Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XII No. 4 - October 2003

Protecting Whales and Dolphins In The Caribbean

Dr. Nathalie Ward, a CSI Board Member from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, directs the Whales and Dolphins: Swim Free in the Sea - A Marine Mammal Conservation Education Campaign "to familiarize youth and Government about the need for conservation and protection of marine mammals in the Wider Caribbean Region." The project is part of the UK's Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) initiative in the Eastern Caribbean (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and the Commonwealth of Dominica), to advance awareness of dolphins in the region and to encourage positive wildlife experiences through dolphin and whale watching. Other participants include the Marine Education and Research Centre in Bequia, the United Nations Environment Programme (Jamaica) and the Caribbean Conservation Association (Barbados).

Phase one in March involved a Dolphin Poster and Slogan Competition for high school students in Bequia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. CSI congratulates the Poster Competition winners: The award winning poster slogan, "Let Dolphins Swim Free in the Sea for All Generations to See", was by 14 year old Yusef Leslie, with translations in French, Dutch and Spanish. The lively illustration depicts a tranquil scene with a man and dog rowing a double-ender with dolphins leaping in the background, by 13 year old Farand Gordon. Special mention went to 13 year old Flavea Richards for her poem, "Dolphin Wild and Free", and to 15 year old Delmas Ollivierre for his "Swim Free" dolphin logo. Winners received scholarships, educational materials about whales and dolphins, and will go on an all-day dolphin watching trip later this year.

Phase II of the multi-year project is "Tune Up with Dolphins: Create a Calypso." Regionally "the calypso idiom is a framework to convey a meaningful narrative, often with shades of double-entendre to discuss controversial issues." Nathalie chose music as the Phase II theme because it stimulates interest, conveys a message and enthuses community spirit.

While her prolific career has focused on the Caribbean, particularly the children, she is an internationally respected marine biologist, educator and author. One of her goals is to reverse the loss of endangered species and habitats, by using a sophisticated technique built on culturally engaging programs to revise public perceptions, and ultimately refine decision-making by political institutions. She knows first hand how perceptions and attitudes on environmental issues cause conflicts, and seeks to change attitudes. Put another way, she has enormous people skills, decades of regional experience, and a robust scientific educator's background. For many years she has quietly gone about changing the Caribbean in very significant ways.

Nathalie is a gifted communicator, spreading the message that contemporary conservation problems in small island nations are primarily the result of political and socioeconomic forces. She can talk to anyone as if local, while compellingly introducing very worldly perspectives and knowledge.

Preserving Our Future:
Protecting Whales and Dolphins in the Caribbean

Nathalie Ward, PhD

Marine mammals are an integral part of the marine and coastal fauna of the tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Waters of the region serve, for many species, as primary habitat for critical activities that include feeding, mating and calving. At least thirty-two species of marine mammals are known to inhabit the region - six species of baleen whales, 24 species of toothed whales, one sirenian (the West Indian manatee), and one pinniped (the Caribbean monk seal, thought to be extinct).

During the past two decades, awareness of marine mammals and their habitats in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico has increased. The SPAW protocol, born out of the Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment for the Wider Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention, 1983), came into force in 2000 and is now the only regional biodiversity agreement for the conservation and protection of the marine environment in the Wider Caribbean. Annex II of the SPAW Protocol includes all Sirenia, Cetacea and pinnipeds (seals) as species requiring total protection under Article 11, which prohibits the "taking, possession, killing and commercial trade of the species, their parts or products."

In response to decisions made by the Contracting Parties (in Havana, Cuba 2001 and Montego Bay 2002), the governments of the region agreed on the development of a marine mammal management plan. The newly appointed SPAW/RAC Director, Mr. Maurice Anselme and Mr. Stéphane Defranoux, the International Mission Coordinator, reported that in May 2002, the RAC participated in an informal consultation on the development of a regional action plan for marine mammals. The RAC proposed a list of objectives and framework for activities to assist with efforts to develop and improve marine mammal conservation policies and practices within the region. Next steps for the action plan include a Meeting of Experts to be held in 2004.

Successful conservation of marine mammals in the Wider Caribbean Region will ultimately depend upon the commitment of countries there to build and maintain, with international assistance, internal capacities for setting conservation priorities and achieving high standards of population and habitat protection.

In sum, the Wider Caribbean Region is one of the most culturally and economically diverse areas in the world. Its traditions and customs are a mix of Latino, African, European, South Asian, Indian and Native American cultures. It is a region of great natural beauty and abundance, and also of economic disparity. The SPAW Protocol works as a facilitator, educator, and catalyst to coordinate activities and build capacity of all member governments in the region to manage their coastal environments and build sustainable coastal economies.

For more information visit CEP's website at http://www.cep.unep.org/ or contact CSI.

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