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

The precautionary approach defined

An MPA may be seen as a demonstration of the ‘precautionary approach.’ This term which originated from debate over the so-called precautionary principle has been widely discussed and defined in recent years as a way to respond and act in the absence of information or scientific proof (Mayer and Simmonds, 1996). The precautionary approach considers and incorporates uncertainty to facilitate the decision-making process when knowledge or scientific proof is unavailable. It also ensures that a lack of certainty doesn’t stop all action or decision-making.

The precautionary approach has become widely accepted across various scientific disciplines, in government as well as private and international arenas. Still, practical implementation of the precautionary approach in terms of conservation in general and ecosystems-based management and cetacean management in particular is still in the early stages.

A precautionary approach to decision-making for ecosystems-based management means that ‘when in doubt, err on the side of conservation’ (Sissenwine and Mace, 2001). It can be said that ecosystem-based MPAs and MPA networks, which assist in the management of the whole ecosystem, facilitate the multiple objectives of marine management, including the protection of habitat, biodiversity and fisheries. This approach is the best insurance against uncertainty, effectively embodying the precautionary approach.

For a precautionary approach to work, marine policy that includes ecosystem-based management and creation of MPAs must be set up to be explicitly precautionary. In addition, the assessment and periodic reassessment process must be fully precautionary. Finally, the burden of proof for showing that there are no unacceptable ecosystem risks or impacts rests with industry, including commercial fishing, shipping, mining and other resource extraction.

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