Greenpeace has issued a strong plea to Greece, urging the nation to abandon its ambitious deep-sea gas exploration venture in the Mediterranean.
Citing recently released research, the environmental organisation argues that the project's impact on endangered whales and dolphins is far more significant than previously believed.
A survey conducted last year in the waters off southwestern Greece and Crete, areas slated for exploratory drilling, revealed the consistent presence of sea mammals throughout the year, both in the winter and summer, reaffirming previous findings.
An area of great environmental importance
The region under scrutiny for gas exploration largely coincides with the Hellenic Trench, encompassing the Mediterranean's deepest waters at a staggering depth of 5,267 meters (17,300 feet).
This trench serves as a crucial habitat for the sea's sparse population of sperm whales and other marine mammals already under threat from fishing, ship collisions, and plastic pollution.
Existing environmental safeguards for the project restrict exploration to the winter season to minimize adverse effects on whale and dolphin breeding periods. However, a report published in the Endangered Species Research journal on Thursday indicates that at least four cetacean species, including sperm whales and Cuvier's beaked whales, inhabit the area year-round.
Kostis Grimanis of Greenpeace Greece emphasized the enormous ecological significance of this Mediterranean region, condemning the government and oil companies for their relentless pursuit of hydrocarbon exploration in these waters.
He labeled it an "absurd crime against nature" that not only endangers iconic marine species but also jeopardizes the fight against the climate crisis by seeking to exploit undersea fossil fuels.
Greenpeace has now called on the Greek government to revoke all offshore drilling permits
In 2019, Greece granted exploration rights for two seabed blocks south and southwest of Crete to an international energy consortium, while smaller projects are underway to the north.
This year, ExxonMobil and Greece's Helleniq Energy completed a three-month seismic survey of the seabed in the two major blocks, with initial exploratory drilling potentially commencing in 2025, according to the Greek government. Officials assure that the strictest environmental standards are being adhered to.
The seismic survey, involving the use of sonic blasts to identify potential gas deposits, raises concerns about its impact on sound-sensitive cetaceans. Similar sonar technology used by warships has been linked to fatal consequences for whales, and experts suggest that seismic surveys can have similar effects. Furthermore, drilling and gas extraction would introduce substantial undersea noise, as pointed out by environmentalists.
The recent report, compiled by Greenpeace Greece in collaboration with the University of Exeter and the Athens-based Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute, documented encounters with at least five cetacean species, including 14 sperm whales, during the winter of 2022, following previous research conducted during the summer months.