Despite the ban: Why Greenpeace activists are sinking stones in the Baltic Sea
Greenpeace activists are currently cruising around Rügen with a two-masted ship, sinking boulders weighing several tons into the sea. They have good reason for their action.
They were warned several times, followed by a ban and finally an impending fine: Greenpeace activists continued on Tuesday to sink granite stones off Rügen in the Baltic Sea. According to the environmental organization, this protects the Adlergrund conservation area designated by the Federal Government from being destroyed by fishing with bottom trawls. The Federal Maritime Agency has banned Greenpeace from continuing to bring granite stones to the seabed. This is a “pollution”, as a spokeswoman for the Federal Office of the German Press Agency said. The environmental organization violates the “High Sea Contribution Act”. Failure to do so could result in a fine of up to EUR 50,000.
Despite the violation, the Federal Sea Police, which is responsible in the marine area outside the German exclusive economic zone (EEZ), is not deployed. However, a spokesman for the Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania water protection police said on request that it was commissioned to provide administrative assistance to the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration and to determine the personal details of the crew when the ship was again within the jurisdiction of the state.
Protection of marine areas “only exists on paper”
Greenpeace marine biologist Thilo Maack said: “What keeps us going is our understanding that we are giving nature its right to be intact.” The federal ministries for the environment and agriculture had already announced in spring 2019 that they wanted to ban bottom trawling in the Adlergrund, among other places. So far nothing has happened. Germany has protected almost 50 percent of its marine areas since 2007, but protection is only available on paper. Ground trawls and gillnets are still allowed in the protection zones of the North and Baltic Seas, as well as the extraction of oil and sand and gravel mining.
According to Greenpeace, the ship returns to the port of Sassnitz on Rügen with eight men on board every day. In addition, according to the water protection police, the Greenpeace two-master “Beluga II” received a visit from the fishery protection boat of the Federal Office for Agriculture and Food (BLE). Greenpeace activists have said they have sunk around 60 stones, some of which weigh several tons, 14 nautical miles east of Rügen since Sunday. Authorities and fishermen were informed about the coordinates of the boulders, which did not represent an obstacle for shipping. According to Maack, it was found before the action during dives in the Adlergrund that the vegetation with mussels and algae was “shaved off” from stones.
Not the first Greenpeace campaign of this kind
Data from the Thünen Institute for Baltic Sea Fisheries showed that German, Polish and Danish fishermen were fishing in the reserve between 2013 and 2017. According to Maack, granite boulders from Sweden, Denmark and Germany are used for the Adlergrund, which occur naturally in the Baltic Sea. “We had an impact assessment done,” he said. How many stones are still to be deposited is still open.
The action is similar to a case in which Greenpeace had previously deposited stones off Sylt in the North Sea, which was also prohibited. Greenpeace had filed a complaint against it. The Federal Administrative Court (BVerwG) Leipzig left the question of legality open. No penalty was paid. Greenpeace pointed out that there are several EU conservation projects to rebuild stone reefs in the oceans. In contrast, the Bundestag member and AfD spokesman for the constituency, Leif-Erik Holm, demanded that the Greenpeace ship be confiscated and the crew arrested. The fishermen would not have been fishing in the Adlergrund with trawls for 30 years. Then there would be no excitement for the fishermen, replied Maack.