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Landmark action to protect whales and dolphins

Governments have pledged to further mitigate threats to small whales and dolphins from bycatch, chemicals and underwater munitions – with the potential for global impact.


Resolutions were adopted by countries at the 8th Meeting of the Parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas (ASCOBANS), which took place in Helsinki from 30 August to 1 September 2016.


The resolutions address urgent and emerging pressures on whales, dolphins and porpoises. Topics discussed included bycatch, ocean energy, anthropogenic noise, Polychlorinated Biphenyls (known as PCBs) and underwater munitions.


As their impacts are not limited to marine mammals in the ASCOBANS region, the decisions adopted are a step towards a safer marine environment globally.


Bycatch remains the single largest threat to marine animals worldwide. A resolution adopted in Helsinki addresses this issue in the northern and western European regions, aiming to reducing mortality as far as possible towards zero.


Meanwhile, underwater munitions - a legacy of the two world wars - also represent a serious threat to marine species. Despite their age, submerged bombs can still explode and some contain highly toxic substances. The development of alternative methods of removal aside from detonation will alleviate the threat of injury of animals from such controlled explosions.


While discussions at the event stressed the cumulative human impact on cetaceans, governments received recommendations on how to effectively manage such stressors. Collection of ocean energy, for example, affects migratory marine species. New technologies, such as wave or tidal energy devices, can also injure the animals through collisions. Countries agreed on the importance of careful planning of new installations and the need for Environmental Impact Assessments.


ASCOBANS was concluded under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, administered by UN Environment. The Convention facilitates international cooperation between Range States through which migratory animals pass. It serves as a global platform for countries to conserve and sustainably use migratory animals across their range.


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