Caribbean whale sanctuaries intensify cooperation

POSTED: 06/8/12 12:45 PM

St. Maarten – Representatives of the Caribbean Marine Mammal Sanctuaries Initiative (Caribbean Mamas), and representatives of the Regional Activity Center (RAC) of the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (Spaw) protocol held a two day meeting here recently to discuss cooperation. Parties want to collaborate on conservation of marine mammals and used the meeting reaffirm their intention to work together using the Marine Mammal Action Plan of the Spaw Protocol as a guide. The group, which includes representatives of France, Dominican Republic, the USA and The Netherlands, also committed to embarking on a number of joint actions listed in an action plan and have invited other regional countries to join them.
The group of marine mammals sanctuaries first came together at the International Convention for Marine Mammal Protected Areas (ICMMPA 2) in Martinique in November last year. A declaration of intent was signed at that meeting outlining the fields of cooperation the partnership would undertake. The workshop on St. Maarten allowed parties to discuss how the cooperation could best be realized and to identify specific actions on which to work together. Several of the sanctuaries already have or are working on bilateral – so-called Sister Sanctuary – agreements.
The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary first made such an agreement with the Dominican Republic Sanctuary because humpback whales spend the summer in the north on the Stellwagen Bank in Massachusetts and then migrate to the Caribbean. The largest pods are concentrated on the Silver Banks where thousands of humpback whales congregate, from all over the Northern Atlantic. The humpback whales can also be found around other islands in the Caribbean, including the Dutch and the French islands. Those countries are also working on similar Sister Sanctuary agreements with Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and with the Dominican Republic Sanctuary.
The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I) informed the other partners that it intends to establish a Caribbean Netherlands Marine Mammal Sanctuary before the end of this year. The French ‘Agoa’ Sanctuary and the Dutch Caribbean islands had already been working together on surveys for marine mammals around the French and Dutch Windward islands in March, including St. Maarten and also the Saba Bank, and the meeting was informed about some surprising preliminary results of that survey.
Many humpback whales were heard singing on the Saba Bank and numerous sperm whales were recorded in the deep channel between Saba and St. Maarten. The joint survey work will be continued in October and another survey will be undertaken in 2013. This will start in Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao and continue up through the arc of Eastern Caribbean islands via the French islands and to the Dutch Windward Islands. This expedition will also include outreach on the various islands to inform the communities on the work being done and the marine mammals around their islands. Participants from Venezuela and the various Eastern Caribbean islands will also be invited.
Parties also agreed on the set-up of a regional network of acoustic underwater listening posts. These will be spread among the partners to get records of songs and other sounds produced by whales and dolphins, but also to quantify the underwater noise generated by human activities all over the region in order to assess the impact of such noise pollution from ships, seismic explorations, and recreational noise from speedboats, jet skis and such. Because the Caribbean has one of the highest shipping densities in the world, interactions between ships and whales must be better studied. Stakeholders from the shipping authorities will also be invited to join in this work.
The group further agreed to exchange expertise and build capacity by mutual participation in joint work, training in stranding response and disentanglement of marine mammals, standardization of methods and sharing of marine mammal data.
The participants all expressed their appreciation of the Dutch Ministry of EL&I for hosting this meeting with logistical help of the Nature Foundation St. Maarten. Everyone found the workshop extremely useful and the partners decided that they will meet at least once every year to discuss progress and new actions.

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