Saturday, August 25, 2012

Do we need MPAs to manage cetaceans in developing countries?

I remember one day, back when I was still working with WWF Indonesia, when I saw a cool map of Planet Earth with a tiny red speck on it. My then-supervisor, Dr Lida Pet Soede, explained that the little dot was the sum of all Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) on Earth. Very very tiny, compared  to the vast ocean. I was very impressed. It was back in 2002 though. I’m sure the speck has grown considerably since then.

‘Marine Protected Area’ has been a hot term since the last decade. It seems like it’s a magic word that conservationists utter in an attempt to save a piece of landscape or seascape beauty. At one time, I almost thought that every ecologist/conservationist/environmental manager think of MPA as a panacea, a cure-all. I couldn’t help but wonder if it will also protect my cetaceans.

An MPA is not only about total no-go zone or total protection zone. IUCN- WCPA eloquently defined a protected area as:

“A clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values” (IUCN-WCPA 2008)

MPA is about managing a piece of your land/water so that it can still supply us and the next generation with many values; be it economical, physical, emotional and even cultural-spiritual. Some people have suggested changing the ‘P’ into an ‘M’, so it becomes a Marine Managed Area instead. But really, when you look at the above definition (and many other definitions), I think the P in the MPA is really about ‘managing wisely’ instead of placing fences around a piece of landscape.

MPA has a legal and institutional power to propel a village/region/country towards the correct sustainable path. However, it is not the only means though towards sustainable use of natural resources. An MPA initiative should be paired up with several additional initiatives to make it more effective. For fisheries, for instance, MPAs will protect the spawning and breeding grounds for a particular fish species, and even some parts of the migratory route of a migratory fish species (e.g., yellowfin and bluefin tunas). But you still have to pair it with sustainable fisheries market (which aims to make producers and consumers more sustainable in their conducts and choices) and appropriate national and international policies. 

An MPA initiative doth tend to become a bit more complex when applied to migratory megafauna (e.g., whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, sunfish and the tunas)(Allison et al. 1998; Hooker & Gerber 2004).  These animals tend to roam a vast distance from one habitat to another. For instance, the humpback whales at the western coast of Australia have almost the entire coast for their migration (Jenner & Jenner 1994; Gill 1995). They would go to the Antarctica for feeding and return back to the northwestern waters of Australia for breeding. So what, for these animals, we just declare the whole coasts as MPAs?

Theoretically, we can declare an MPA so vast that it will cover the entire ocean basin or the entire coast of a country. But it unlikely to be socially appropriate, particularly when such MPA is declared in a developing country. Not to mention, it will also be financially and institutionally challenging. Though it would be lovely, I cannot imagine the entire Sunda-Banda basin in eastern Indonesia declared as one large MPA to cater for, among others, the cetaceans living there. I’m sure it will at least give us a headache for just trying to come up with a decent management plan there. 

But supposed the government still insists on declaring an MPA in a cetacean priority area. It then begs the next question, which is the title for this post. Do we need MPAs to manage cetaceans, particularly in developing countries?

My answer is: yes, with some proviso. Based on my years of research in Lovina and a year+ working to build an MPA network, we have eight enabling conditions for an MPA to be effective for cetacean protection and management. The provisos are also suitable for other marine megafauna species/taxa. The examples are not only from developing countries, but I write the followings section with the developing countries in mind.

1) The MPA must be large enough to cover priority habitats. A priority habitat is defined as a habitat ‘required for a species or population to be self-sustaining for the foreseeable future (including in the face of rare, but potentially catastrophic events)’ (Ross et al. 2011). Ross et al. also enumerated ten principles to delineate priority habitats for small cetaceans, including quantity and quality of food, habitat size, external connections, nurseries, social and behavioural considerations, temporal patterns and threats. We can then identify the priority habitats of our cetaceans. It can be quite big, which can be problematic for developing countries. But what if – due to the lack of data during the early MPA establishment – we found that the cetaceans’ priority habitat is outside the currently drawn MPA? Well, too bad. You might want to consider enlarging your MPA, or making that tiny but important priority habitat another reserve. It’s called ‘adaptive management’.

2) The MPA must have a good zoning plan. If the area covered by the MPA has a significant resting, foraging or socialising site, that place is a strong candidate for a core zone. An MPA can also have sustainable use zones. For the cetaceans, it’s likely related to sustainable tourism zone which calls for agreed code of practice. But what if the said activity is right where the core zone should be? As in, what if the activity happens at the exact spot where the animals are resting? Like what happens with the spinner dolphins in Hawaii who just want to sleep in the morning but kept getting bugged by swimmers (Courbis & Timmel 2009)?

3) The MPA must adopt best practices. If that’s the case, a no-go zone is likely to stir the already muddy water. Adoption of best practices (that’s another jargon for ‘code of practice’ or ‘code of conduct’) may be a wiser course of action. People around Hinchinbrook Island adopts the go-slow zone to give the ever-so-slowly moving dugongs a chance to cross the street, I mean, navigate the waters safely. Ideally, the swimmers in Hawaii can also help the dolphins by reducing the number of swimmers or limiting the interaction time with the sleepy spinners. The dolphin tourism industry in Lovina may find it hard to reduce the number of boats during one interaction – at least for now. But the boatmen are willing to reduce their speed, stop their engine (or lift the propellers) and avoid cutting through the animal’s route to give the dolphins a breather. 

4) The MPA must have good governance. A voluntary willingness to control one’s behaviour is – sadly – is not enough for an MPA designed to protect marine megafauna. Someone must police the implementation of said willingness. Someone must pay for this person’s time. Another person must teach the swimmers, tourists, boatmen, divers etc on the real proper behaviour expected around an animal. Investments must be made, and it certainly is more than just erecting a signboard containing dos and donts around a pod of dolphins (or a school of sunfish).

5) The MPA must have good baseline data and monitoring plan to detect changes. Lest, how are we to know if our MPA makes a difference? If we don’t have good baseline data, then at least the managers must include rigorous data collection and monitoring in their annual budget. We should not only limit our data collection to biological or ecological data. We must also include social, economic and governance data. 

6) The MPA must have good sustainable financing scheme. These stuffs written above, they need money. Big time. An MPA cannot only depend on government fund or foreign aid, which happens to be the two main sources for MPA financing in Indonesia. The MPA unit is wise to raise some continuous supply of money from other sources, like the tourism industry that utilise the area. A growing body of knowledge is emerging to guide MPA managers to finance their park through tourism, e.g., Walpole et al. for Komodo National Park (2001), Mathieu et al. for the Seychelles (2003) and Vianna et al. for Palau (2012). And always remember to include a good system of annual or regular accountability. As a tourist, I’d certainly like to know whether my hard-earned dollar/rupiah/rupee/pound/euro has really been used to save the ocean.

7) Utilise a network of MPAs to maximise protection. This proviso is particularly true if the cetaceans are not resident to just the MPA site; that they also migrate outside the MPA to mingle with other populations or just to do their other business (like feeding or delivering babies) in a different place. A network of MPAs can be a fuss to ponder for managers (I certainly felt that way!), but once benefits sink in, it’s actually quite useful. For a start, two adjacent MPAs can share resources (read: contribute some money, instead of all budget) to joint patrols or joint public education. A tourist might also get a discount price for visiting two adjacent MPAs during his/her holiday instead of paying double to visit two uncoordinated MPAs. Some researchers have also pointed out the benefit of an MPA network for marine megafauna (for instance, Hooker et al. 2011).

8) Pair it up with the appropriate national regulation. Last but not least, an MPA is better equipped if being supported by a national regulation that works even outside the MPA jurisdiction. For instance, national regulation that bans dolphin, sea turtle or shark culling will be very useful to ensure the tourists that the cute animals they see during their trip today will not end at a fish market elsewhere next week.

Bottomline: an MPA can be a good tool to protect the cetaceans. However, considering the animal’s vast home range, such MPA must be specially equipped with provisos such as the above (and more), and paired up with correct regulation and political commitment.

Note: I obtained the eight provisos above during discussions or by observing my daily works. I try to cite all references that I’ve read for this article. But if I miss something, do let me know, and I will fix that. I have no intention to plagiarise or disrespect at all. 

Allison, G. W., Lubchenco, J. & Carr, M. H. 1998, 'Marine reserves are necessary but not sufficient for marine conservation', Ecological Applications, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. S79-S92.
Courbis, S. & Timmel, G. 2009, 'Effects of vessels and swimmers on behavior of Hawaiian spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) in Kealake‘akua, Honaunau, and Kauhako bays, Hawai‘i', Marine Mammal Science, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 430-440.
Gill, P. C. 1995, 'Photographic resight of a humpback whale between Western Australia and Antarctic Area IV', Marine Mammal Science, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 96-100.
Hooker, S. K., Canadas, A., Hyrenbach, K. D., Corrigan, C., Polovina, J. J. & Reeves, R. R. 2011, 'Making protected area networks effective for marine top predators', Endangered Species Research, vol. 13,  pp. 203-218.
Hooker, S. K. & Gerber, L. R. 2004, 'Marine reserves as a tool for ecosystem-based management: The potential importance of megafauna', Bioscience, vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 27-39.
IUCN-WCPA 2008, Establishing Resilient Marine Protected Area Networks - Making It Happen, IUCN-WCPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Nature Conservancy, Washington, D.C.
Jenner, K. C. S. & Jenner, M. N. 1994, 'A preliminary population estimate of the Group IV breeding stock of humpback whales off Western Australia', Report of the Intenational Whaling Commission, vol. 44,  pp. 303-307.
Mathieu, L. F., Langford, I. H. & Kenyon, W. 2003, 'Valuing marine parks in a developing country: a case study of the Seychelles', Environment and Development Economics, vol. 8, no. 02, pp. 373-390.
Ross, P. S., Barlow, J., Jefferson, T. A., Hickie, B. E., Lee, T., MacFarquhar, C., Christien Parsons, E., Riehl, K. N., Rose, N. A., Slooten, E., Tsai, C.-Y., Wang, J. Y., Wright, A. J. & Chu Yang, S. 2011, 'Ten guiding principles for the delineation of priority habitat for endangered small cetaceans', Marine Policy, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 483-488.
Vianna, G. M. S., Meekan, M. G., Pannell, D. J., Marsh, S. P. & Meeuwig, J. J. 2012, 'Socio-economic value and community benefits from shark-diving tourism in Palau: A sustainable use of reef shark populations', Biological Conservation, vol. 145,  pp. 267-277.
Walpole, M. J., Goodwin, H. J. & Ward, K. G. R. 2001, 'Pricing Policy for Tourism in Protected Areas: Lessons from Komodo National Park, Indonesia', Conservation Biology, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 218-227.

Pic : the iconic dolphin statue in Lovina (@Mustika 2007)

Pic 2: dolphin sleeping, by Dreamaworld.wordpress

Pic 3: source

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