01 September 2007

What future for Mediterranean common dolphins?

The future for Mediterranean common dolphins is grim. They have declined greatly during the past 40 years, and their chances of recovery are shadowed by ongoing mortality in fishing gear and overfishing of their key prey.

Common dolphins need a healthy marine environment to survive, but few people in the region seem to be interested in their conservation. Development and exploitation are by far more attractive. Ever-increasing consumption rates and short-term economic benefits bear a cost, and most of the times this cost is paid by the environment.

People everywhere want to eat more fish, spend their holidays in hotels with seaside pools and parking lots, have a second or third house with sea view (where they may live for one or two weeks every year). This results in increasing pressures on the coastal marine ecosystems. Fish stocks get depleted, coastal development increases pollution and disturbance at sea, and the animals there find it difficult to survive in habitats exposed to continuous degradation.

We have been studying common dolphins in the costal waters of Greece for almost two decades, around the island of Kalamos. Initially, there was plenty of these animals and the area was almost pristine. Today, fish stocks have been depleted by overfishing and the area is being ruined by a kind of development that does not take into account the need to preserve the environment. As a result, only a few common dolphins are left, and their chances to survive are linked to an unlikely political determination of including fishery and ecosystem management actions in ongoing development plans.

This kind of things are happening everywhere in the Mediterranean, and common dolphins must bend to short-sighted economic interests. Local human communities are equally impacted, as they see their traditions and cultures being wiped out by companies building immense and ugly hotels near beautiful beaches and villages, while a few large commercial fishing boats take most of the fish away, and little is left for the artisanal fishermen (and the dolphins).

Giovanni Bearzi

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