DOLPHINS and whales will be at risk if shipping firms are allowed to transfer oil from one vessel to another on the Moray Firth, campaigners have argued.
Environmentalists have started a petition against ship-to-ship oil transfers in the sea, fearing spillages could harm the wildlife.
At present, oil is transferred on and off vessels securely berthed at Nigg, but the Cromarty Firth Port Authority has lodged an application for a licence to carry out ship-to-ship oil transfers at five locations in the open sea outside the mouth of the Cromarty Firth. Under pressure from local campaigners, the Cromarty Firth Port Authority has extended the deadline for public responses until February 8.
Carol Shaw, chair of the Dyke and Landward Community Council, is sending a formal objection letter and wants people to sign the petition to block the plans.
She says it could put the firth’s iconic bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises at risk, as well as cause potential harm to visiting minke and humpback whales.
“It is home to a wide variety of resident and breeding sea birds and shore birds as well as numerous species of fish including salmon returning to spawn in the rivers Ness, Nairn, Findhorn and Spey,” she said. “These are important fishing rivers and an interruption, such as that resulting from a spill, would have an impact on the returning migratory fish.”
Mrs Shaw added: “From the human point of view, the firth is of great importance to the resident population who use it for work in the fishing industry and for leisure with water sports and recreational beaches. One of the major industries is tourism which would be impacted by beaches polluted with crude oil.”
“Transferring oil between two ships is a risky business and is meant to be carried out 12 miles offshore, or in a port,” said Mrs Shaw. “It would seem that CPA extended into the area of the Moray Firth in front of the sutors.”
“Not only would this put the life of cetaceans, sea birds and fishing stocks at risk it could also blight the tourist industry if there was an oil spill.”
She is also taking her petition to Moray MSP Richard Lochhead, who is cabinet secretary for rural affairs and the environment, to ask him to act.
“The media regularly carries reports of oil spillages from many sources around the globe and gives dramatic accounts of the devastation caused and how it takes years and years for the region to recover,” she said. “I do not wish to see the Moray Firth put at such risk from a STS oil transfer accident.
“A proposal similar to this for the Firth of Forth was scraped in 2008 after a risk assessment showed that the plans posed a high risk to sensitive marine life... let’s make sure this is withdrawn again!”
Mrs Shaw’s petiition, which is supported by Whale and Dolphin Conservation, has already gathered more than 1,600 signatures and she is hoping that other local community councils will also urge people in their areas to sign it.