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Protecting the biodiversity of one of the most species-rich areas of the planet is the objective that has led Loro Parque Foundation to organise a week of visibility and awareness actions in the European Parliament, which, under the name FROM RED TO GREEN, will take place between the 23rd and 29th of this month. The ambitious project aims to achieve the creation of a marine biodiversity sanctuary in the waters of Macaronesia and the extension of the moratorium on the use of sonar, which is currently limited, to the entire region whose waters represent a unique reservoir for marine life.  The actions will revolve around a striking exhibition that Loro Parque Fundation will install on the busiest floor of the European Parliament and will serve as a tool to support and promote the proposal.

In the midst of the debate on the sixth mass extinction and the urgent need to implement measures to combat its already evident effects, the threat of the disappearance of species has reached dimensions that find no comparison in the history of the world: according to the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), almost a third of all species assessed, some 41,000 species, are already considered to be in danger of extinction. The figure may be even more frightening: by 2050, almost 40% of the planet’s terrestrial species could be extinct.

Macaronesia: the most important reserve of marine biodiversity in Europe

In this context, the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Loro Parque Foundation have lined up to promote in the European Parliament (with the support of the EPP group) the promotion of a project that would mean the protection and defense of an area of biodiversity that is a true reservoir of marine life. The four archipelagos that make up Macaronesia (Canary Islands, Cape Verde, Azores and Madeira) are home to 32 species of cetaceans, which means 84% of the species that can be found in the North Atlantic Ocean. In addition, due to its location, the area is of special relevance in the migrations and movements of marine populations.

This action comes at a key moment, after the approval by the UN of the High Seas Treaty, an agreement for the preservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of marine resources beyond jurisdictional waters. The sanctioning of this norm, which is expected to be adhered to by the 60 countries required in the first months of 2024, will represent a qualitative leap of enormous transcendence in the protection of marine biodiversity as it will allow the creation of protected areas in international waters. In this sense, the Macaronesia Marine Biodiversity Sanctuary could be one of the first projects to be presented within the framework of the High Seas treaty.

A safe space for cetaceans

This is the context in which the creation of the Macaronesia Marine Biodiversity Sanctuary would become one of the most relevant steps in the protection of the great variety of ecosystems in the area, including, in addition to cetaceans, all types of endemic fauna and flora, of invaluable environmental value.  One of the measures requested is the creation of “safe corridors” to protect cetaceans and other marine animals from the growing maritime traffic in the area, among other urgent measures.

These measures that Loro Parque Foundation is now taking to the European Parliament in Brussels are part of the actions that the Canarian foundation has been demanding for years, having already achieved in 2022 the approval of a motion at the World Conservation Congress to support the spatial extension of the moratorium on the use of medium frequency sonar used in military ships. Currently, thanks to a pioneering agreement between the Ministry of Defense of the Government of Spain and the Government of the Canary Islands, this moratorium applies up to 50 miles from the jurisdictional waters of the Canary Islands and Loro Parque Foundation’s proposal is to extend it to all Macaronesian waters.

This limitation is supported by the catastrophic consequences that the use of this system of detection of submarines and other objects has on cetaceans and that caused in the Canary Islands, in 2002 and 2004, the massive mortality of Cuvier’s beaked whales, a species of deep diving cetacean of the dolphin family. Thanks to the scientific work of the University Institute of Animal Health of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, it was possible to relate the injuries that caused the death of the animals to the use of the active medium frequency military SONAR.

The islands of Macaronesia present unique ecosystems with a wide representation of endemic fauna and flora that make this area one of the main biodiversity hotspots of the entire planet.  Its unique richness includes deep-sea corals, fish, invertebrates, and large mammals such as sperm whales.

An intensive week of visibility

The intensive week of visibility will be articulated around a striking informative exhibition that will be erected in the busiest area of the European Parliament building and that will show, through panels, the loss of biodiversity, the threats facing the ecosystem of Macaronesia, the invaluable role of zoos and other aspects that portray the real situation of the area. The reminder of what the planet could lose will be materialized through 3D models and through the augmented reality technique, which will be integrated in the spaces of the European Parliament around the exhibition. In addition, the exhibition will include a life-size Cuvier’s beaked whale (seven meters long) to raise awareness of this rare species that is the most endangered by the use of this type of sonar.

The work program also includes conferences and debates on the most relevant issues, in which world specialists in biodiversity will participate, as well as meetings with political representatives from the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde, in which future lines of cooperation around these two conservation projects will be drawn up. The speakers who will participate are experts in the different aspects of conservation biology and will present their reports at the three meetings that are scheduled to complement the exhibition. With a demonstration that evolution in environmental policies is possible, the week of talks will be inaugurated by Prof. Boris Culik with the presentation “From whaling to conservation: The Macaronesia experience”; the importance of stranding networks and the use of cetaceans as indicators of ecosystem health will be presented by Dr. Jesús de la Fuente, from the University Institute of Animal Health of the ULPGC. And finally, Dr. Javier Almunia, director of Loro Parque Foundation and expert in cetaceans will talk about the importance of the ecosystems of the Macaronesia and will introduce the proposal of Loro Parque Foundation to create a Marine Biodiversity Sanctuary in the Region, a project that Loro Parque Foundation has been promoting since the 80s.

This is the first time that a foundation has managed to organise a conference of this kind and it is a unique opportunity to raise awareness and commitment among MEPs, who will have the opportunity to learn about all aspects of this demand.