The “whale highway” will help in the conservation of whales and other cetaceous species in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain.
The highway will be located off the eastern coast of Spain, between Catalonia and Valencia and the Balearic Islands.
The Environment Ministry is pushing for the route to be designated a “Specially Protected Zone of Mediterranean Importance” (Zepim) by the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean, a convention adopted by Mediterranean countries to prevent pollution in the sea.
If the plan goes ahead, exploratory drilling by oil companies will be banned in the area, a victory for campaigners who have long called for an end to the practise, which can severely harm the marine ecosystem.
“This is a clear warning to companies that want to carry out exploratory oil drilling in the area of the environmental unfeasibility of their projects,” said Carlos Bravo, a coordinator with Alianza Mar Blava, an alliance of groups, including the regional government of the Balearic Islands, which oppose exploratory drilling in the area.
The plan for the highway was confirmed by Raquel Orts, director general of the organization Sustainability of the Coast and Sea, after a meeting with Alianza Mar Blava in late December.
The plan is also supported by the European Commission, whose director general for the environment, Karmenu Vela, said it approved of “a new Zepim in the Mediterranean corridor for the protection of marine species and to advance towards completing the international agreements on the protection of marine biodiversity,” according to Europa Press.
The issue will be debated at the next meeting of the Barcelona Convention, made up of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
While animal rights campaigners have welcomed the news, they also fear that the proposal is too late to help many whales:
“We do need to stop oil drilling and start giving all our attention to clean sources of energy,” Silvia Barquero, head of Spain’s animal rights political party Pacma, told The Local.
“On the other hand, this proposal comes very late, seeing as oil drilling is already taking place along the Mediterranean coasts, despite a huge public outcry because of the terrible impact it has on whales,” she added.
“The government’s proposal is quite ironic; now that the harm has been done, this corridor doesn’t make much sense.”
Animal rights campaigners also pointed out that it was Spain's Popular Party government that rejected the creation of a whale sanctuary off the Canary Islands, which was requested by the WWF after Repsol finished oil drilling there.
Many different species of whales make their home in the Mediterranean, including sperm whales, pilot whales and fin whales, the most common species found in the Mediterranean.
Killer whales have also been spotted in the Mediterranean and are known as a “visitor species” because of the sporadic sightings.