Dolphin deaths in the Aegean

 The 5th International Conference on Marine Mammal Protected Areas:
desperate call for a marine preservation policy

by Silia Tsigka, GLOBUS Correspondent

The people and government of Greece have always been grieved by the misfortune finding marine mammals, like dolphins, washed up on the shores of Greek islands.  In previous years, up to two dolphins on average were reported dead for the two-month period of March and April. This year there has been a steep increase in this number, with 15 dolphins found dead on the Greek island of Samos, among others, since the end of February alone. The suspected causes of this incident were investigated and were mainly attributed to Turkish submarine exercises in the Aegean, while a call to action was prioritized with an emergency conference in Costa Navarino (Messinia, Greece).  

Investigations into the potential causes of the dolphin deaths were carried out by the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation, which is a non-profit NGO that has been protecting and conducting research on the Greek and Mediterranean marine biodiversity since 1998. According to the Institute, there was a positive correlation between the high number of deaths and the largest Turkish submarine military exercise ever conducted known as the “Blue Homeland”, involving more than 100 vessels. The explanation for this is the extended use of sonars by submarines, which are said to cause physical injuries to marine mammals. More specifically, sonars produce a wide range of frequencies. The mammals try to avoid those frequencies by travelling long distances or by abruptly changing their depth while swimming. These can cause strokes, internal bleeding and eventually death. Although a direct causation between the two events has not yet been proven, they are unlikely to be unrelated.m 

Immediate action there needs to be taken. The 5th International Conference on Marine Mammal Protected Areas (ICMMPA) held between April 8 and 12 in Costa Navarino, in Messinia of Greece, provided the ideal context for the dolphin incident to be thoroughly discussed, among other issues, including a detailed policy on the overall protection of marine mammals in the Mediterranean.  

The ICMMPA is a group of international experts such as scientists, marine biologists and members/representatives of NGOs and other organizations aiming at managing and preserving marine protected areas. Many important people attended the conference and delivered speeches including Prince Albert II of Monaco, founder of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation which addresses all sorts of environmental issues. Marco Lambertini also contributed to the conference agenda as the General Director of WWF International, which was the main host forum of the conference along with ICMMPA.  

The conference provided the delegates with a wide range of activities, such as the chance to attend keynote speeches and even actively participate in workshops. One of the workshops directly associated to the dolphin incident discussed the impact of different kinds of shipping on cetaceans (different species of dolphins and whales), appraised the existing shipping policies and provided potential solutions to the problems of the mammals’ protection. Likewise, speech panels were available to the attendees of the conference with one panel examining the effect of underwater noise on marine mammals and the role of the protected areas. Even though the main focus of the aforementioned issue was a species of whales, it proved really important for other species including dolphins as well, due to the fact that it evaluated the threats of such noises on marine animals in general and gave accountability to the protected areas for the latter’s safety by enforcing several suggested policies. Lastly, direct decision-making took place within the context of more engaging activities like round tables where creative models for the sustainable financing of the marine protected areas (MPA’s) were suggested under the supervision of a moderator and other important speakers.  

The lessons from these past two months is that it should not take an alarming incident to finally prompt action. Despite the conference’s significant role in developing substantial policies for the future, we should learn to pay attention to the concept of “the chain of events” as one country’s actions impacts on wider ecosystems. It is high time we made internationally coordinated efforts to mitigate the threats to the marine life. The Earth sees no borders, and neither should we.  

Header Image: by Claudia Beer from Pixabay


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