In a recent webinar organised collaboratively by the Ocean Governance Project’s Marine Mammals Twinning (MMT) and the Pacific Islands Marine Protected Area Community (PIMPAC), experts and Marine Protected Area (MPA) managers from the Pacific convened to discuss the conservation of marine mammals in the Pacific region and learn how the marine mammals management toolkit can be used to better integrate marine mammals into MPA, and other Area-based Management tools (ABMT), management plans.
An innovative tool to integrate Marine Mammals in the work of PIMPAC
Kristine Bucchianeri, Co-Coordinator of PIMPAC, shared insights into the organisation’s history and mission. PIMPAC, a capacity-building network founded in 2005, emerged in response to the shared challenges faced by marine resource managers across the Pacific while establishing MPAs. Initially, the group was an informal connection of managers but has significantly grown since its inception and is now co-coordinated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Micronesia Conservation Trust; both committed to conserving the rich marine ecosystems of the Pacific. Bucchianeri expressed her enthusiasm to bring the MMT toolkit to the PIMPAC community: “While we have been working in Marine Protected Areas for over 20 years here at PIMPAC, we have not really looked much at Marine Mammals, so this is a great tool that we’re really excited to share with our community.”
Protecting Marine Mammals in the Pacific in the face of research gaps
Rochelle Constance, Co-Chair of the Pacific Region Important Marine Mammal Areas and Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force, highlighted the critical role of marine mammals in the Pacific. This vast region boasts diverse habitats and is home to 34 reported marine mammal species, including spinner dolphins, humpback whales, dugongs, rough-toothed dolphins, and bottlenose dolphins. Unfortunately, limited focused research exists due to logistical challenges, leaving many aspects of marine mammal conservation uncertain. Constance discussed the various threats facing marine mammals in the Pacific, such as fisheries interactions (bycatch and entanglement), tourism, direct takes, and climate change. As an example for an initiative addressing these challenges, she introduced the Global IUCN SSC-WCPA Initiative, where the Marine Mammal Task Force identifies key areas for protection. This shift in focus, from safeguarding individual species to preserving entire areas, underscores the interconnectedness of marine mammal conservation with broader ocean health. Constance also underscored the importance of data collection, suggesting that even tour operators, ferry crews, and fishing teams could contribute valuable information, highlighting the power of collective data efforts.
The Marine Mammals Toolkit: An openly accessible resource for MPA managers
Fiona Dyrhauge, Project Officer of the MMT, provided an introduction of the toolkit. Developed under the Ocean Governance Project, it comprises four essential components aimed at enhancing the technical capabilities of MPA managers and improving marine mammal management: factsheets, the Self-Assessment Tool (SAT), the Community of Practice, and good practices. Fiona emphasised that this is the only toolkit fully dedicated to marine mammals. The SAT, one of the Toolkit’s core components, is available in English, French and Spanish and in both online and offline formats, with the entire online toolkit available in over 25 languages.
Putting the Self-Assessment Tool into practice
Tom Dallison, MPA expert and co-developer of the SAT, complemented this introduction with a more in-depth guide of the practical use of the SAT and SAT-LITE (a more concise version of the SAT). These two tools empower MPA managers to comprehensively assess the inclusion of marine mammals within their management plans. Tom underscored that these tools are specifically designed for marine mammals, featuring guided multiple-choice questions that produce a valuable dashboard of results that identify gaps in the management plan, enabling managers to make informed decisions and enhance conservation efforts. Importantly, these tools can be applied at all stages of MPA development and an unlimited number of times, supporting a continuous improvement in marine mammal conservation.
A testimonial from the Atlantic
To conclude the webinar, Ben Haskell, Deputy Superintendent of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, shared a recorded video testimonial on his experience using the SAT. The sanctuary, part of the NOAA system, was designated by the US Congress due to its high biodiversity and importance as a fishing ground. Having completed the SAT for the third time already, he said that he “find[s] the self-assessment tool very comprehensive and thought-provoking”. He also recommended the participants to read through the toolkit factsheets first to get some context to go through the self-assessment tool. Haskell emphasised that the SAT should not be seen as a test but rather as a helpful means to evaluate what should be included in a management plan and where limited resources should be focused.
In summary, the webinar not only highlighted the critical role of marine mammals in the Pacific, but also shared the value of the toolkit and insights on how to use it effectively. This webinar was part of a series of webinars currently being conducted by the Marine Mammal Twinning. To date, webinars have been held in the Western Indian Ocean, the Pacific, and throughout the Commonwealth. Following the completion of the webinar with PIMPAC, the Twinning also hosted a webinar in collaboration with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). Further webinars are planned for the Caribbean, North America, and the Red Sea region. For information on these webinars, and how to register, visit: https://marine-mammals.info/events-marine-mammals/.