Plans to create a “highway” in the western Mediterranean to protect whales and other marine mammals threatened by oil exploration projects have been backed by the Spanish government.
Madrid’s environment ministry will propose the project at the next summit of Mediterranean nations. It will say that the exploration techniques in the area, such as the use of high-intensity air guns that emit sound waves, risk disrupting the habitats of pilot whales, sperm whales and bottlenose dolphins.
Under the proposals for the so-called “highway”, a safe zone, which would run between the Balearic Islands and the Catalan coast, would be created. Exploration in the area would cease and a Zepim, or “Specially Protected Zone of Mediterranean Importance”, would be enforced.
The announcement is a victory for environmental campaigners who have long argued that oil companies threaten the sea’s natural environment. Carlos Bravo, who works for the Alianza Mar Blava, an alliance of environmental groups and the Balearic regional government, told the La Vanguardia newspaper that all drilling and acoustic surveys in the area would be banned.
The project already has the support of the European Commission. The director general for its environment directorate, Karmenu Vela, said that Brussels had already approved “a new Zepim in the Mediterranean corridor” in an interview with Europa Press.
Exactly where the corridor would be routed remains uncertain. According to La Vanguardia, the firm Schlumberger has licences to look for oil in blocks near the Balearics – but it is not clear if the company’s activities would be threatened by the proposals.
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