THE Spanish government is under pressure to abandon oil-drilling plans in the Canary Islands and create a sanctuary for whales and dolphins.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) launched its campaign after Repsol was given the go-ahead for exploration off the shores of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.
These waters are home to nearly a third of the world’s whale and dolphin species.
WWF Spain’s secretary general, Juan Carlos del Olmo, said: “We’re talking about an area that’s Europe’s richest when it comes to whales and one of the top in the world.”
Del Olmo said whales and dolphins would be at threat of oil spills, contamination and loud noises.
Spain’s environment ministry began examining the creation of a sanctuary off the islands in 2011 after the death of several whales in the region.
Drilling – which could start as early as October – is also causing concern in the tourism industry.
Repsol spokesperson Marcos Fraga said the company ‘respected’ the protests, but that opposition was premature.
He said the drilling is first to determine whether the oil reserves exist and how much it would cost to access them.
“From there, we can open a quiet, calm debate regarding the pros and cons, to take a decision as a company, as a society and as a country,” he said.
“But the discovery of hydrocarbons would be good news for the country.”
With unemployment at 33% on the islands, industry and tourism minister Jose Manuel Soria has insisted that Spain ‘cannot afford the luxury’ of not knowing whether the gas and oil reserves exist or not.