The conservation of the world's most iconic ocean species, whales and dolphins, is to take a step forward next week with the launch of the first conference on protected areas for marine mammals.
Over 150 marine experts from 30 countries around the world will gather in Maui, Hawaii, on Monday 30th March to build plans for networks of protected areas, which will conserve vulnerable species and the places on which they depend. Just offshore, humpback whales court and sing in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, which hopes to become part of a network of Marine Protected Areas across the Pacific.
Erich Hoyt from WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, one of the sponsors of the event, said: "If we truly want to save whales and dolphins, we have to think about saving their habitat, their homes in the sea. We have recently witnessed the extinction of the Yangtze River dolphin, if we want to ensure that we don't suffer a similar loss in the future, we must protect the places and conditions critical to the survival of whales and dolphins and other marine life."
The ocean occupies three times the surface area of the land in the world and, including its great depth, contains the vast majority of Earth's wildlife habitats. Yet the sea has far less protection than the land. Compared to 12% of the land in protected areas and parks only 0.65% of the sea surface has some form of even modest protection, and only 0.08% is highly protected.
WDCS is now calling for 12 large Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and MPA Networks, to be set aside by law by 2012, for the conservation of whales and dolphins and their habitats.
The conference is appropriately held in the Pacific region, which over the past decade has led the world in conservation through MPAs and hosts seven of the eight largest MPAs on Earth.The conference, from 30th March - 3rd April, is hosted by NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service Office of International Affairs, and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. www.icmmpa.org.