“Preserving whales and dolphins….. Protecting our seas, protecting ourselves.”
In May a new foundation was presented that will promote research of whales and dolphins in Antillean waters for their effective protection. The Southern Caribbean Cetacean Network, SCCN, is based on Curacao at the Curaçao Dolphin Academy/Curaçao Sea Aquarium. It was established as an indirect result of the recent adoption by the SPAW Protocol (Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol 1) of a Marine Mammal Action Plan (MMAP) for the Wider Caribbean. SCCN has developed an action plan guided by the priorities identified by the MMAP, which includes continuation of ongoing photo/visual Identification of whales and dolphins in the wild, start of acoustic identification of whales and dolphins in Antillean waters, research into potential contaminants in tissues of stranded whales and dolphins, as well as promoting guidelines for responsible whale and dolphin watching in the wild, and organizing a stranding response training workshop for the Dutch Caribbean islands.
Improved research of whales and dolphins in the wild was one of the requirements of the permit to keep captive dolphins on Curaçao. At the November 2008 Meeting of the Parties to the SPAW Protocol in Antigua, where the MMAP was adopted by the SPAW protocol, Paul Hoetjes representing the Netherlands Antilles, reported on the Curaçao captive dolphin facility and its ongoing research program. Marine mammal expert John Reynolds of the Mote Marine Laboratory and chairman of the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) of the USA, who like Paul Hoetjes, was actively involved in the group of experts that developed the MMAP, was also present at the meeting on Antigua. He was intrigued by the potential of the facilities in Curaçao and subsequent discussions led to a visit by John Reynolds and Dana Wetzel, also of Mote Marine Lab, to the Curaçao Dolphin Academy. Impressed by the facilities and with enthusiastic Dolphin Academy/Curaçao Sea Aquarium staff it was agreed to work together on contaminant research of sediments and tissues of stranded marine mammals. Plans were also made to organize a stranding response workshop following the example of a similar workshop that took place in Trinidad in the course of developing the MMAP, organized by the Eastern Caribbean Cetacean Network (ECCN).
As things developed and more people were involved the idea of a foundation to specifically address marine mammal research and conservation took shape and subsequently led to the SCCN. SCCN’s mission is: “To promote the expansion of knowledge with respect to dolphins and whales worldwide, focused on their protection and research of their health and habitats in the Southern Caribbean”
SCCN’s first Action Plan, in addition to continuing photo/visual identification work, contaminant research and stranding response workshop, also includes acoustic research not only to identify whales and dolphins, but also to provide data on ambient noise pollution. Local boat captains and fishermen will be contacted both to collect more data on human interactions and to promote guidelines for responsible (and more effective) ways to watch whales and dolphins in the wild. Funding for the work of SCCN will be sought from sources varying from private donations to US institutions such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and Marine Mammal Commission, and other sources that can provide research funding, hopefully also in the Netherlands. On the occasion of its 7th anniversary on May 26, Curaçao Dolphin Academy donated ƒ5000 to SCCN.
The Board of the SCCN is formed by:
- Mr. George Kieffer, Director of Dolphins and Programs at the Dolphin Academy /SeaAquarium and marine biologist, as President.
- Mrs. Tone Moller, Director of Commerce for the Avila Hotel Curacao, and an enthusiastic supporter of education about whales and dolphins, as Treasurer
- Ms. Iñez Hallewas, Operational Manager for Dolphin Academy, as Secretary
- Mr. Gerard van Buurt, biologist and a former head of the Fisheries Sector, Department of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, Curacao. He is an experienced all-round conservationist who has also published material on the reptiles and amphibians of the region, including sea turtles. As general board member
- Dr. Dana Wetzel, head of the Aquatic Toxicology Program at Mote Marine Laboratory. She is a chemist and seeks to determine what effects toxic substances have on marine life.
MINA supports the SCCN goals and will provide advice to the fledgling foundation. John Reynolds has also agreed to provide independent advice.
SCCN's website (http://www.sccnetwork.org) is currently under development.
1)The SPAW Protocol is one of three protocols of the Convention for the protection and development of the marine environment of the Wider Caribbean (the Cartagena Convention), which is the legal instrument of the Caribbean Environment Program, one of the Regional Seas Programs of the UNEP. The other two protocols of the Cartagena Convention are the Oil Spill protocol and the Land Based Sources of Marine Pollution (LBS) Protocol.