STAFF REPORTER

MADRID
THE Balearic Islands came out with a “first” yesterday when an international ocean conservationist group released a report revealing that the Islands have the largest surface area of marine reserves in the country.

The publication showed that the region has no less than 10 distinct areas which are categorised as “protected natural habitat,” with a total of 80'000 hectars subdivided into 55'587 of marine reserves and 36'746 listed as special environmental heritage.

Oceana said that these figures are noticeably higher than other regions of Spain, and that the Balearics have even taken first place from Andalucia - the largest region in the country - which could only manage 27'935 hectars in second place; Valencia with 14'547 and Catalonia with 12'000 hectars in third and fourth positions respectively.

As additional praise, the conservationist group said that the marine reserves of the Balearics could be described as “pioneering” territory by becoming a major part of “Red Natura 2000” (nature reserve network), a project being set up next year by the central government ministry for the Environment.

Oceana's European director, Ricardo Aguilar said yesterday in Madrid that the concept of “Red Natura 2000” had been passed on to Spain's central government by the European Union as an environmental conservation initiative to be applied to all member states. The natural history of the Balearics lends itself to the creation of marine reserves - Oceans confirmed that the Islands lay claim to no less than 52 percent of the Mediterranean's protected zones, with 18 areas of special natural interest designated around its coastlines and coastal waters. The most important include the North of Minorca; Toro Island and the Malgrats Islets (off Majorca); the Bay of Palma; the Levant reserve; the Migjorn Marina; and Freus off Ibiza and Formentera.

During his announcement, Agular highlighted the need to establish marine reserves designed exclusively to protect the region's ecological treasures, giving preference to the environment over fishing practices. Not to be forgotten were coastal cliff areas which played an important role in a fragile ecosystem as well as natural wetlands, the most important in the Balearics being the S'Albufeira wildlife park in north Majorca.

Alguilar said that the novel aspect of “Red Natura 2000” introduced by the European Union is that until now, the concept of marine reserves has not been coordinated on a global level. The upgrading of both marine and terrestrial natural habitat protection will mean the cooperation of other ministries at a national level, especially Agriculture and Fisheries who will need to alter their policy accordingly.

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