Monday, July 26

A fourth commercial port in Tenerife threatens Europe’s only whale sanctuary

The west coast of Tenerife is one of only three places in the world (along with Hervey Bay in Australia and The Bluff in South Africa) qualified as a whale sanctuary. The area is located in the 22-kilometer marine strip that runs from Punta de Teno (the westernmost part of Tenerife) to Punta Salema (Rasca, to the south), in a Special Conservation Area (ZEC), which has with more than 70 protected marine species. But the Canarian Government, together with the Cabildo de Tenerife and city councils, are determined to persist in a work devised at the end of the 20th century: to build one more port to improve Tenerife’s connectivity with El Hierro or La Gomera, whose island president, Casimiro Curbelo (ASG), is a key partner of the regional government.

In January 2021, the United Kingdom-based World Cetacean Alliance recognized the area that runs between the southwest coast of the island of Teide and La Gomera as a Whale Heritage Site by a resident population of pilot whales unique in the world, of about 200 copies. In addition to these cetaceans, the mural dolphin, the loggerhead turtle, marine birds such as the osprey or invertebrates such as brain sponges and a multitude of algae also coexist in the Teno-Rasca ZEC. The recognition would allow to reinforce the promotion of the Island and was celebrated by the Cabildo de Tenerife, which endorsed an economic activity that in 2019 was carried out by more than 1.4 million tourists.

Previously, the university study Analysis of the environmental impact study of the Fonsalía port project 2019 concluded that the port of Fonsalía would increase maritime traffic in the ZEC zone, increasing light and noise pollution in the area and the risk of colliding with marine animals. In fact, in March 2019 a young pilot whale six meters long had to be euthanized after being badly injured because its tail fin was almost severed after, probably, colliding with a propeller of a boat that possibly came from the Los Cristianos dock.

Jacobo Marrero Pérez, doctor in Marine Biology from the ULL, was one of the people who was present during the last moments of life of the whale named Hope and sent a public letter in which he denounced the nautical pressure to which in his opinion was subdues said animals. The photograph of Francis Pérez del calderón with the fin almost separated from the body went around the world and led even administrations, from the Ministry to the Government of the Canary Islands and the Cabildo of Tenerife, to recognize the need to act in the face of threats from the maritime navigation for cetaceans.

This did not prevent the Parliament of the Canary Islands from approving on June 9 a non-law proposal presented by the Popular Group to urge the Government of Spain to promote the port of Fonsalía. The initiative was only opposed by Sí Podemos Canarias, who argued its rejection for environmental reasons, but also due to the lack of social support for the project and economic necessity.

And the Ministry of Public Works of the Government of the Canary Islands has explained that it is pending the response of the General Directorate of Coasts and the Sea, a state body whose powers over the island coasts will pass to the regional Executive, on the request for the transfer of the land to autonomy to be able to carry out the port. “We are focused on getting the secondment and, if it is achieved, the file would begin to be processed quickly,” said Sebastián Franquis, head of the area, in an interview with the SER chain.

For its part, the Ministry of Ecological Transition has responded to a written question in the Senate made by the Confederal Left group, which echoed the opposition of the Ben Magec federation of environmentalists to the port of Fonsalía. Specifically, he asked to know if the Government had knowledge of the construction of the pier and if it has planned any action within its powers to protect the Teno-Rasca ZEC. “Once the files are consulted, (the General Directorate of Quality and Environmental Evaluation of the Ministry) has no evidence that any environmental evaluation procedure in relation to said port infrastructure has been processed, or that it is in process,” was the answer. submitted on June 12.

The work began to take shape at the end of the twentieth century, when in 1998 the Port Authority of Santa Cruz de Tenerife included in its annual report the construction of the port of Fonsalía to decongest the traffic that occurred at the entrance and exit of the pier of Los Cristianos, which connects the island of Teide with La Gomera, El Hierro and La Palma. Two shipping companies operate in this infrastructure in which their schedules sometimes overlap and cause retentions.

The PSOE senator, Pedro Anatael Meneses, recalled during an interview on Mírame TV that during his presidency at the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Port Authority (1990-1995) the Fonsalía dock was already considered as an alternative to the problem of Los Cristianos in front of the impossibility of increasing the first. At that time he confesses that he supported construction, which he now questions, but due to technical and legal problems it could not be carried out. And in its place, the port of Granadilla was erected after an investment of more than 300 million euros despite the historic protests of citizens.

Three years after its inauguration, the port of Granadilla is still not 100% operational and the projection for its usefulness has varied from serving as a base for a regasification plant, to oil rigs, to container traffic or ship repairs. Last year a joint study by researchers from the University of Leipzig and La Laguna concluded that the infrastructure is a useless and unnecessary facility and revealed its impact on the Sebalades.

But given that the work is already a reality, the spokesperson for Sí Podemos Canarias in Parliament, Manuel Marrero, proposes to give it the use that is intended to be established with the construction of the Fonsalía dock. Specifically, that it serves for the transport of passengers, which would decongest Los Cristianos, and goods, since near the coast there is an industrial estate. And he also advocates establishing a rational schedule in which arrivals and departures do not coincide, similar to the way between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, which has 17 daily frequencies but without the problem that the southern municipality of the island suffers from. of the Teide.

In addition to the scientific and political sphere, the main detractors of the port of Fonsalía are environmentalists. The Ben Magec federation criticizes that the majority of the Parliament of the Canary Islands supports an infrastructure that can put at risk the value that the ZEC Teno-Rasca contributes with a heritage of whales that contributes to tourism. “If under current conditions we already notice the serious implications on biodiversity of current shipping activity, would it not be reasonable to invest efforts in improving the management of the ZEC without further forcing the situation, lest they end up killing the” hen that lays the golden eggs ”? he stated in a statement on June 11.

From the opposite side, the president of the Cabildo de Tenerife, Pedro Martín (PSOE), is one of the main defenders of a work for which he advocates since he first acceded in 1995 to the mayoralty of Guía de Isora, a municipality in which coastline would be located the pier. Also Casimiro Curbelo, president of the Cabildo de La Gomera, is strongly committed to this infrastructure, since he considers that it is the only solution to guarantee the maritime connection of the south of Tenerife with the rest of the province. And from the Círculo de Empresarios y Profesionales del Sur, its president Roberto Ucelay explains that the port of Fonsalía would contribute to the economic development of the southwest of Tenerife, by transferring all operations to Guía de Isora, while the pressure on Los Cristianos would descend and its port would be maintained with cruises and fishing or sports activities.

In any case, the port of Fonsalía is still waiting for the green light from the central government and, even if it obtained it, it would entail a significant period of execution, in addition to having the frontal rejection of environmentalists and some scientists and politicians. And the risk to one of the three whale sanctuaries that exist on the entire planet.

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