Interview with Erich Hoyt

Erich HoytThe following is a very informative interview with our very own Director of Marine Mammals, Erich Hoyt about Marine Protected Areas

(written by Elsa Cabrera for La Tercera, Santiago, Chile January 2007)

1. We tend to assume that effective marine protected areas for cetaceans alone guarantee the conservation of these marine mammals. Is this true or are there other actions/instruments that should also be considered?

A marine protected area (MPA) alone cannot guarantee the conservation of any whale, dolphin or for that matter, any species or ecosystem. For an MPA to work, it has to offer much more than simple area protection. Problem-targeted management actions must also be implemented as part of the MPA designation. If the MPA doesn’t have a mandate for managing threats, then other ways must to found to reduce or eliminate the threats. If the threats to cetaceans and other species can’t be managed, then an MPA is next to useless. In the best situations, with a good management plan, MPAs can provide a framework for delivering messages about conservation to the public as well as practical mechanisms for managing cetacean threats.

2. What are the basic elements (criteria) or procedures to design and establish marine protected areas for great cetaceans?

It starts with good baseline research into species and ecosystems. The primary goals are to find out threats to each species and to determine the critical habitats upon which each species depends. Of course, in the absence of complete knowledge — and we rarely have complete knowledge — we must take a precautionary approach and protect larger areas or institute special measures in order to ensure effective cetacean habitat conservation. An MPA needs to have or be able to draw upon a solid legal framework for addressing all the threats to cetaceans. There must be effective mechanisms in place for monitoring and enforcement, research and education, as well as a broad mandate and cooperation from local communities and stakeholders who work together under the direction of the government department or a special agency to produce a management plan. The effectiveness of the management plan must then be periodically assessed, with changes made as needed to ensure that the MPA continues to function as a conservation tool.

3. What is the role of the scientific information regarding the biology/distribution of the “umbrella” or “flag” species in the creation of marine protected areas for cetaceans?

The scientific information to assess threats and to determine critical habitats should be drawn from published as well as unpublished but important raw data. This data should come from the target as well as surrounding areas, and in some cases incorporate comparative work from other parts of the world. To assemble, evaluate and effectively use all this scientific information, a mechanism needs to be devised, e.g., a broad scientific expert panel could be set up.

4. What is the importance of coastal communities in the success or failure of marine protected areas for cetaceans?

It is absolutely crucial to have coastal communities and all “stakeholders” involved in the process of creating and implementing marine protected areas. Without the will, cooperation, enthusiasm and commitment of people in coastal communities, the prospects for true, lasting conservation are bleak.

5. People hear a lot about “paper marine protected areas”, what is the meaning of this term and what are the causes of the creation of these types of areas?

Paper MPAs are simply MPAs that exist on paper only. However, we can say that all marine protected areas, after they are designated by government, begin their existence as “paper MPAs”. It remains for government to institute appropriate laws as needed and to enact the provisions of the legal designation — to provide education, research, enforcement and monitoring, drawing on the help of NGOs and scientists, to create a real functioning MPA. Obviously, it is crucial that local communities and all stakeholders honour the provisions of the MPA designation, ideally seeing themselves as partners in conservation.

6. About this same subject, do paper marine protected areas play a role in the conservation of cetaceans? Is a paper marine protected area better than no area at all?

Paper MPAs are important because this is at least the starting point for conservation. The danger is that many governments and people think that making the designation is enough for conservation, that the paper designation is all that is needed. Unfortunately, many if not most MPAs in the world have stayed as “paper MPAs”. But wherever there is a “paper MPA”, there is the potential to make it into a real MPA.

7. We tend to discuss a lot about the benefits of marine protected areas but there is a general lack of knowledge regarding the basic requirements that an MPA needs to meet in order to comply with the term Marine Protected Areas as established by the IUCN. Could you highlight these requirements?

The most basic requirement for a successful MPA is that it has to protect the ecosystem and component species. It should address socioeconomic concerns from local communities and, depending on the goals of the MPA, it can allow for multiple uses, but only within a context of zoning. The IUCN has various categories of protection from Category I (highest protection) to Category VI (sustainable multiple use). Although some MPAs are small and intended only for highest protection (Category I), most MPAs are intended to use various categories within one MPA through zoning. The key thing is that there must be one or more significant highly protected IUCN Category I areas in each MPA to ensure ecosystem protection; without this, there is no MPA. The best conceived MPAs utilize ecosystem-based management and work to integrate the management of surrounding marine, riverine watershed, coastal and even deep sea habitats with the actual protected area.

8. You recently participated in an international seminar conducted in Chile about MPAs. What is your view of the process that is being carried out in Chile in relation to the creation of marine protected areas?

The process of creating these MPAs unilaterally without community process was worrisome. However, in the recent seminar, I saw some very positive things, such as the involvement of people and communities, so that public process, if it can continue and flourish, will be key. I was impressed by the frank and open discussions and the atmosphere of encouragement, cooperation and the willingness to listen to a diversity of ideas and opinions.

9. Considering the negative environmental impacts that the salmon farming industry has generated in Chile, what is your opinion about having an MPA that coexists with this poorly regulated industry?

I recently traveled through the southern fjords from Puerto Montt south along Chiloe Island, visiting the fjords and many islands as well as the open Corcovado Gulf. I was deeply impressed by the lush, untouched forests, the impressive numbers of birds, the ubiquitous Chilean and Peale’s dolphins. But I was shocked by the extent of the salmon farming industry. I think that developing a co-existence between MPAs and salmon mariculture, even if it is well regulated (which it is not), will present a huge challenge to Chile. If the mariculture increases, it will make MPAs ineffective. I think that the salmon farming industry must be properly regulated and restricted to certain areas. On the other hand, we should realize that MPAs, if well designed, could help increase wild species of fish. I think that we need to look at MPAs partly as a strategy for protecting and increasing the numbers of fish. There are now good examples of MPAs with “no take” fishing areas showing dramatic four-fold increases in production. Of course, that would not and cannot happen next to a salmon farm.

The blue, humpback and other large whales found in Chilean waters are exciting and important but let’s not forget Chile’s special and unique distinction as the country with the highest diversity of rare and endemic dolphins and porpoise species in the world.

Three species — the Peale’s and Chilean dolphins I already mentioned, plus Burmeister’s porpoises, spend most of their lives inshore. No one knows how much salmon mariculture they can tolerate and coexist with. Since we don’t know, we must take a precautionary approach that may well mean “no more” new salmon farms and trying to return some existing farms to wild nature. When we consider the full range of the enormous values from wild nature, including the benefits from ecosystem services, science, education, marine ecotourism and much more, then the highest conservation of our patrimony becomes not just an option but also a duty and a point of pride.

- Erich Hoyt

Senior Research Fellow, WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society
Co-director, Far East Russia Orca Project
Member, IUCN/SSC Cetacean Specialist Group
Director of Marine Mammals,


For more information about Erich Hoyt, his fascinating work with marine mammals, and his wonderful books, visit his website and his blog.