Conservation groups hit out at Cromarty threat to marine life

Ship to ship transfers at Cromarty could devastate Moray Firth marine life.
Ship to ship transfers at Cromarty could devastate Moray Firth marine life.

CONSERVATION GROUPS HAVE been expressing their concerns over continuing plans by the Cromarty Firth Port Authority (CFPA) to undertake ship-to-ship oil transfers.

The issue has been hanging over the entire Moray Firth region for almost a year, with a final decision on the application, which has been widely condemned by communities all along the coastline, yet to be taken.

Now several groups including Whale and Dolphin Conservation, WWF Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust have been adding their concerns to the debate over the effect the proposals could pose to the local environment.

They have claimed that the CFPA assessment of environmental impacts was “inadequate – and falls far short of what is required under the EU Habitat Directive Regulations”.

The organisations argue that the proposed transfers threaten nationally and internationally important sites for wildlife all along the Moray Firth. The proposed location is within the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation for bottlenose dolphin and the proposed Moray Firth Special Area of Protection for a wide range of seabirds.

Other European protected sites that could be harmed by the operations include the Cromarty Firth, Inner Moray Firth and the Moray & Nairn Coast Special Protection Areas and the Culbin Bar Special Area of Conservation.

The recent oil spill from the Clair platform off Shetland and the stranding of the Transocean Winner off Lewis highlight the potential for spills to occur. Following major spills from oil tankers such as the Braer off Shetland in 1993 and the Sea Empress off Pembrokeshire in 1996, both the oil and the chemicals used in the clean-up remain in the environment and cause toxicity to wildlife for many years.

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland said: “Ship-to-ship oil transfers are an unnecessary risk to Scotland’s important marine wildlife, where even a small leak could prove devastating for some species.

“Unless it can be shown how the marine environment will be protected, these proposals should be shelved. This is yet another example of the threats faced by nature as a result of addiction to fossil fuels, and underline why we must more rapidly transition to a zero-carbon future.”

Dr Sam Collin of the Scottish Wildlife Trust added: “The need for further ship-to-ship oil transfers within the Cromarty Firth has not been fully explained nor has the choice of the proposed site been justified through any analysis of alternative locations.”

Fiona Read of Whale and Dolphin Conservation added that marine mammals are very vulnerable to the potential impacts of oil. She continued: “The proposals lack an adequate plan in the case of an oil spill and insufficient information has been provided on the prevention of oil spills or of the release of pathogens from ballast water.

“Marine mammals are highly sensitive to noise and the noise impacts of the proposals have not been adequately assessed.”

These and other concerns have been submitted to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, who are determining the application – but no feedback has been received from the Agency or the Port Authority.

It is understood that the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have asked the Port Authority to provide further environmental information, but it is not known whether the Agency plans to undertake any further consultation and independent evaluation of the environmental risks associated with the final proposal.