeys is probably my favourite," said Vicky.

And work with and for the six troops of course there is plenty. It starts with the daily care: the provision of water, 100 kg of fresh and cut fruit and vegetable, the cleaning of the feeding areas and the monitoring to guarantee that all monkeys are healthy and well.

It continues with the in-depth examination: On Tuesdays and Wednesdays the team alongside a veterinarian check up on the health condition of individual monkeys in the laboratory facilities at the research field station.

It ends with the research: One of Vicky's big projects is the set-up of identification catalogues of the monkeys to be used by visiting biologists.

"I love this kind of work: going out to take photographs of the Macaques. They tease you and make it really hard for you to get a proper picture, always moving away in the last moment," laughed Vicky, who identifies and categorises the monkeys pictured both based on various identification techniques and the material of our data base.

"I do not think I could sit in an office on a desk 24/7, ideally, I also would like to have a balance between field work and the intellectual challenge in the future," she added.

It is not the first time Vicky combines these two ends. In Sixth Form she signed up for environmental studies in her home town and among other assignments categorised and promoted the local flora and fauna.

And what does she think about the fauna in Gibraltar – humans included?

"It is great. I have received a warm welcome and easily made friends," said Vicky, who in her free time spends a lot of time with the locals, meeting up for a meal or drink, going bowling, to the cinema - basically "the kind of stuff you do".

"I recommend volunteers from the UK to come to Gibraltar when planning the first independent time abroad. It is a cosy place with lovely and welcoming people and it feels not too different from home. It is ideal for a first step," smiled Vicky.

Vicky certainly has planned the second step: For the university's Easter break 2011 Vicky applied for working with lion cubs in South Africa.
For the time being, though, she is still walking with us. We thank Vicky for dedicating six months of her life to us and for supporting us in our goals. We admire her for the lengths she goes to improve her knowledge of her subject of study and the understanding of the world at large. We are sure that she will become a big player among the wild creatures on this planet – and in the meanwhile we just enjoy having her working with us. Thank you, Vicky!


Gib Government Says No To Dolphinarium With Animals Captured From the Wild

Chief Minister Peter Caruana said, the Gibraltar Government disagrees with keeping dolphins in captivity which were caught in the wild, the Gibraltar Chronicle wrote today, adding that the Chief Minister Caruana said "the government is not, per se, against the existence of a dolphinarium".

As said by the newspaper, this statement was a response to questions of the Opposition in Parliament last week.

Seven weeks ago, fragmented information about plans to build a dolphinarium in Gibraltar had caused a public debate: Environmentalists and private citizens were against the plans to import 18 formerly wild bottle nose dolphins and nine sea lions from Asian waters and put them on display in a dolphinarium in Rosia Bay - a declared area of special interest. The Strait of Gibraltar is inhabited by wild bottle nose, striped and common dolphins, and the general concept of dolphinariums nowadays is a disputed one. The facebook group in protest of the plans meanwhile counts 4,000 members.

According to the Chronicle the Chief Minister also has replied to the Opposition's questions regarding the discussions with the dolphinarium's promoters: He confirmed that the company Europa Point Marine Village had submitted a proposal for "…a dolphinarium and other leisure facilities in the area of Rosia Bay…", but said that "no negotiations have taken place, let alone been concluded".

Mr Caruana said that Government is thinking about using Rosia Bay for other "leisure purposes", but would not comment on any project until it had rejected or accepted a respective propsal, wrote the Chronicle.

PDP Says It Is Only Party Fully Rejecting Dolphinarium

Gibraltar's opposition party PDP said it its the only political party that outrightly rejects the dolphinarium project, the Gibraltar Chronicle wrote today, adding that the PDP stated it is dissatisfied with the evasive answers from Government in Parliament

While Government has confirmed that it might consider the propsal as long as it does not involve dolphins caught in the wild; the GSLP/Liberals have issued a "whishy-washy" statement, in which they do not entirely dismiss the proposal, the PDP said in the newspaper.

The PDP was quoted commenting on the issue "Whilst Gibraltar wishes to be recognised as being modern and progressive, to even consider proposals for a dolphinarium here is a retrograde step. The Government has also stated that it is considering using the Rosia Bay site for 'other local leisure purposes' but that it would refrain from publicly commenting on the dolphinarium project until this was accepted or rejected ... People are entitled to know whether the Government supports the proposals put to it and whether they will, once again, have ill-conceived development in the heart of a residential district thrust upon them without proper consultation."

PDP spokeswoman Rosemarie Peach stated, the PDP would oppose to the dolphinarium project, but promises "a complete regeneration of Rosia Bay, should it be elected to Government: "Too much waterfront is being lost and this area is in crying need of repair and maintenance."

Dolphinarium Company Determined To Conduct Project

Europe Point Marine Village Limited (EPMVL)is defending its controversial proposal for a dolphinarium and has accused our sister charity and our our charity's chairman Dr Eric Shaw of being "irresponsible" regarding their opposition to the plan, the Gibraltar Chronicle wrote today.

"In claims it was not able to substantiate to this newspaper the company claimed the local campaign against the dolphinarium is "to protect local private commercial interests and this campaign is not in the interest of Gibraltar"," the Chronicle wrote, adding that EPMVL claims our sister charity intends to "spin fear" especially to children.

The company also has rejected criticism regarding the welfare of the animals due to its experience as "Marine Mammal Facility designers and operators". A spokesman was quoted in the Chronicle saying that both EPMVL and its consultants have had "considerable experience in achieving projects in the leisure industry and facilities with live animals and are certain that in connection with tourism the project will attract new visitors to Gibraltar, which will substantially benefit the local economy".

EPMVL also highlighted on the provision of hundreds of employment opportunities for "as many locals as possible" - except for animal care related expert staff.

Details of the Proposal

According to the EPMVL in the Chronicle the project of some 18m would take twelve months construction works. The newspaper wrote that "in a bid to highlight what they feel are the advantages of the project the company issued a statement which emphasised" on Sea Angling and leisure facilities to the seaward side of a reconstructed mole, a scenic seating gallery and a Nelson Museum with a virtual reality battle programme.

"The Bay itself will remain fully tidal and the mouth section only will have suspended netting below floats to protect the Dolphins and Sea Lions. The live animals will have the safety and benefit of the entire Bay area, which extends to approximately 10,000 square metres of water surface," EMPVL was quoted in the Chronicle, "adding that located outside of the floats and netting will be a floating boom to protect the Bay from potential pollution."


So far the application has yet to be accepted by Government for planning commission. Government has recently confirmed in Parliament that it opposes to the idea of using formerly wild animals for that purpose, but is not against the idea of a dolphinairum per se.

PDP meanwhile has said, it is the only party which fully condemns the dolphinarium proposal and promises a complete regeneration of the declared area of special interest, Rosia Bay - the proposed location of the dolphinarium.

The plans of building a dolphinarium has lead to widespread protest among both local animal welfare groups and private citizens - more than 4,000 people have expressed their dismay on the facebook group "Stop the Proposed Dolphinarium".


There are manyfolded concerns regarding the project which outweigh possible arguments in favour of a dolphinarium: Most dolphins and sea lions for marine facilities are captured from Asian waters - and even if not, they are often the captured animals offspring. With a rising demand for dolphins there will be a rising risk that animals purchased from captivity will be replaced by captured wild animals elsewhere ( The Cove , Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, examines this business of international dolphin capture trade).

Furthermore, half of these very intelligent mammals die within the first two years of captivity; survivors last an average of five years; whereas the average life span of a dolphin in the wild is 45 years.

Anyone who wishes to import - and even breed - dolphins also would have to apply to the EU, as there a laws against respective abuse, so the proposal might provoke critical international responses.

The Strait of Gibraltar is home to Bottlenose dolphins, Common dolphins and Striped dolphins, already. They can not only be watched in the wild, but a dolphinarium might also disturb them in their natural habitat. The Bay area in question is part of their territory. And even if there would be a netting to seperate captured and wild dolphins, the dolphins on both sides of the net would be able to communicate. It is unclear how much damage this would do to animals on either side.

The location itself is a declared area of special interest and inhabited by animals and plants protected under EU Law and Gibraltar's Nature Protection Ordinance. Using this area solely for leisure and commercial purposes could significantly damage the fragile biodiversity. The net covering 10.000 square meters would not solely prevent pollution as stated by EMPVL, but have a dramatic impact on migrating animals and the reproduction of the area. It would also cause confusion for other marine species on either side of the "fence" and maybe have an overall impact on the strait's sea life. Furthermore the net might pose a danger to animals unaware of the net, as they might get entangled in the net or suffer injuries.

The project of course would also have an impact on humans and Gibraltar's infrastructure: Some of the last remaining beaches would be turned into a tourist attraction. A lot of traffic could be expected to be channelled through residential areas and past local schools.


Angling For Change: Politicians Receive Petition from Campaigners

The Gibraltar Federation of Sea Anglers, which campaigns for the implementation of laws to protect the marine environment, yesterday visited all political parties to present them with a petition signed by almost 2300 locals, the Gibraltar Chronicle wrote today.

Saving Marine Biodiversity

The GFSA argues that reckless anglers and divers, as well as construction works and shipping have endangered the local marine biodiversity and therefore presented the authorities with "ten red lines" on how to save the marine environment.

"The present situation hurts. They're destroying everything and enough is enough. Everything we grew up with when we were young, even the black crabs that were everywhere. It's all gone," the Chronicle quoted one of the GFSA's spokesmen Bernard Wright, who added that "this goes beyond fishing. It's about looking after what we have."

The Government

During talks in May Government had promised to issue a respective consultation paper for laws for a legislation in autumn which should have been made public by the end of June, the Chronicle wrote, adding that it understood that this paper "is being finalised but ... it had not yet been published"

According to the paper the government has agreed on many of the red lines but rejected some of them of being too "close to local politics". Previous to these talks, the GFSA said it felt that 16 years of negotiating with government had been to no avail, so that it had to react with a campaign.

During today's visit to No.6 Convent Place, a representative of the GSD, Gareth Flower, accepted the GSFA's petition in the foyer and promised to deliver it to Chief Minister Peter Caruana, the newspaper wrote.

The GSLP/Liberals

Opposition leader Joe Bossano received the delegation in the GSLP headquarters. During the following meeting of 30 minutes Mr Bossano encouraged the campaigners and was quoted in the Chronicle saying: "There is nothing there [in the campaign], that we find objectionable. We believe 100% in what they are doing. We hope that the government does respond to this but if it doesn't, we will."

Mr Bossano also drew attention on the underlying controversy over the sovereignty of Gibraltar's waters, -a row that intensified after Europe listed part of it as Spanish protected EU site last year, the Chronicle wrote.


Keith Azopardi, leader of the Progressive Democratic Party, welcomed the representatives of the GFSA in the offices of the law firm, where he works, the Chronicle wrote, adding that Mr Azopardi said he is in support of the GFSA's concerns but disagrees with the GFSA's demand of having a sole consultation status on angling matters.

"If it's not dealt with now, all I can say is, that there will be a manifesto commitment to do it," he was quoted in the newspaper.