As part of the event in Rome, the new sanctuary was designated a Gift to the Earth under WWF's Living Planet Campaign. Gifts to the Earth are commitments or actions by governments, corporations and individuals to help preserve the planet's natural wealth.
"This is the first time in the northern hemisphere that several countries have established a marine protected area which includes international waters," said Claude Martin, WWF's Director General. "This is an important positive example and we are calling for other countries to follow suit."
The Whale Sanctuary will be the largest marine protected area in the Mediterranean and covers around 84,000 km2, an area twice as large as Switzerland. It lies between the French Côte d'Azur, Monaco, the Ligurian coast in Italy and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia.
The treaty creating the sanctuary for whales and dolphins commits the three signatory governments to coordinate monitoring activities and to intensify actions against land-based and marine sources of pollution in the sanctuary. The treaty also recognizes the need for the three signatories to coordinate research programmes and public awareness campaigns about these marine mammals and their environment.
The new marine protected area plays a primary biological role in the Mediterranean Sea. It is the most important feeding ground for a number of small and large cetaceans. Here the number of whales and dolphins is two to four times higher than in the rest of the Mediterranean Sea. Thirteen different cetacean species live in this area, among which seven can be observed throughout the whole year: the pilot whale, fin whale, sperm whale, common dolphin, striped dolphin, bottlenose dolphin and the Risso's dolphin.
"WWF welcomes the creation of the sanctuary," said Leonardo Lacerda, Director of WWF's Mediterranean Programme. "However, our concern is that more actions are needed to protect the marine mammals. These include action as soon as possible on fishing and strict limits on off-shore competitions and unregulated tourist activities."
The creation of the Whale Sanctuary is a major breakthrough in conservation cooperation. Although the agreement focusses on the cetaceans, the new measures will benefit many other marine species and help the conservation of the whole environment.
For further information:
Simone de Manso, WWF International, tel: +41 22 364 95 53, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paolo Guglielmi, tel: +39 06 844 97 424, mobile +39 335 7010 856
Note to editors:
A Video News Release on the whale sanctuary is available from the WWF International TV Centre, Gland, Switzerland, tel: +41 22 364 95 60, fax: +41 22 364 53 58 (Rosemond Zufferey)