The environmental protection group Oceana has strongly denounced Spanish support for oil prospecting off Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.

The international marine conservation organisation argues that the places authorised for exploration are located in front of protected areas and next to some of the most valuable ecological areas of Canarias, which would suffer grave damage from the increase in maritime traffic and possible leaks and discharges.

The prospecting project is to be undertaken by Repsol, through its RIPSA branch. And, according to Oceana, it is a common practice of this company to conceal information regarding seabed ecosystems in order to easily obtain licences and avoid problems stemming from the ecological impact declaration, as was seen in Málaga with the Siroco project.

“The autonomic governments of Baleares and Valencia have opposed oil exploration activities along their coasts and Oceana expects Canarias to do the same, stated Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director at Oceana Europe. “Lanzarote and Fuerteventura already suffer chronic pollution from oil tanker traffic and spillage from drilling could cause irreversible damage to its coastline.

The permits affect an area of 616,060 hectares, which is 2.5 times the surface of the islands. The zones now open to oil companies for exploration compromise deep areas that have not even been investigated by scientists yet. It is likely that species such as black and white coral or deep sea sponges, all of which form important habitats where many other organisms live and feed, can be found in these areas.

“Deep sea ecosystems are highly vulnerable because of their slow growth, explains Ricardo Aguilar. “In the areas that host hydrocarbons there are usually coral reefs, which thrive on gas leaks and can be up to 8000 years old. It is nonsense to destroy these habitats in a few short years just to extract an extremely pollutant and finite resource.

Highly valuable ecological enclaves can be found along the Eastern coast of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, such as the Isla Graciosa-Chinijo Archipelago Marine Reserve (the second biggest Marine Protected Area in Spain), Cagafrecho, Isla de Lobos and the Bocayna strait. Additionally, south of Fuerteventura is one of the best areas in the world for beaked whales, a cetacean that feeds in depths over 600 metres.

2010 The Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association