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WWF Greece Joins Drive to Stop Ionian Sea Drilling, Appeals to Tsipras

May 15, 2019

ATHENS – With energy a new catalyst for potentially lucrative revenues, WWF Greece called on Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras not to proceed with planned hydrocarbon exploration in the Ionian Sea, a joint entreaty with 100 scientists.

The group includes scientific bodies and groups from around the world anxious over the effects of seismic blasts to look for oil and gas even as Cyprus is going full-steam ahead with drilling in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Turkey planning to join the hunt there.

In a press release, the environmental conservation group whose calls are generally ignored by the government said looking for energy reserves off Greece’s western coast would have a devastating effect on the country’s marine environment and marine life, even at the first phase of seismic survey, Kathimerini said in a report.

WWF Greece said that, based on its data, the blocks that have already been or will be granted to oil companies for drilling overlap with two regions in Greece identified as globally Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMA): the Ionian Archipelago region (34 percent overlap) and the Hellenic Trench region (44 percent overlap).

“The Hellenic Trench is a key area for the future of several rare marine species, but also for the future of our country. Nevertheless, the Greek government is allowing anyone who so wishes, to proceed with underwater seismic surveys in the absence of effective controls,” said Dimitris Ibrahim, manager of the WWF Greece campaign.

“Any exploration or drilling activity on the open sea and in depths of thousands of  meters will deliver the final blow to the unique species living in the area, but also for the coastal communities and subsequently the national economy,” he added.

The Hellenic Trench, which extends from the Ionian islands to southern Crete, is an important ecosystem for several rare and particularly vulnerable species – such as fin whales, sperm whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, the disappearing Mediterranean common dolphins, other dolphin species, sea turtles and Mediterranean monk seals – and is also invaluable to marine biologists studying the behavior of various marine animals.

The resolution text, which has been published online, is an initiative of WWF Greece supported by the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute, the paper said.

In a long statement, the National Resources Defense Council said the seismic blasts that would be used to look for energy would drastically upset the marine life in the Hellenic Trench that is a continuous steep continental slope that turns into deep trenches, troughs, and basins further offshore. The deepest point in the Mediterranean Sea—Calypso Deep—is found within, plummeting to depths of more than five kilometers below surface.

The combination of deep water and complex seabed features make the Hellenic Trench a perfect habitat for deep-diving marine mammals, such as sperm whales and beaked whales. Fin whales, many species of dolphins, Mediterranean monk seals, and sea turtles, are also found within the waters of the Trench, the NRDC said.

The Hellenic Trench is the primary habitat for an endangered group of sperm whales found only in the Mediterranean Sea. It is estimated that only 250 sperm whales live in the entire eastern Mediterranean basin and the Hellenic Trench constitutes their only known breeding area, it added.

Seismic blasts to prospect for oil and gas are one of the loudest human-made noises in the ocean, second only to explosives. Seismic blasts occur every 10-12 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks or months at a time. For sperm whales and beaked whales that live in the Hellenic Trench, this would feel like a continuous series of bombs going off, it also added.

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