The launch of military missiles in waters near the Canary Islands has put marine biologists and ecologists on alert for the possible affectation of hundreds of cetaceans, sea turtles and sharks that could be affected.
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The Army of the Air and Space has programmed between May 15 and 19 launches of real Air-Surface and Air-Air missiles in waters south of the Canary Islands, according to a document published on the Enaire website, public entity in charge of managing air navigation in Spain. The closest point of the launches could be located about 35 miles from La Gomera.
Canarias Ahora has tried to contact the Ministry of Defense press this Friday afternoon to find out more information about it, but up to the time of publication of this news item, it has not been possible. The Public Sector Procurement Platform (PCSP) includes a recent tender dossier for the supply of floating platforms that integrate naval targets “during training exercises” in the Canary Islands.
The same file highlights that it is about operation ATLANTE 23, a shooting campaign in the waters of the Canary Islands “to be carried out in May 2023” in which the launch of Air-to-Surface, HARPOON and HARM missiles, among others, is planned.
The technical specifications document states that the procedure focuses on the acquisition of longitudinal floating elements, “catamaran type”, about eight meters long and four meters high, which include those mentioned naval targets. The cost of the contract amounts to 140,000 euros, but last February the tender was declared void due to the absence of bidders.
The document published in ENAIRE does not specify what the missiles are going to be sent on nor does it detail how the maneuvers will be. “But that is not the most important thing,” says Natacha Aguilar de Soto, PhD in Biology from the University of La Laguna (ULL) and member of the Biodiversity, Marine Ecology and Conservation Research Group (BIOECOMAC) of the same academic institution.
Missile launches could affect cetaceans, sea turtles and sharks in the Canary Islands, the marine territory with the most biodiversity in these groups of megafauna in all of Spain.
“Explosions are the most powerful noise made by humans at sea. The Canary Islands is the Spanish territory with the highest density of cetaceans and sea turtles, which are species protected by the European Union (EU) and by this country. There are laws that prohibit harming them. It is one thing to have a war, but for some training exercises you have to choose an area where there is not so much wealth”, reasons Aguilar de Soto.
The biologist recalls the episode that occurred on September 24, 2002 in the Archipelago, when the coasts of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote were dotted with beaked whales (or beaked whales) dying damaged by military maneuvers by five NATO navies.
This chapter, tragic in the recent history of the Islands, led to a Collaboration agreement signed at the end of 2007 between the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of the Environment and Territorial Planning of the Government of the Canary Islands whereby the State undertook not to carry out military exercises that imply the use of active anti-submarine sonars and submarine explosions within a radius of 50 nautical miles around the Canary Islands.
The Ministry of Defense commitment also extended the 50 mile exclusion around permanent beaked whale habitats. Aguilar de Soto explains that since then samplings have been carried out near the coast of the Islands, evidencing populations of these animals in El Hierro, La Gomera, La Palma, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote.
“The furthest point identified is Banco de la Concepción, which is about 60 miles from Lanzarote. Given that the presence of beaked whales around the Canary Islands is permanent and they have been detected up to the maximum distance studied in La Concepción, the Ministry of Defense must move some 100 miles away [182 kilómetros] from the coast”, adds the expert.
“Our obligation is to respect environmental laws and protect marine fauna”, continues the biologist. “We must congratulate the Ministry for having maintained its commitment all this time, but remind it that it must continue to do so.”
Aguilar de Soto has requested the cancellation of the maneuvers scheduled by the Air and Space Army for the next week. And he has advised against, “based on the information on turtles (…) and on the richness of cetaceans in the Archipelago and its surrounding waters”, the carrying out of live shooting exercises in the Canary Islands Marine Demarcation.