ACCOBAMS is the short name for the CMS Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area and is described by the CMS as a ‘cooperative tool for the conservation of marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean and Black seas’.
ACCOBAMS came into force in 2001 and aims to assist international conservation efforts and scientific research, of whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans) in the Mediterranean and Black seas and off the Atlantic coasts of north Morocco and south Portugal.
What manmade threats are faced by whales, dolphins and porpoises living in the ACCOBAMS region?
The wellbeing, survival and habitat of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Mediterranean and Black seas are particularly under threat because both seas form part of the one of the world’s most industrialised and populated regions; these seas see a lot of coastal development and other human activities. Also, some of the biggest European rivers drain into the Black Sea - pollution from half the European continent can end up there.
The main threats faced by whales, dolphins and porpoises living in the Mediterranean and Black seas are being captured (either deliberately or incidentally by entanglement in fishing gear), habitat loss, pollution and injury or disturbance from sea-going vessels. The species at greatest risk live near the coast, and these include bottlenose and common dolphins and harbour porpoises. But species that live out in the open oceans and seas, such as sperm whales and striped dolphins, can also be severely affected by these threats.
Which countries have signed up to the ACCOBAMS Agreement?
The Parties who have so far signed up to this Agreement include 21 countries through whose waters whales, dolphins and porpoises migrate at different times of the year. The 21 countries are Albania, Algeria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Morocco, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine.
Which species are protected by the ACCOBAMS Agreement?
Species that Parties to the ACCOBAMS Agreement agree to try to help protect include:
- In the Black Sea
- In the Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area
- harbour porpoise
- rough-toothed dolphin
- Risso’s dolphin
- common bottlenose dolphin
- striped dolphin
- short-beaked common dolphin
- false killer whale
- orca (killer whale)
- long-finned pilot whale
- Blainville’s beaked whale
- Cuvier’s beaked whale
- sperm whale
- dwarf sperm whale
- north Atlantic right whale
- common minke whale
- sei whale
- fin whale
- humpback whale
What actions have Parties to the ACCOBAMS Agreement agreed to carry out?
Some examples of the actions that countries that have signed up to the ACCOBAMS Agreement agree to do are listed below. Parties to the Agreement agree to fulfil these actions to the maximum extent of their economic, technical and scientific capacities. They also agree to give priority to conserving those species or populations identified through scientific research as facing the greatest threats, and to undertake research in areas or for species for which there is a lack of information.
- To adopt and enforce relevant national laws to reduce the impact on whales, dolphins and porpoises from fishing activities and pollution
- To ensure that assessments are carried out to provide a basis for judging whether or not to allow, manage or ban activities that may affect whales, dolphins and porpoises or their habitat in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area
- To try to strengthen or create national institutions that can help to implement the action plan agreed upon in the ACCOBAMS Agreement
- To manage potentially dangerous interactions between humans and whales, dolphins and porpoises, and when necessary, to take appropriate action to alleviate any threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises and to develop guidance concerning such interactions
- To establish and maintain special protected areas for whales, dolphins and porpoises
- To monitor the species covered by the Agreement, and to determine their migration routes, breeding areas and feeding areas
- To aid the development of techniques for studying populations of whales, dolphins and porpoises
- To cooperate to develop shared tools for the collection and communication of information on whales, dolphins and porpoises
- To cooperate to develop emergency measures that can be put in place if a major threat to whales, dolphins or porpoises occurs in the region; for example, in response to a major chemical spill
An example of an initiative that has resulted from ACCOBAMS - The International Sanctuary for Mediterranean Mammals
One example of an initiative that has been agreed upon by some of the Parties of the ACCOBAMS Agreement is the creation of the International Sanctuary for Mediterranean Mammals, which was agreed upon in principle in 1999 by the governments of France, Italy and Monaco, and came into force in 2002. The sanctuary was created to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises from a dangerous and illegal fishing practice called driftnet fishing, as well as from sea-going vessels and urban development of the coast. Driftnet fishing can often result in the incidental catching of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Since illegal driftnets can be a mile long, nearly 30 metres high and left for days before being retrieved, air-breathing mammals that become caught in driftnets can drown if they are unable to free themselves.
To ensure that all Mediterranean countries respect the goals of the International Sanctuary for Mediterranean Mammals, it has been designated a Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance.