Less conversation, more action needed to protect North East Atlantic and Baltic
Beyond general disapointment, there was some good news for cold-water corals at this week's OSPAR-HELCOM Conference.
Bremen, Germany – The joint HELCOM-OSPAR Ministerial Conference to protect the marine environment of the North East Atlantic and the Baltic has been crippled by apathy, said WWF today.
While the marine environment continues to face threats including shipping accidents, pollution and destructive fishing practices, the conference has failed to take action to address these issues, the conservation organization said.
At the meeting, Russia opposed a proposal to establish a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) for the Baltic Sea. This was despite strong political consensus from the other member states in the Baltic.
According to WWF, PSSA would provide extra measures to protect the region from shipping accidents such as the recent sinking of the Chinese ship, the Fu Shan Hai, which polluted the environmentally sensitive south-east coast of Sweden with oil.
"It is bitterly disappointing that countries have failed to agree on a Baltic PSSA – despite well-documented impacts of international shipping in the region," said Anita Makinen, WWF Baltic expert. "It is imperative that all HELCOM states now act urgently to find a way forward."
WWF is also disappointed that, due to pressure from the Finnish Ministry of Forestry and Agriculture, the Baltic States failed to agree a recommendation to ensure the protection of seals in the Baltic.
According to WWF, the OSPAR countries also failed to adequately address the need to better manage fisheries, despite the fact that fishing is widely recognized as the major threat facing oceans and seas.
Although OSPAR does not have any power over fisheries management, WWF argues that is has a clear mandate to make strong recommendations and cooperate with fisheries authorities to ensure a holistic approach to the management of fish stocks and protection of the environment.
WWF further deplored that progress has been very slow on the OSPAR’s target of eliminating hazardous substances - such as flame retardants - from the marine environment by 2020. If the rate of progress is not accelerated drastically this target will not be met, said the conservation organization.
In some good news, the Conference committed to establish a network of well-managed marine protected areas across the Baltic and North East Atlantic, with the aim of designating the first sites by 2006 and having the full network in place by 2010.
WWF believes this will bring extra protection for important habitats including deep-water corals and sea mounts, and species such as basking sharks and harbour porpoises, but stresses that these commitments need to be turned into action at sea.
The North East Atlantic countries also agreed to set a deadline for taking action on the conservation and protection of cold water corals, such as the Darwin Mounds off the coast of Scotland.
This precious habitat is being destroyed rapidly by damaging fishing practices and without urgent action could be lost within a matter of a few years.
"This is a fantastic and long-expected outcome for the protection of cold water coral," said Stephan Lutter, WWF marine expert. "But this must not be protection on paper only. Member states must take action, in-country, so that corals, and other important habitats and species, receive the protection they so desperately need – before it’s too late"
For further information:
Anita Makinen, WWF Baltic Expert, tel: + 358 40 5271425
Stephan Lutter, WWF North-East Atlantic Programme, tel.: +49 171 5487312
OSPAR is the Oslo-Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic. Signatory parties: UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Luxemburg and Finland.
HELCOM is the Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area. Signatory parties: Denmark, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Finland, Germany and Sweden.