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Coordination between agencies with respect to marine mammal conservation

Management framework


Marine Protected Areas (MPA) are often designed through the need to achieve goals, whether this is to protect species, conserve biodiversity, manage and restore a certain ecosystem and/or to reduce and prevent detrimental impacts either on a local, national, or international scale. Therefore, management plans can be diverse and vary considerably between MPAs.

Place-based marine mammal conservation has been common practice amongst organisations, governments and within international strategies. However, networks of, and increase connectivity between, MPAs are becoming more popular. This is following the recognition that marine mammals live and range at a variety of scales and management actions should reflect that [1]. 

Therefore, managers should aim to afford adequate protection to species either during migration, or wide-ranging activities, or a marine mammal population’s habitat that are critical for its survival at various life stages (such as breeding and foraging) [1].

These wide-ranging behaviours often result in movement across and between jurisdictional boundaries thus requiring coordination between agencies to instigate adequate protection whether this is the establishment of multiple MPAs, large, encompassing MPAs, or limiting detrimental activities on a seasonal or locational basis in areas between MPAs. As such, a number of government agencies may regulate the activities that can affect marine mammals within an MPA.

Beyond life history behaviours and population movement, marine mammal species can be affected by a range of acute and chronic impacts that arise from a range of activities, including fisheries, tourism, and shipping, as well as land-based activities that cause industrial discharge, and terrestrial run-off. Despite some activities causing potential local impacts, others can have far-reaching influence that may extrude beyond an MPA’s boundaries and/or between jurisdictions. This adds further complexity for managers and requires multi-lateral collaboration.

Dolphins © Ellen Cuylaerts

There may also be social, cultural and traditional drivers behind the necessity to manage MPAs under a collaborative framework. For example, many traditions and cultures place significant value on the exploitation of marine mammals and thus, where such human populations maybe affected by the establishment of an MPA, mangers should ensure that stakeholders are consistently consulted, traditional knowledge convened, and incorporated into the planning, set up and management of the MPA and marine mammal populations.

Issues arising from the involvement of multiple agencies

Various governmental agencies that operate between sectors and across different environments, for example fisheries, tourism, conservation, shipping, ports, mineral exploration, and agriculture, as well as across scales including local and national governments, may contain a variety of viewpoints, be subject to substantial political lobbying or be driven by opposing commitments. Indeed, conflict and/or lack of cooperation between environmental and fisheries management agencies, for example, or between countries, is a common factor that can inhibit the efficacy of management for marine mammals and respective MPAs [2]. Other drivers further add to the complexity of marine mammal management such as the socio-economic conditions of communities and countries that interact with marine mammal populations. The flow of adequate information and resources maybe impacted or restricted in low-income countries or conservation needs may conflict with the interests of stakeholders, especially concerning livelihoods and food security [1]

Formal agreements and cooperation between agencies

Multi-use MPAs are, by definition, designed to serve sustainable use and environmental protection, and relevant agencies should aim to collaborate from the establishment phase, advocating for transparent process and stakeholder engagement. These conditions also form the basis for establishing networks of MPAs or when aiming to increase connectivity between key life stage habitats for marine mammal populations across jurisdictional settings. Formal arrangements can then allow for coordination between agencies for ongoing and adaptive management.

Formal data sharing agreements either across, or between government(s), or between specific agencies, can maximise the value of data and prevent duplication. This ensures that, where resources are scarce, are used more efficiently [3] and provides access to the diverse types of information (where they exist) that are required to manage an MPA and marine mammal populations.

The protection of marine mammals should be formalised in legislation and regulations with respect to the activities under the remit of other agencies, as well as under international commitments, such as the EPBC Act in Australia [4] or the declaration of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) as marine mammal sanctuaries [5].

Case study

Tarium Niryutait – Canada's First Arctic Marine Protected Area: Convening Traditional Knowledge to build Northern Conservation and Enhanced Local Governance

The Tarium Niryutait MPA, is an MPA in the Canadian Arctic. This federally protected MPA was designed to support a sustainable beluga whale harvest by local artisanal Inuvialuit fishers and has community support at the heart of the decision‐making process. The legislation successfully addresses both land rights and the environment: the signing of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement in 1984, between the Inuvialuit and the government of Canada (the first comprehensive settled land claim) established a new paradigm of cooperative management for fish and mammal resources. The MPA is supported by the local community as sustainable harvesting of whales for both economic and cultural reasons is permitted. Local knowledge and effective stakeholder participation provided local fishers with bottom‐up involvement, while state legislation – the top‐down aspect – creates long‐term resilience. While this MPA is still in the development stage, it has a strong governance structure at national, regional, and local levels that allows for delivery, management and monitoring plans, backed by community involvement at all stages.

Tarium Niryutait Marine Protected Area (TN MPA)

Adopted from Soland et al. 2014 [6]

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