Marine protected areas and marine spatial planning for the benefit of marine mammals
The world’s oceans that make up more than 70% of the earth’s surface face a wide range of human pressures.
This applies particularly to the coastal zone, where marine mammal communities in almost 50% of the world’s coastal waters are considered at high-risk. One means of tackling conservation pressures facing marine species has been to establish marine protected areas, although, as yet, these apply to only 5% of the world’s seas.
The first marine protected area (MPA) for cetaceans was established in 1971 in Laguna Ojo de Liebre otherwise known as Scammon’s Lagoon, in Baja California, Mexico to protect the winter breeding grounds of the gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus). Forty years later, there were at least 650 protected areas which included marine mammals. However, many of these were not established specifically for marine mammals, and have no detailed management measures targeting them. Even when supposedly designated for them (e.g. the Irish Whale & Dolphin Sanctuary), they provide little in the way of specific conservation measures.
On the other hand, if implemented properly, they can be effective, as shown for example in the case of the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary in New Zealand which appears to have been successful in enabling the local population of the endangered Hector’s dolphin to increase by 6% per annum. Although frequently not followed, there have been a number of attempts to provide guidelines for how to make MPAs effective, including some focused upon MPAs for marine mammals.
Photo credit: Peter GH Evans