16 December 2008

Urgent action is needed to save Mediterranean common dolphins

A week after representatives of 110 governments met in Rome at the 9th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) to discuss better protection for migratory species around the globe, conservationists and scientists call for urgent action to prevent the Mediterranean common dolphin from regional extinction. The issue was addressed during the International Summit on the Mediterranean Environment held in Crete, Greece, last week and organised by Essence Consulting with the support of the Hellenic National Commission for UNESCO and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the context of the “Year of the Dolphin”.

Greek authorities, conservationists, scientists and representatives of the artisanal fisheries sector met to discuss immediate measures to avoid the complete eradication of common dolphins and other endangered marine mammals. In 2003, Mediterranean common dolphins have been listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. This species is also listed in the CMS Appendixes I and II and protected by ACCOBAMS, the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area. However, no concrete action has been taken so far to protect these animals. As a result, the conservation status of common dolphins is now more alarming than ever.

According to representatives from OceanCare and WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, who participated in the Summit held in Crete, immediate management action can prevent a further decline of Mediterranean common dolphins, but Governments must act before it is too late for a species that - despite its name - is becoming less and less common.

The situation is particularly worrying in Greece, particularly in the waters east of Lefkada and around the island of Kalamos, where common dolphins decreased from 150 to only 15 animals over the past ten years. For this reason, a Call for Action to save the last common dolphins around Kalamos was launched by 13 regional and local NGOs and was endorsed by the Summit in Crete. This species is also declining in the Gulf of Vera, Spain. In the northern Adriatic Sea, common dolphins were abundant until the 1960s, but they have now completely disappeared.

The main factor thought to be causing the decline of common dolphins is reduced availability of their prey caused by excessive fishing pressure. Mortality in fishing gear, particularly driftnets, is another major source of concern. Conservationists and scientists demand concrete management action by the Governments, especially to reduce fishing pressure and enforce existing legislation.

“Scientists and conservationists spend much of their life frantically writing documents and recommendations, but little or nothing happens in the real world. Is paper, and then more paper, all that governments really want from us? When will the time for action come?” declared Giovanni Bearzi, President of the Tethys Research Institute and one of the leading experts of common dolphins.

(Press release by WDCS and OceanCare)

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