GOB matters is a section of Roqueta, a monthly magazine in English, written by Chita Laurie.
GOB is the acronym for its Catalan name, Grup Balear d’Ornitologia i Defensa de la Naturalesa founded in Mallorca in 1973 and in Menorca in 1977. It is a non-profit making non-governmental organisation which exists to care for the environment and to increase public awareness on ecological matters. As it is non-political it gives a democratic voice to the population against government actions that are often unnecessary and are contrary to keeping the important balance between man and the environment.
GOB Menorca has been particularly busy with the polemics concerning the main road between Mahόn and Ciutadella, the dredging of the Port of Mahon, the Petroleum Prospecting and the changes to laws which cover building permissions, especially in rustic land. In addition its work covers its regular projects such as the garden centre Es Viver, the Wild Animal Recuperation Centre, the Agricultural Land Stewardship Scheme and its vital education programme both for schools and for adults. Its lifeline is given by its membership and its committed volunteers.
The Main Road and its Roundabouts
2,500 signatures were received within 24 hours of the renewed campaign to protest against the disproportionate size of work projected for the main road. The renewed campaign came as a result of the 38 per cent increase in the costs demanded by the construction companies and which stopped their work for three months: at least, this unpayable increase might give the possibility of rethinking the design of the project. And for future work between Ferreries and Ciutadella.
The motivation for the various protest campaigns in Menorca is often accused of being political when, in fact, the protests have been entirely about unnecessary damage to the countryside and its impact. The campaigns are supported by people of all political colours. Accusations of exaggeration are unfounded which, now that the walls are being built, and the extent of land being claimed, can be seen by so many people for themselves. And, significantly, the project has drawn criticism from various television companies and newspapers from outside the island who have filmed and broadcast their findings. They point to the quality tourism which Menorca attracts that contributes to the local economy but which is jeopardised by insensitive construction works. People with second homes have seen with their own eyes and wonder how it was ever possible to have a project of such proportions simply for junctions and changes of direction which, within five kilometers of countryside, requires moving the road and raising it to run above four enormous roundabouts. The summer visitors have yet to see this and add their comments. These vast structures cannot be regarded as progress. Quite the contrary. Progress is measured by proportionate improvements considering the Island as a whole.
Following a press conference in Barcelona in February, well known and important people have added their weight to the campaigns. They include personalities such as the singer Juan Manuel Seurat, the journalist Iñaki Gabilondo, industrialists, top lawyers, journalists from the Peninsula’s media and many others. The plea is that the local government will reconsider the constuctions, take account of more sensitive designs and have open and clear discussions with GOB and all those who favour more proportionate modernisation of the road.
The environmental work which engages GOB is demanding and, as can be seen from the list above, it covers many areas. It could not survive without the help of its many volunteers on the island who give their time at the garden centre, on farms, at the wildlife recuperation centre, at the shop and in many other areas. When needed, there are volunteers who give their professional advice on legal and technical matters.
There is a European Voluntary Service scheme for young long term volunteers between 18 to 30. It is EU funded helping with travel, accommodation and subsistence costs. The EVS assists in preparation and on arrival training in conjunction with the hosting organisation. The programme works by putting prospective young volunteers in touch with accredited organisations according to their interests. To be accredited took much time and effort on the part of GOB but they had many young applicants for this year and chosing just one was difficult.
On the coldest, stormiest day in the middle of February, Tuuliki Koppel arrived from Estonia. Expecting a sunny Mediterranean climate, she braved the winds and rain in her summer looking clothes saying it was nothing compared with Estonia. She has come to help in many areas of GOB especially in the office, at the Recuperation Centre for Wild Animals, at the Es Viver Garden Centre, on farms involved with the Land Stewardship scheme and in the schools education programme. In addition, she is going to Spanish lessons (she communicates in perfect English) and hopes that by the end of her ten month stay she will have learnt the language as well as the environmental issues of the island. Indeed, she has thrown herself into all the GOB activities so far with enthusiasm and charm and is integrating not only with everyone connected with GOB but with other EVS volunteers in Sant Lluis. Tuuliki is 24 and is interrupting her further studies after her BSc from the University of Tartu in biology to gain experience from being abroad and adding from first hand to her knowledge of ecology.
GOB and environmental education
GOB encourages projects which help in environmental education. Xavi Camps and Louise Watson are GOB volunteers who are also working on a project for schools to create awareness in the young on how we treat the planet. The project is called the Limits of Growth and it aims to help secondary students to think critically about the paradox between growth and sustainability. As part of their final project, the students interview people who are already involved in organizations which promote sustainable living on the island. This interview then becomes the basis for a poster which aims to promote lifestyle changes to help us confront some of the environmental and social problems that we face today.
With the impending elections in mind, and the electoral programmes that the various parties are producing, GOB has put to them various proposals which it considers are not only possible but also necessary during the next term of office. These include looking carefully at town and country planning; considering the island’s resources and economic activities; making available public participation and working with transparency. It is especially concerned with any coastal planning and reminds the parties that the countryside must be maintained for agriculture, a fundamental part of Menorcan economy, and how to link it with tourism. The Group explains to the parties its opposition to rural building. In addition it asks for the planned use of renewable energy for all the Balearics, not just this Island. It suggests the creation of an Island Consortium on Water to promote initiatives for saving water and preserving the aquifers from contamination. In addition, the ecologists propose diversifying and improving tourism with the Island’s special resources for nature, country walking, sailing, water sports, food, prehistoric sites and archaeology.
With only eleven employees, GOB’s successes are phenomenal. Please help with donations or becoming an associate or by volounteering. You can find out more on the website www.gobmenorca.com or go to the office in the restored windmill in Mahon at 53 Came des Castell, phone number 971 350 762. The automatic translation on the website into English is incomprehensible. A new website is being constructed especially for English speakers. Meanwhile, try the automatic translation into Spanish if you do not speak Catalan.
Montse Bau, GOB Education Officer
Louise Watson, GOB volunteer