Shipping Lanes Make Way for Dolphins


Man, there's nothing worse than having to call your waiter over because there's pollution in your soup. Bottlenose dolphins off the southern coast of Spain can finally nosh in peace, however. In order to bypass essential bottlenose-dolphin foraging grounds, shipping lanes will be diverted 20 miles further south off the coast of Almeria, based on recommendations by maritime experts from the Earthwatch Institute and the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to the International Maritime Organization.

Diverting merchant ships and fishermen passing through the Alboran Sea will reduce acoustic and water pollution in the area, not to mention abate the impact of accidental oil spills on coasts and beaches.

"This is very positive news for the bottlenose dolphin," says Earthwatch scientist Ricardo Sagarminaga van Buiten. "Cargo ships, often carrying dangerous substances, regularly pass through the Alboran Sea's primary dolphin feeding grounds."
"Bottlenose dolphins have suffered a sharp decline in the Mediterranean over the last decade, so diverting the shipping route should give the species an opportunity to recover," he says.

Because the Alboran Sea is a gateway between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, it's an "essential migratory corridor" for a huge variety of marine species; it also attracts a smorgasbord of fish, making it one of Europe's most attractive (and valuable) feeding sites for dolphins and sea turtles. Almost 30 percent of the world's maritime traffic currently passes through these waters, however, which isn't conducive to the neighborhood dining experience.

For the past five years, Earthwatch scientists have spent more than 700 days at sea, surveying 10,000 miles in order to develop plans on how to conserve marine protected areas. Their long-term research project confirms that the bottlenose-dolphin population is scattered across the Mediterranean, with decreased migration resulting in local populations becoming genetically isolated. The Almeria dolphin population is particularly important because it's currently the only healthy one in the Mediterranean—dolphin groups average 30 individuals here, compared with two to five individuals in other regions.

Conserving this site and providing safe access between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean basin is therefore vital for the survival of the species, says Earthwatch. :: Newswise

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