Pacific Islands region
The Pacific region covers a vast ocean basin with a complex network of islands, atolls and seamounts of both large and small size. These ecosystems provide potential deep-water and coastal habitats for many species of marine mammals, including dugongs, sea lions, baleen whales and toothed whales. The region has resident and other migratory species with which islanders have strong cultural and economic ties throughout the Pacific Ocean.
The main activities ofthe Pacific Region IMMA Group and Coordinators during 2019
- A comprehensive assessment of the effects of climate change on humpback whale distribution in Oceania revealed the likelihood of a southern shift away from some of the current breeding grounds; most notably Samoan waters (Derville et al. 2019. Global Change Biology 25:1466-1481).
- The Mariana Archipelago was recognised as humpback whale breeding ground (Hill et al. 2020. Endangered Species Research 41:91-103). This further informs our understanding of the current Mariana Islands AoI.
- The UNEP-GEF project (GEF Project Number GFL/4930) ‘Enhancing the Conservation Effectiveness of Seagrass Ecosystems Supporting Globally Significant Populations of Dugongs Across the Indian and Pacific Ocean Basins’ was completed. This assessed actions in the nations including the Pacific countries Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands to determine conservation performance, provide feedback and promote knowledge sharing.
- A Policy Gap Analysis funded by The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund as part of the Dugong and Seagrass Conservation Project has been completed (Fippinger & Pearson 2019). This documented net entanglement as the top threat to dugongs and destruction of seagrass habitat of significant concern. Issues with compliance and enforcement, education and policy remain an issue. The report suggests the implementation of the existing global Conservation and Management Plan for the Dugong MOU as a comprehensive framework that could help alleviate threats to dugong.
- Presentations by group members on species and regions at the World Marine Mammal Conference, Barcelona, December 2019. Isabel Beasley facilitated the attendance of emerging research from Papua New Guinea.
- Rochelle Constantine attended the International Conference on Marine Mammal Protected Areas, Costa Navarino, Greece April 2019
- The coordinators presented the Pacific Region IMMA to participants at the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium meeting, Auckland, New Zealand, February 2019, and challenged them to fill gaps in knowledge.
- The Pacific Region IMMAs were mentioned in a presentation to the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium meeting, February 2019, as an important consideration by Dr Adrian Flynn from Fathom Pacific. He is undertaking an environmental impact assessment for seabed mining of nodules in the Cook Islands region.
- Dedicated survey to the seamount regions south and east of New Caledonia to determine habitat use by humpback whales, and other cetaceans in the region. Balaenopteridae were encountered (B. bonarensis and B. borealis) as well as some odontoceti (Globicephala macrorhynchus and Tursiops truncatus).
- Continued research to understand the importance of the current Chesterfield-Bellona Coral Reef Complex and Seamounts cIMMA to humpback whales.
- MPAs were established within the Chesterfield-Bellona archipelago in 2018 by the Government of New Caledonia (Decree GNC: 2018-1987). A no-go area covers most of the northern waters in the Chesterfield plateau (IUCN category Ia). In addition, the natural reserve (IUCN category II) encompasses all waters, surfacing reefs, cays and islands of the Chesterfield-Bellona archipelago above the 1000 m isobaths excluding waters already included in the integral reserve.
- A GoogleDocs folder hsa been established to facilitate easier sharing of information between members of the group.
We acknowledge the loss of Sue Taei, Conservation International whose tenacious work throughout the Pacific region led to the declaration of Whale Sanctuaries by many nations. Her dedication to marine protection of the entire Pacific Ocean truly made a difference. We mourn her loss but will work hard to continue protection for our oceans.