GONHS Response To Consultation Paper On Fishing

Our sister charity, the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS), has welcomed Government's plan to regulate activities in the marine environment but criticises that the respective consultation paper misses the point and "lacks the necessary depth of knowledge of natural systems, nature conservation principles and relevant legal instruments".

GONHS highlights that the law enforcement of existing Nature Protection Act of 1991 and the Marine Nature Reserve Regulations of 1995 would have solved many of the problems tackled in the consultation paper.

'New Act Needs To Regulate Commercial Activities'

At the same time the new Act does not aim to regulate activities on a comercial level. The charity warns that: "Unless commercial type fishing such as netting, raking, trawling, and long lining are stopped, and unless large scale operations such as bunkering, laying of underwater cables, etc., are managed with the environment in mind, any attempts to regulate fishing and diving will be of limited real significance."

'No Governmental Inter-Departmental Co-Ordination'

"It is a concern also that the Paper appears to have been prepared in isolation from other Government initiatives, with little evidence of inter-Departmental co-ordination. For example, there exist other proposals for development, including luxury developments, within the proposed protected area, as well as along other parts of our coastline", GONHS says, stressing that "these have to be taken into account when developing overall policies for marine conservation and recreational or commercial use, and also have to conform to the provisions of the Development Plan," says GONHS.

'International Requirements Not Met'

Our sister charity points out that among the "main issues affecting the sea around Gibraltar at this moment is the implementation of the requirements of the EU Habitats Directive ... there are current obligations in relation to the Southern Waters of Gibraltar Site of Community Importance. These include the requirement to have an effective management plan by 2014, followed by designation as a Special Area of Conservation. The management plan is to be primarily designed to ensure the protection of natural habitats."

The society clarifies that "the Ministry for the Environment is currently, in consultation with stakeholders, embarked in preparing such a plan. Any changes in the way fishing and diving are regulated will need to be in conformity with the management plan. There is no reference to this at all in the Consultation Paper."
beautiful life under water

'Sports Authority Not Competent On Marine Issues'

GONHS is concerned that the Sports & Leisure Authority – which has developed the consultation paper alongside Government - is not "competent to be the authority in relation to the protection of nature and the environment, which is a highly complex and specialised field". The underlying problem, it says, is the view on the marine environment.

'Marine Environment Is Treasure In Its Own Right'

GONHS criticises that in the paper the marine environment is viewed from a recreational angle, but not as a treasure in its own right with international importance: "Gibraltar's marine natural assets are significant. They have an intrinsic value, and should continue to exist in their own right, and not merely as a source of recreation or as a resource for exploitation. Furthermore, there are significant elements of our marine life which are of international importance and for which we have a responsibility, including a legal responsibility."

Slender Sunfish: New Species Sighted in Gibraltar

It is a local first: 15 juvenile specimens of the Slender sunfish (ranzania laevis) could be seen in Gibraltar's Ocean Village Marina for a couple of days now, so that we may list it present in our waters.

Though regarded by the FAO database as native to the Mediterranean, it is the first confirmed report of this peaceful species, locally. It is quite unusual to see them this close to the shoreline.

With a length between 22cm and 33cm the 15 specimens are still in their juvenile stages - they can grow to a maximum length of 100cm. This may also account for them still shoaling together; as adults they are solitary.

Decoding the Language of Dolphins and Apes: Tessa Feeney Lends Us a Helping Hand

Animal welfare, monitoring and seamanship: Last summer Conservation and Wildlife Management student Tessa Feeney has spent eight weeks with us volunteering. Next month, we are so fortunate to welcome her again in the framework of a college experience placement.

"I've always been fascinated by the natural world, and have known that I wanted to go in the direction of land management for a while", said the 20-year old English girl with local family ties. She is subscribed to the Hampshire-based Sparsholt College - an institution which as she explained also teaches the "practical approach looking after" nature.

Practical work there was plenty with the Helping Hand Trust, in areas previously unfamiliar to Tessa. Whatever needed to be done, though, Tessa went out and did and in an instant adapted to the sometimes unpredictable challenges of our working day. Whether this meant to help us trying to convince a wild-ranging ape to leave the bathroom of an unimpressed hotel guest or giving us a hand in maintaining our research field station.

Tessa has worked with our ape management team providing the daily care for the five monkey troops in the nature reserve, helping us with our behavioural studies and monitoring of the apes. Additionally, she assisted our veterinarian in conducting his regular health checks of the primates and our local doctor in our joint project with the aim to provide better guidelines for the treatment of possible animal bites.

She accompanied us to trips to the Campo, identifying invertebrates and also assisting us following up on our marine projects in Gibraltar. She has learned the basics of seamanship while for example testing the quality of our waters or monitoring the dolphins in the bay.

The daily routine according to Tessa was always full of surprises: "Most mornings were taken up with work with the monkeys, preparing their food distributing it. Looking out for new borns, photographing them for the annual journal, keeping a head count and checking their general health."

"I was instructed on the behaviour of the animals and what their facial expressions meant. It's like a language or monkey talk that we see but don't understand until it is explained to you. With the ape management team I would answer any call-outs, such as getting the monkeys off the Caleta Hotel's roof. The afternoons were spent out in the vessel Nimo looking at the dolphins, surprisingly this work is much similar to the work with monkeys but out at sea."

With previous volunteering experience in the UK in land management working with domesticated animals Tessa proved to be a dedicated student and great team player who quickly adapted to the challenges of our daily and day-filling tasks and keen to learn the methods and methodologies applied. Even though she decided to specialise in land management, Tessa said she especially liked "working with the boat and learning the new skill of operating it."

Currently, she is still at university, residing in Hampshire in student halls on campus: "As Sparsholt is a land based college many of the students are also interested in wildlife, it's common to find the TV showing 'Total Fishing', 'Pet Rescue' or something with David Attenborough narrating."

For Christmas Tessa will stay with family over here, describing Gibraltar in three words as "well kept secret."

Before returning to college, we will be happy to have her with us for a while in the New Year and hope she will find it worthwhile again.


Wonders in the Sky: Flamingos Over Gibraltar

When driving along Gibraltar's east side this morning we saw some 40 Greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus roseus) flying South. As far as we know this was the first time that these gracious birds have crossed the Rock. Please, see our pictures below!

Simultaneously moving with their bodies stretched in flight it was a stunning sight to behold. Though the Greater flamingo is native to some warm, watery parts of Europe, like Southern Spain and Portugal, it has never been recorded to take a migration route over our skies.

This sociable bird belongs to the larger one of its kind and lives, feeds and breeds in flocks. The flamingo is omnivore and lives of small fish, insects and crustaceans found in estuaries and salty waters.

Both male and female tend to the single egg. The offspring is born with grey feathers and only turns pink two years later. It is believed that a diet of crustaceans is responsible for this change in colour.

In times where food is limited and the habitat dry it may not breed at all, which may account for us not having seen any grey birds among them.

In the wild, the Greater flamingo can live up to 20 years.

... And White Storks

This incident reminded of us another unusual sighting: During spring migration four years back we saw White storks (Ciconia ciconia) crossing Gibraltar via Europa Point.

As it was a stormy day, they had a rest on the military flats in Windmill Hill before heading home to the Campo.

2010 - Not a Good Year for Turtles

Our waters are home to four different species of turtles, all of which are protected by EU law and Gibraltar's Protection Ordinance. While we usually see some 30 to 40 throughout the groups per year while being out on the boat, in 2010 we did not even see a dozen.

The Green sea turtle (chelonia mydas), the Loggerhead sea turtle (caretta caretta), the Leatherback sea turtle (dermochelys coriacea) and the Kemp's ridley sea turtle (lepidochelys kempii) all usually pass through Gibraltarian waters via the Strait. Invariably, we have seen brief glimpses of many of these reptiles on or below the surface before they took off.

In 2010 we have only spotted four green turtles, two loggerhead turtles and none of the other turtles at all.

We also came across five dead loggerhead turtles washed ashore. Due to their decomposing state we could not determine the reason of their deaths, as our charity does not have any facilities to carry out autopsies when animals are in this condition.

Some turtles get to close to the shoreline and simply are not strong enough to carry themselves back to sea. Others die entangled in fishing nets and lines, either of their injuries or consequently drown when pulled under water.

We can only speculate, whether the populations are going down in numbers, whether they have chosen other habitats or whether we simply did not see them.

This year we have not come across a single turtle, yet, but is still early days for this season.