Wednesday, July 28, 2010

‘Special Area of Conservation’???

The Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is designated ‘west of a line from Helmsdale to Lossiemouth’ and contributes to a network of sites, Natura 2000, set up in response to the EC Habitats Directive (one of the ECs major contributions to the Biodiversity Convention agreed by over 150 countries at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit). It was first proposed for designation in 2006 to help protect the resident population of bottlenose dolphins, which is considered to be rare in a European context. The dolphins live a long time and reproduce slowly, and because the Moray Firth population is relatively small and isolated, it is extremely vulnerable.

There are a lot of stakeholders in the SAC Management Group, which includes representatives from the following ‘relevant authorities’: The Cromarty Firth Port Authority, The Crown Estate, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Fisheries Research Services (Marine Laboratory), The Highland Council, Inverness Harbour Trust, Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Moray Council, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Water. The University of Aberdeen provides independent scientific advice to the group and the Fisheries Association Ltd provided advice on fisheries related issues.

The success of the Management Scheme which maintains this ‘Special Area of Conservation’ depends not just on the Relevant Authorities but on the input and co-operation of everyone with an interest in the Firth. It has therefore been developed through a consultative process, involving a wide range of organisations and businesses and members of the public.

So far so good...but...

Monday 27th July 2010: ‘’...agreement by the UK government to allow two companies to begin seismic surveys in preparation for potential future oil and gas development in the Moray Firth, Scotland has been condemned by groups including the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) as being a decision based on heavily flawed environmental assessments, and one that fails to take into consideration the potential for negative long term impacts on the dolphin population that resides in what is supposed to be a Special Area of Conservation.’’ (Press release by the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society).

Seismic Suspicions:

Lindy Weilgart from Dalhousie University provided the following case studies:

1. The Bahamas, March 2000 – ‘’ 17 whales were stranded, mainly beaked whales, following 5 U.S. Navy ships transiting the (adjacent) channel using sonar’s. The whales suffered hemorrhaging around brain, inner ears and acoustic fats. The US Navy concluded its “mid-range frequency sonar’s...were the most plausible source of this acoustic trauma”.

2. Canary Islands, September 2002 – ‘14 whales stranded, of 3 beak whale species, all suffering from (symptoms of) decompression sickness. There was reported Naval use of mid-frequency sonar which coincided with the strandings.’

In addition: Seismic air guns damage fish ears 500 m to several km from seismic source and show no recovery after 58 days (McCauley et al. 2003).

There are lots more reports – just go to Google.

So, where’s the law in all this? Well for the offshore area in the UK the ‘Offshore Petroleum Activities (Conservation of Habitats) Regulations 2001’ and the ‘Offshore Petroleum Activities (Conservation of Habitats) (Amendment) Regulations 2007’ are there to protect our marine biology, but there’s a caveat - the Secretary of State can issue a licence for exploration despite the following inclusion in the 2001 Regulations:

‘’ Protection of certain creatures -10. Subject to regulations 13 and 14 below, a person shall not carry out UKCS oil and gas activities in such a way as -
(a) deliberately to kill, capture or disturb any creature in the wild which is a member of any species listed in Annex IV(a) of the Habitats Directive;(b) deliberately to destroy or take its eggs from the wild; or(c) to cause deterioration or destruction of breeding sites or resting places of any such creature
.’’ Annex IV of the Habitats Directive lists 'Cetacea: All Species', defined as: 'Animal and plant species of Community interest in need of strict protection'

Confused? Well these are Offshore Regulations and the Moray Firth isn’t exactly ‘Offshore’. So maybe that’s OK then...

To express your opinion you have options:

You can make your views known by notifying The Department of Energy and Climate Change by October 12th via e-mail (marked "Block 17/3 Appropriate Assessment") to; by letter to; Irene Thomson, The Department of Energy and Climate Change, 4th Floor, Atholl House, 86-88 Guild Street, Aberdeen AB11 6AR. Fax: 01224 254019

If you want more information, why not go to:

If you want to support the UK Marine Environment, check out the Marine Conservation Society:

Nothing in this Blog post is original, so thanks to the authors for making it possible.

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