Group picture from Marine mammals twinning, first workshop, St Martin, May 2017

Marine Mammals Twinning workshop: sharing good practice and deciding focus on whales

A first technical workshop for the Marine Mammals’ Protection Twinning (“a way to enhance transatlantic cooperation between MPAs”) took place in Saint-Martin, French West Indies, on 15-17 May 2017.

The participating partners – who attended either in person or via a weblink – presented their respective MPAs, shared their expectations of the twinning project, and discussed issues of interest for potential future collaboration.

Twinning project partners

  • Filipe Mora Porteiro presented the Marine Park of the Azores, Portugal (Azores Autonomous Region);
  • Sarah Manuel presented the Marine Mammal Sanctuary, Bermuda (UK Overseas Territory);
  • Romain Renoux represented the Agoa MPA, France (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Martin, and Saint-Barthélemy);
  • Liza Lima presented the situation of MPAs on four islands of Cape Verde.

Other participants’ presentations

  • Benjamin Haskell of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, presented the NOAA Sister Sanctuary Program and the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Sister Sanctuary Program.
  • Sabine Garnier presented the Caribbean marine mammals preservation network, Caring for Marine Mammals (CARI’MAM) project
  • Guus Schutjes presented the “Yarari” marine mammal and shark sanctuary in the Dutch Caribbean, Netherlands.
  • Amandine Vaslet shared details of the outreach and education work of a local NGO « Mon école, ma baleine» (my school, my whale).
  • Julien Chalifour and Michel Vely presented the Marine Mammals Monitoring Programs of the Reserve Naturelle de St-Martin.

The participants summarised the relative strengths and weaknesses of each of their MPAs. This enabled the identification of activities that could comprise good practice, including whale-watching; certification (and training) for whale-watching operators; efforts to reduce whale entanglements in lobster trap rope; new shipping lanes to reduce risk of ship strikes of whales; research licence; work with schools.

The meeting agreed that the twinning project should focus only on humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the entire Atlantic Ocean. They went on to discuss the following topics:

Noise pollution and whale behaviour. More research is needed in this area; Agoa is conducting a study to which it will invite contributions from other participants;

Whale monitoring and database storage. Allied Whale is a collection of information on photo-identified humpback and finback whales in the North Atlantic. The development of a joint protocol and guidelines was discussed to improve photo ID methodology.

Stranding. Several participants emphasised the significance of whale stranding. All agreed to share their protocols/guidelines on this issue.

Socio-economic value of cetacean conservation. There was agreement that a common methodology on defining the socio-economic value of cetacean conservation, including whale watching, would be valuable, as would a transatlantic study on this subject. Participants were invited to share their work related to this.

Whale Watching. This is a valuable economic activity, but not widely developed in some countries. The participants agreed to share their material (guidelines, voluntary guidelines, code of good conduct…), review needs for tools and information, and consider how best to deliver support.

Good practices. Participants agreed to prepare at least one good practice to share with the project partners.

Climate change and marine mammals. Although few impacts have been observed to date, workshop participants discussed whether the project could produce a research recommendation to raise awareness of this topic, including on better monitoring of plankton, which are critical to the survival of humpback whales, as well as most other whale species.

Communication. The importance and need for good communication on the subject was mentioned repeatedly. The twinning project provides an opportunity to share existing communication material, and to develop a transatlantic exchange between schools. Participants will try to identify schools that might take part in this activity.

Next steps

A workshop will be help about the twinning project at the 4th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC4), 4-8 September 2017, in Chile.

The second technical workshop has been scheduled to take place in early October.

The participants agreed that future collaboration would be desirable beyond the end (2017) of the existing project. Twinning project coordinator Francis Staub will explore how this might be developed.

Field trip

Thanks to the Saint-Martin National Nature Reserve, a field trip was organized and allowed the workshop participants to discover the reserve and meet with the staff.