FEARS ARE BEING expressed over plans to grant a licence that would allow ship-to-ship oil transfers on the Moray Firth.
Campaigners say that allowing such a plan could spell disaster for such as the resident Dolphin population, adding that the application made by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority for a licence, if approved, would open up the potential for oil spills that could have a devastating effect on a wide range of sea life.
A similar application was made in 2007 for such transfers to be allowed on the Firth of Forth – these were ultimately rejected after a widespread campaign to protect bottle-nose dolphin and other sea life proved successful.
In February 2008 the Whale and Dolphin Conservation group (WDC) Senior Research Fellow, Erich Hoyt, said: “Ship to ship oil transfers present a serious and completely unacceptable level of risk to the areas wildlife and marine environment. I hope that this marks the beginning of a long line of decisions to protect our wonderful natural heritage.
“The Firth of Forth is an important area for Scotland’s small and vulnerable resident population of bottlenose dolphins. Although usually seen around the Inner Moray Firth, individual groups of six to fifty dolphins from the population are known to regularly range along the coast south of Aberdeen and are seen feeding in the Firth of Forth.”
The latest application would bring the same dangers much closer to home for the world-famous Moray Firth dolphin population, which brings thousands of tourists to communities all along the Moray Firth.
An application for the latest licence was issued by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority this month, which includes a study of the effect oil spills may have on the region. The study details how and where any spills would likely affect beaches.
Depending on wind conditions, the study highlights such areas would include Findhorn, Burghead Bay and Lossiemouth.
One environmental campaigner contacted insideMoray over Christmas and said: “If there were to be a major spill then this could have a devastating effect on the birds and other wildlife in the Firth – this is a clear case where the needs of the oil industry must not overcome the needs of a safe environment for our resident Dolphin population and the many visiting Whale species the Moray Firth has become famous for.”
A spokesman for the Moray Coast Tourism Group said: “We have recently been made aware of these plans and share the concerns of local environmentalists.
“Constant ship movements along the Moray Firth are a regular feature but there are, we believe, tight controls in place – nevertheless, we only have to take a walk along our local beaches to see the damage that can happen from spillages.
“This plan freely acknowledges the risk of spillage from ship-to-shop transfers on the Moray Firth, and appears to us to be a risk that is way beyond what would or should be deemed acceptable.”
Full details of the application being made by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority can be found online.