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WILDFIRES

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Firefighters douse smouldering rubbles in a burnt house in spain
Firefighters douse smouldering rubbles in a burnt house after a wildfire in the Valle del Arlanza, near Burgos in Spain on July 25, 2022. (Photo by CESAR MANSO / AFP)

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.

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ENVIRONMENT

France under pressure to save dolphins from trawlers

Hundreds of dolphins are washing up on France's Atlantic coast and thousands more are believed killed in fishermen's nets each year, as environmentalists and Brussels pressure the government to protect the marine mammals.

France under pressure to save dolphins from trawlers

On Wednesday, Allain Bougrain-Dubourg, head of the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO), said he would write to President Emmanuel Macron that “the time has come to do our utmost to save dolphins from mistreatment or even extinction.

“This dramatic situation is even less acceptable given that it is avoidable,” Bougrain-Dubourg added.

Pro-dolphin activists say harmful fishing activities, including deep-sea and sea-bed trawling, must be halted for several weeks in the Bay of Biscay between France and Spain.

The Pelagis ocean observatory has spotted a surge in dolphin deaths on the Atlantic coast, with 127 common dolphins washed up in January alone — up from 73 in the same month last year.

Increased dolphin deaths are usually seen later in the year, during their February-March coastal feeding season that brings them closer to fishing vessels chasing hake and sea bass.

This year the increase in finds is “especially early”, Pelagis said this month.

Over the whole of 2022, 669 dolphins washed up — down from 1,299 in 2020.

Scientists believe that more than 80 percent of dead dolphins sink or decompose at sea rather than washing ashore, suggesting the real number of deaths is far higher at up to 11,000 per year.

Of the washed-up dolphins, “most presented signs of being caught in fishing equipment”, Pelagis said, with the LPO singling out “slices in the tail fins and clear traces of nets” on their skin.

‘Half-measures’

CIEM, a scientific body that tracks North Atlantic ecosystems, has for years urged a winter pause for some indiscriminate fishing techniques, meeting fierce resistance from industrial fishermen.

After two years of pressure from the European Commission and under the spotlight from activists, Paris has so far offered an eight-point plan with technical measures, stopping far short of an outright ban. 

Measures include a voluntary observer scheme aboard fishing vessels, satellite tracking and fitting trawlers with cameras or acoustic repellent devices that drive the dolphins away.

Many fishing ships are already fitted with the devices in a “large-scale experiment” to test their effectiveness, the government said.

But the LPO denounced the government moves as “half-measures… that will change nothing and cost us precious time”.

Environmentalist group Sea Shepherd said the repellent devices “create huge exclusion zones in dolphins’ feeding grounds” that risk cutting them off from needed nourishment.

Paris has not completely closed the door to temporary bans, suggesting “time- and space-limited closures” to fishing could be tested in the Bay of Biscay in winter 2024-25 “if there are no satisfactory results in reducing accidental catches” of dolphins.

That isn’t soon enough for the activists. Sea Shepherd have filed a criminal complaint on January 16th against persons unknown over the failure to intervene.

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