It’s good news announced at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meetings in Hyderabad, India (8-19 Oct. 2012) that marine protected areas (MPAs) have shown a 10-fold rise the past decade to cover 2.3% of the surface of the global ocean.
OK, it’s only a drop in the world ocean puddle, and the growth is being driven by just a handful of fairly new, large MPAs, most of them designated with the PEW Foundation’s help.
The policy brief by Mark D. Spalding, from the Nature Conservancy, and others notes that the 20 largest MPAs cover more than 5 million km2 and that this represents more than 60% of the entire global MPA coverage.
But from a whale, dolphin, and large mobile marine animal point of view, these large areas include potentially significant habitats.
Of course, it will be another matter figuring out how to manage these areas, most of which are far from communities, and to make the protection effective. Read more on this.
One such area we at WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, have been focusing on is the Costa Rica Dome. This area has a substantial population of endangered blue whales that breed, raise their calves and feed in the area. There are also huge dolphin, shark, sea turtle and other important species in this productive area. We have been working since 2009 to try to get this area accepted through the CBD as an ecologically or biologically significant area (an “EBSA”) preparatory to it becoming a large high seas MPA.
In August at a CBD workshop, we succeeded in getting the Costa Rica Dome endorsed by scientists — working with our partners MarViva, Marine Conservation Institute, the International Committee on Marine Mammal Protected Areas and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. It is now being considered by the CBD Parties in India. The newly proposed boundaries are not quite as large as we’d hoped, but the marine area now extends right to the shoreline of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, which will help buy-in from local communities and government and connect ecosystems from the land with coastal whale, dolphin and sea turtle populations to the deep sea. On that note, for obtaining “buy-in”, the proposed name “Costa Rica Dome” has been changed to “Central American Dome”. This is a bit like changing the name of the “Gulf of Mexico” to the “Gulf of Mexico and Southern US States”, though the Costa Rica Dome’s established name is not so well known. But if changing an accepted geographical name results in collective responsibility and better protection, I am all for it.
For more information about the implications and next steps for marine protected areas, visit cetaceanhabitats.org
It’s good news announced at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meetings in Hyderabad, India (8-19 Oct. 2012) that marine protected areas (MPAs) have shown a 10-fold rise the past decade to cover 2.3% of the surface of the global ocean.
As an active member of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), WDCS is celebrating because ASOC has successfully raised an objection to the MSC certification of the Ross Sea toothfish fishery. An independent adjudicator has upheld our objection and remanded the decision to the certifiers for reconsideration and rescoring. WDCS and ASOC were outspoken in contending that giving a 'green label' to the exploitation of an unsustainable fishery for the Antarctic toothfish in an area proposed as a highly protected marine reserve was 'completely inappropriate'.
The ASOC press release is below, and the full decision can be read through the links on the ASOC or Cetacean Habitat websites.
Continue reading "Saving toothfish and the Ross Sea"
Earlier this month, just five days before calling an election, the British government designated the world’s largest marine protected area — the Chagos Islands MPA. Located in the British Indian Ocean Territory, the 60-island archipelago has an area estimated at 544,000 km2. This is more than twice the size of the UK’s land area and over 2/3 the size of all United Kingdom waters extending to its full 200 nautical mile limit.
Most conservationists celebrated the announcement of this gesture from the (maybe soon to be) outgoing British government. Resembling in largesse and circumstance George W. Bush’s outgoing gift to the world of three large highly protected MPAs of similar size in the North Pacific (gifted by presidential order in his last days as President), the celebration over the declaration of such a large area was muted in other quarters.
The ocean desperately needs new marine reserves and protected areas. Countries, including the UK, are far behind on their international targets promised by 2012. On the positive side, this MPA would protect a large portion of precious Indian Ocean coral reefs in highly protected IUCN Category I reserves (although not specified where or how much). On the negative side, the Chagos Islanders — forcibly removed from the largest island of Diego Garcia to make way for the US military base some decades ago — were not properly consulted. The MPA was also created without consultation to the government of Mauritius which claims the islands and to which the UK government says it will return the islands when they are no longer needed by the US for defense. (Stay tuned.)
At least some people, including the Pew Environmental Group and a few of the Chagos Islanders think that the move is positive and will not negatively affect the situation. The list of other supporters is impressive. Let’s hope that this will turn out to be a brilliant conservation move. Yet, it still doesn’t take away the poor form of the British government and its failure to have a true consultation, to be inclusive of all parties involved. Yes, everything was ‘legal’ but is this the way to make the best possible MPA? Every book on creating MPAs says that the process needs to work from the ground up to include all stakeholders in order to be successful. No wonder the British government has received some criticism saying that this is electioneering.
With or without the Labour government, conservation groups, tourism bodies and local councils will soon be entering negotiations about marine reserves and MPAs around the UK. We hope that the UK government will be as generous with protecting its own waters as it has been with those on the other side of the world with controversial, contradicting claims.
We surely need a Great Barrier Reef Marine Park or Chagos Islands MPA in the waters of Scotland. It is clearly time to launch some big outstanding conservation measures a little closer to home.
WDCS has some concerns about the procedure being used to propose a large Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Chagos Archipelago, British Indian Ocean Territory. On paper it looks wonderful, but there are some problems that need to be addressed before it can become a successful, highly protected area that will contribute to global biodiversity and MPA targets. We hope the Overseas Territories Directorate is listening. Here is our letter to them:
Overseas Territories Directorate
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
10 February 2010
RE: The creation of a large Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Chagos Archipelago, British Indian Ocean Territory
Dear Sir or Madam,
Noting that the UK Government has invited comments from ‘anyone with an interest in the protection of the environment,’ we at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), based in the UK, US, Germany, Argentina and Australia, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) with several offices in the US and in China, would like to register our concerns regarding this proposal.
We do support the idea of a large highly protected MPA or marine reserve in this globally important tropical marine environment to protect the well documented biodiversity, including the outstanding coral reefs. We note also from cetacean work in the area the presence of important cetacean habitat including but not limited to sperm whales; bottlenose, striped, pantropical spotted, and Risso's dolphins; as well as pilot whales, killer whales and various beaked whales including Cuvier’s beaked whales. In many respects this is a prime area in the Indian Ocean, the conservation of which will help the UK meet international 2010 and 2012 targets for conservation of biodiversity and creation of MPA networks.
However, we are concerned about the unilateral FCO procedure in trying to implement this MPA without even parliamentary debate or approval. Participation in this exercise ultimately needs to be with both the Chagossians, who were expelled from their homes in the islands some 40 years ago, and with Mauritius who have some claims to part of the territory. MPAs created from the ‘top down only’ are much less likely to function effectively.
We note that the Mauritian Government has sent a formal note verbale (6 January 2010) protesting against the FCO 'marine park' consultation; and the representative of the leading Chagossian Association (Olivier Bancoult) has gone on record as opposing the project.
These issues need to be sorted out in order to create a responsible, effective MPA. In the long-run, or even over a short period of time, the involvement of a local community and neighbouring governments with interests in the area will make the proposed MPA much stronger and more likely to succeed, especially when it comes to the difficult matter of enforcement and monitoring in the future.
Our second main concern regarding this proposal has to do with the fact that Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, and the surrounding waters of the US Naval base, are being left out of the proposal. The proximity of military activities, including potential activities involving low- and mid-frequency active sonar, is problematic to the creation of a highly protected area. Navy mid-frequency sonar has been well documented to have a fatal impact particularly on beaked whale species and to have a range of other adverse effects on marine mammals. To our knowledge, none of these activities within the prospective MPA have undergone legally required permitting, consultation, and environmental analysis under U.S. law.
We therefore respectfully request that the island of Diego Garcia and the surrounding waters be included in this MPA. In addition, there should be requirements for EIAs to address the issue of ocean noise pollution – including the use of active sonar – as well as vessel speed and traffic, dumping of wastes, and other activities that might affect the integrity of the Chagos Archipelago MPA. The U.S. Navy should also prepare an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act and seek authorization to take marine mammals incidental to base activities from the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service in the U.S. Department of Commerce.
For your information, we note that an article in the Journal of Environmental Law in January 2009, raised concerns that the US military is responsible for environmental damage both on and around Diego Garcia, including – but not limited to – ‘large-scale coral mining, the introduction of alien plant species, continuous transit of nuclear material and unreported major fuel spills.’
Erich Hoyt, Senior Research Fellow and Programme Lead, Critical Habitat/MPAs
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society – WDCS
Brookfield House, 38 St Paul Street, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN15 1LJ UK
Sarah Dolman, WDCS Head of Policy for Scotland
WDCS Noise Pollution Campaign Manager
Honorary Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen
Kate O’Connell, Research Analyst, WDCS International
Michael Jasny, Senior Policy Analyst
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
1314 Second Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401 USA
Taryn G. Kiekow, Staff Attorney, NRDC
 See, e.g., International Whaling Commission, 2004 Report of the Scientific Committee, Annex K, § 6.4 (concluding that the association between sonar and beaked whale deaths ‘is very concerning and appears overwhelming.’); TM Cox et al, ‘Understanding the Impacts of Acoustic Sound on Beaked Whales’, Journal of Cetacean Research and Management 7 (2006) 177; ECM Parsons et al, ‘Navy Sonar and Cetaceans: Just How Much Does the Gun Need To Smoke Before We Act?’, Marine Pollution Bulletin 56 (2008) 1248.
The Scottish Marine Bill is now the law of the land, or better said, the 'law of the water', at least out to 12nm and maybe in future 200nm although that still needs to be worked out between Holyrood and Westminster. The bill, passed last week by the Scottish assembly in Edinburgh, includes new powers to select and manage Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scotland’s seas, and to manage the various competing uses of the seas from fishing to marine renewables to wildlife tourism and the protection of biodiversity in what will hopefully be a coherent marine plan. After years of work on every aspect of this bill, there was a lot of hand-shaking going on and pats on the back but, as always, the proof of the value will come with the implementation. A special note of thanks must go to Scottish Environment Link, the umbrella body representing 34 environmental organizations in the UK including WDCS, that worked hard to give a voice to Scotland’s amazing marine wildlife. Now we need some proposals that will truly inspire the world — perhaps a Great Barrier Reef-scale marine park or MPA that gives wildlife the protection and place in our hearts that it deserves?!
Today WDCS turns to the matter of toothfish in Antarctica. At up to 2.5 m long they can be the size of a porpoise or dolphin. Left alone, they live for up to 50 years; they don’t breed until they’re about 16 and not every year thereafter. But aside from some remarkably similar reproductive parameters why is the toothfish relevant to whales and dolphins?
The reason is that Antarctic toothfish is being caught at what may be an unsustainable pace in a place where they shouldn’t be caught at all: Antarctica’s Ross Sea, one of the most treasured, least affected ecosystems on Earth. It is an area full of Antarctic minke whales, southern bottlenose and Arnoux’s beaked whales and three ecotypes of killer whales, or orcas, which may someday be considered three species. (The fish-eating orca ecotype sometimes dines on toothfish.) The 250,000-square-mile (647,000 sq km) Ross Sea has been proposed as a highly protected marine reserve. Preserving it for its biological wonders and as a laboratory for studying climate change is a “no brainer” as the Americans like to say — something that anyone in their right minds would say: “that’s a great idea; let’s do it!”
Enter the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the UK-based Moody Marine which this week proposed to certify Ross Sea toothfish for the kitchens, tables and restaurants of higher-end society. At $28/lb in US markets where it masquerades as “Chilean sea bass” or simply “sea bass”, it is not likely to turn up as fish ‘n’ chips. Giving this “green label” to the exploitation of Ross Sea toothfish is “completely inappropriate,” says Sidney Holt, a long-time expert on fish population dynamics as well as on the Antarctic and whales.
It is not just the whale and overfishing lobbies who are upset about this. A large number of scientists and conservation organizations have joined together as part of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) to protest this misguided seal of approval being given to “an exploratory fishery with no reliable stock assessment” in the words of Ross Sea scientist David Ainley.
You can read more about it here. ASOC hopes that MSC will listen to reason and refuse to certify Ross Sea toothfish.
Meanwhile the Ross Sea remains unprotected despite discussions in a number of key Antarctic meetings this year. The Antarctic body called CCAMLR is charged with creating a network of MPAs in the Antarctic with a target of 2012 for completion but has not yet given its full attention to the Ross Sea. As one of the most precious places on Earth many people will continue to defend it against further exploitation.
In recent days the Japanese have launched yet another “scientific whaling” foray to Antarctica. The intention is to catch their self-allotted minke whale total in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary and they may well, as in years past, take some of them from the heart of the Ross Sea, too.
But today the issue is toothfish and the fact that this fishery also catches the complete range of benthic species which make up vulnerable marine ecosystems including stony corals, black corals, gorgonians, sponges and bryozoans. These organisms, thousands of years old, ironically provide habitat for toothfish, but all is laid to waste. It is a bit like cutting down the forest to supply deer for the king’s table.
It is clearly time that the Ross Sea gets the full protection it deserves.
All marine conservation eyes are turning to Australia where Environment Minister Peter Garrett has some very important papers in his in-box. He is being asked by a large number of Australian conservation groups, the Save Our Marine Life (SOML) consortium, supported by international cetacean scientists, to set aside substantial portions of southwest, northwest and northern Australia in highly protected marine areas.
This is part of the same region that has just experienced the devastating Timor oil spill, so Minister Garrett’s decision will be very timely.
Nearly three decades ago Australia launched the modern movement to protect marine areas with its designation of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Over the past few years, however, marine protection efforts in Australia have slowed down while designations in the Pacific and portions of the Antarctic have accelerated. The Great Barrier Reef is no longer the largest MPA in the world, nor is it the most highly protected; several areas in other countries have now surpassed it.
Many Australians are eager that their government revives its leadership in marine conservation affairs. With its dominant location in the great southern ocean, Australia has the capacity to make huge strides now for marine conservation in the lead-up to 2012 when countries are going to be evaluated on what they have done in terms of creating effective marine protected areas and restoring marine biodiversity.
The decision is going to be made on Southwest Australian MPAs and reserves before Christmas 2009, with the northwest and northern areas to follow in early 2010. WDCS is asking people to send an urgent email to Minister Garrett to recommend he vote for the highest possible protection levels for whales, dolphins and marine life. Click here.
Dusk is falling in Alicante and this is the time to recapture the day, respond to an average 60 emails from various offices and to the odd private mail that reaches me in the race village.
There is not much time for contemplation with the builders still adding some finishing touches to the media center that is constantly growing and improving. And while my working day here starts before 7.30 a.m. I can be sure to meet some member from Team Russia or other crews already on their way back from the gym as soon as I am getting closer to the village.
We have rented a flat in order to save on accomodation that provides the additional benefit of taking my very rusty Spanish to new heights. So within three days I was able to learn the following phrases: ¿Por qué no funcionan las llaves? Why do these keys do NOT work?, ¿Podríamos por favor tener agua en el grifo? (Could we please get some water in the sink?), ¿Qué pasa con la luz (What happened to the light (during blackout), and ¿Va a funcinar alguna vez este ascensor? (does this lift ever work? (answer: no)) For most other questions I already know the answer which usually turns out to be a shrug followed by a not too convincing “mañana”.
However, the closer I get to the race village the better it gets and if it was not for the incredible helpful staff of the media center and of the team from Alicante 2008 /2009, I would not know where we would be. But I know that I would already be floating dead in the harbour, belly up, without our Spanish campaign assistant Zaida. She has been bridging cultural gaps, running the pavillion, organising volunteers and sorting out food orders for Team Russia in order to repay some of the favours they are constantly doing us.
Everyone is frantically working, decisions need to be taken on the spot and there are very few moments of calm before dozens of kids rush in the pavillon, briefly stopped in its tracks by the sheer beauty of the large black and white whale pictures on display of American artist Bryant Austin. But not for long.
There are Orca pictures to be drawn, fotos to be taken and a quiz to be completed in order to get their dolphin diploma, leaving them with a neat little business card as a junior expert on whales and dolphins.
If it was not for the kitchen and the great cooking of Ben and Ian from Team Russia, the volunteers would be starved by now. We have had approximately 4000 people in the exhibition and we are expecting similar numbers everyday day come October and the start of the in port race.
Until then, lifesize orcas have to be build and press packs need to be filled before we can take advantage of the close proximity to a sea which is unknown to most the home of nine different species of whales and dolphins. I am only hoping that in the weeks to come I will find some time to do some exercise before some well intended volunteer tries to drag me back into the ocean in order to save the one (largely unknown) common campaign belly whale indigenous to Alicante.
Niki Entrup, our German MD, reports from the Spanish port of Alicante
Most people still don’t associate the Mediterranean Sea with an important habitat for a variety of whale and dolphin species. Even when speaking to locals in coastal communities some might be surprised to find out that nine whale and dolphin species are resident in the Med and this is certainly true when speaking to many people in Alicante.
Accompanying a TV crew from Austria, together with a journalist from Austria’s largest daily newspaper, we headed out to the Sea from Denia (around an hour drive north from Alicante), Wednesday the 17th. The boat left in the direction to Ibiza. It took us around one and a half hours when Maggie first spotted “something moving at around 11 o’clock” (when try to spot cetaceans from a vessel, people are asked to shout the direction of the spotting to the others relating to the time on a watch with 12.00 o’clock being the front of the boat).
We anxiously continued waiting for another 15 minutes, when a large group of striped dolphins suddenly appeared in a distance of around 500 Metres. The following half an hour was pure magic. Around 40 striped dolphins, split into three groups enjoyed the boats presence, coming close to inspect us while the engine was already turned off. Once the group already swam southwards and we started the engine, it took just a few moments, when some returned to enjoy bowriding close to the boat. A spectacular trip left the journalists and crew excited and made them refuse to eat tuna and swordfish in the evening as they learnt about the intense overfishing that occurs in the Mediterranean, one of the key problems whales and dolphins face.
Friday, Andreas Hanakamp from Team Russia was interviewed about changing marine ecosystems after spending many years at sea, as well as about the cooperation of Team Russia and it’s environmental Partner WDCS.
The programme, a 25 minutes documentary, will be aired on the 4th of October in Austrian TV, ORF.
UK IT Manager Lindsay Bruce has just come back from an extended visit to our US office where he set up a new Fieldwork database and Photo ID system. He regrets not having posted anything on the blog whilst there, but the hard-working team in the US had him working 24/7 on their amazing fieldwork program. Now he's back and got through the backlog of emails, another BIG project has just landed on his desk - the 2008-9 Volvo Ocean Race.
One of the privileges of working for WDCS is the broad array of projects that you get to work on. As well as the day to day business of maintaining our global communications network, there are many individual projects that need special attention from our IT team. The variety of projects is mind-boggling, and we get to work in areas that regular commercial IT staff only get to dream about - fieldwork, acoustic research, whale watching, media libraries, and - on occasion - something REALLY big.
The Volvo Ocean Race is a REALLY big idea. The 37,000 mile 8-month long race is the pinnacle event in the sailing calendar; a grueling marathon crossing some of the wildest, most inhospitable seas in the world. The competitors will pass through regions where whales and dolphins are living on the edge; driven back by increasing pollution, commercial shipping, fisheries bycatch, hunting, and climate change. WDCS is campaigning for a worldwide network of Marine Protected Areas, safe habitats for key populations of whales and dolphins at risk. We are immensely proud to be Team Russia's marine environment partner for the 2008-9 Volvo Ocean Race, helping to raise awareness of the plight that whales and dolphins face, and sailing under the banner of "We sail for the Whale".
For me personally, this is a fantastic project. I've always loved the sea, ever since I was a boy skipping stones across the waves on the beach by my grandparents house in Argyll, Scotland. The raw energy of the open sea, its mystery, dangers and the incredible abundance of varied life beneath and above the waves. But that life is now in great peril.
The race is on to save whales and dolphins. Will you help?
For more information and to find out how YOU can make a difference, visit www.whales.org