Sagres’ chance of UNESCO fame “at risk from oil and gas exploration”

“We could be doing all this for nothing”, Aljezur’s mayor José Amarelinho told last Friday’s meeting of Algarve council leaders as they discussed the candidature of Sagres’ to UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.

The reason, the mayor explained, is the government’s myriad off-shore drilling licences signed with companies hoping to strike reserves of deep-sea oil and/ or gas.

While some of the concessions ceded along the south coast appear to have been halted, the west Algarve, all the way to Sines, is still ‘covered’ by various licenses – the first of which (held by Galp/ ENI) is poised to see drilling begin imminently.

Unless these licences are scrapped, anti-oil campaigner Amarelinho told the meeting, Sagres’ bid for UNESCO fame may as well be tossed into the ocean.

“The candidacy will fall if the government doesn’t block oil exploration licences”, he said, backed by the Algarve’s DRC cultural director Alexandra Gonçalves who added that the situation makes Sagres’ bid all the more “important”.

Gonçalves came to the meeting equipped with details of how the ancient promontory could be promoted as part of a cultural maritime route, “involving nine places of globalisation from Sagres to the Azores, passing through Ceuta and arriving at Cape Verde”.

This isn’t the first time Sagres has been ‘groomed’ for UNESCO recognition. Tourism bosses first thought of the idea in 2002, but ended up abandoning the process. It was taken up for the second time in 2013, this time under the auspices of DRC (regional culture board).

Hydrocarbon exploration along Sagres’ coast isn’t the only obstacle however, DRC services and cultural assets director Rui Parreira explained. Threats also come in the form of “what is going on on the land” and how mayors end up structuring the bid, he said – but the thrust of the meeting confirmed AMAL’s wholehearted opposition to the government’s hydrocarbon strategy that appears to be drawing ever closer.

With local activists preparing to travel up to Lisbon next Thursday as the government debates on the 42,000 signatures collected to show the weight backing the anti-lobby, at least two local authorities (including Amarelinho’s Aljezur) have laid-on buses, so that citizens will get a chance to become ‘hands-on’ in the struggle.

The crux of the demo is that the government is committing itself to oil and gas exploration, despite the clear message from communities up and down the country that it is not wanted.

Leading the demonstration, ASMAA – the Algarve Surf and Marine Activities Association – has requested the debate is live-streamed on cable TV (parliamentary channel).

For anyone wishing to take part in the demo, see ASMAA’s facebook page. The group reports that seats on the various buses are “filling up fast”, with not only Algarve residents, but those from the Alentejo as well.

Amarelinho – AMAL’s vice-president – is particularly keen to win this People versus Powermakers struggle as his rural borough sits just 46 kms from the first well due to be sunk in the spring (click here).

[email protected]