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1st Edition of Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises

Case study: Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals

The motivation for creating the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals – originally called the Ligurian Sea Sanctuary – came from information obtained during research cruises conducted since the late 1980s. These cruises revealed the presence of substantial cetacean concentrations within the area coupled with a conspicuous variety of other pelagic species such as tunas, swordfish, sunfish, sharks and giant devil rays – a high degree of marine diversity in a productive ecosystem with a large krill and other zooplankton biomass. A summary of cetacean research in the sanctuary is presented in this table.

In 1989, Tethys Research Institute and Greenpeace requested that the area be given protection. In 1991, Project Pelagos was presented, followed by lobbying through conservation and scientific research institutes, led by Tethys. These activities garnered widespread public and eventually government support. In 1998, the area was included in the list of putative Italian MPAs thereby laying the initial legal groundwork for a procedure toward its establishment. Finally, in 1999, the three countries signed the agreement to create the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals, the first of its kind. A ‘cetacean sanctuary’ in name only, it aims to be a transborder MPA. It took most of a decade for the three countries to agree to the designation. In February 2000, at an international IFAW-ICRAM workshop on whale watching, ICRAM scientists presented a symposium on the sanctuary. In 2001, an inventory of biological, cultural and other features was prepared for the area.

It was originally envisaged that the sanctuary would follow the biosphere reserve click to view full sizearchitecture with multiple zone areas, including highly protected core zones (IUCN Category I) for cetacean critical habitat (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al 1991). When the sanctuary was designated in 1999, however, there was no mention of the biosphere reserve idea. In February 2003, shortly after Italy became the last to ratify its signature, the first meeting of the parties began to discuss the preparation of a management plan. There is hope that the sanctuary will become a true MPA with effective biosphere reserve zoning. The extensive data over more than a decade from Tethys and other cruises will be used to identify critical habitat areas deserving of IUCN Category I protection.

The sanctuary has also been entered into the list of Special Protected Areas of Mediterranean Interest (SPAMI) within the Protocol for Special Protected Areas and Biological Diversity of the Barcelona Convention. Under the auspices of the Barcelona Convention’s Protocol, high seas areas identified as a SPAMI gain legal protection as the Protocol requires all parties adhering to the Convention (as of April 2001, 19 Mediterranean coastal states and the European Community) to respect the protection measures established within each individual SPAMI.

The story of the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals illustrates the long process required for effective MPA conservation. At all stages in the process, politics, economic considerations and apathy had the power to derail the process and damage or even destroy the efforts of many people over many years. ‘Paper park’ or real cetacean habitat protection? We will soon know.

Type: Existing international sanctuary affording protection for large whales.

Location: Corsico-Provencal-Ligurian Basin, central Mediterranean Sea, west of central Italy, south of France and Monaco. The waters of the sanctuary are 47 per cent in the national waters of the three countries, and 53 per cent in international waters.

Cetacean species
Cetacean species: fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus; sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus; striped dolphin, Stenella coeruleoalba; bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus; short-beaked common dolphin, Delphinus delphis; Risso’s dolphin, Grampus griseus; long-finned pilot whale, Globicephala melas; Cuvier’s beaked whale, Ziphius cavirostris; occasional presence: minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata; humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae; orca, Orcinus orca; false killer whale, Pseudorca crassidens; rough-toothed dolphin, Steno bredanensis.

Additional species and other features
Additional species and other features: Rich pelagic diversity including tunas, swordfish, sunfish, sharks and giant devil rays. Prevailing oceanographic conditions in the area feature a permanent front which favours primary marine productivity. Key basis of this productive ecosystem is a mesopelagic zooplankton biomass, especially krill, Meganyctiphanes norvegica, likely the exclusive food of Mediterranean fin whales.

Size of designated protected area
Size of designated protected area: 33,772 square miles (87,492 sq km). Water area only from nearshore to pelagic.

Rationale: To protect the whales and dolphins in prime cetacean habitat in the Mediterranean waters of France, Monaco and Italy. The habitat, located from nearshore to deep water, pelagic areas, includes cetacean feeding grounds as well as areas used by migrating and breeding cetaceans.

Table. Cetacean research in the Mediterranean, focusing on the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals

Source: Adapted from Notarbartolo di Sciara (2000) where full references are listed. Courtesy, Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara and Giulia Mo.

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