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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 26, 2007

CONTACT:
Anne Smrcina
Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
(781) 738-2242

SISTER SANCTUARIES TO PROTECT ENDANGERED WHALES AT BOTH ENDS OF ANNUAL MIGRATION
United States and Dominican Republic Partner
in Historic Conservation Effort

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has established a “sister sanctuary” arrangement between Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Massachusetts and the Marine Mammal Sanctuary of the Dominican Republic, two marine protected areas 3,000 miles apart that provide conservation programs for the same population of humpback whales.

The initiative is the world’s first sister sanctuary linkage protecting an endangered migratory marine mammal species on both ends of its range. Both sanctuaries provide critical support for the same population of around 900 whales, which spend spring and summer in the rich feeding grounds of Stellwagen Bank before heading south to the warmer waters of the Dominican Republic in late fall to mate and give birth to their young. The sister sanctuary agreement was designed to enhance coordination in management efforts between the two sanctuaries and help improve humpback whale recovery in the north Atlantic.

“Long-term research tells us that the same individuals that summer off New England spend their winters off the Dominican Republic,” said Stellwagen Bank Sanctuary superintendent Craig MacDonald. “Coordinating management and research across these habitats moves us several steps closer to ensuring the health of this endangered species.”

As sister sanctuaries, the two sites will explore new avenues for collaborative management efforts, including joint research, monitoring, education and capacity building programs. NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program anticipates that the relationship will be crucial to future protection of the north Atlantic humpback whale population, as well as to the development of further cooperative agreements.

“The sister sanctuary relationship will play a powerful role in protecting endangered humpback whales, and the opportunity for international cooperation in marine conservation is invaluable,” said Daniel J. Basta, NOAA sanctuary program director. “This agreement has the potential to improve our scientific knowledge, enhance our management ability and increase the program’s visibility — benefits that extend far beyond the sanctuaries involved.”

The official memorandum of understanding to create the sister sanctuary relationship was signed by Basta and Dr. Maximiliano Puig, minister for the environment and natural resources for the Dominican Republic. The sister sanctuary agreement goes into effect immediately and establishes the cooperation guidelines for the next five years.

“This conservation action is important as a model for the wider Caribbean region,” said  Puig. “Our sanctuary was the first marine mammal sanctuary established in the region, and it continues to lead by example. Our broadest mandate is to engender a new discussion in our society about the importance of marine mammals, the oceans in which they live, and our responsibility as ocean stewards.”

Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary encompasses 842 square miles of ocean, stretching between Cape Ann and Cape Cod offshore of Massachusetts. Renowned for its scenic beauty and remarkable productivity, the sanctuary supports a rich assortment of marine life, including marine mammals, more than 30 species of seabirds, over 60 species of fishes, and hundreds of marine invertebrates and plants.

NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s marine resources and maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, the sanctuary program manages 13 national marine sanctuaries and one marine national monument that together encompass more than 150,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources.

In October 1986, the “Silver Bank Humpback Whale Sanctuary” was established in the Dominican Republic to protect the mating, calving and nursery grounds of humpback whales. In 1996, the sanctuary was extended to include Navidad Bank and part of Samana Bay, covering the three main humpback breeding grounds in Dominican waters. At this time the sanctuary was renamed Santuaria de Mamiferos Marinos de la República Dominicana (Marine Mammal Sanctuary of the Dominican Republic) or SMMRD in Spanish.  Today, the SMMRD protects all marine mammals within its 19,438-square-mile area. Within the sanctuary, Silver Bank, located approximately 50 miles northeast of the Dominican Republic coast in the Caribbean Sea, represents the densest concentration of humpbacks found in the north Atlantic.

Created in the year 2000 by the merger of over ten institutions, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is one of the young ministries of the Dominican Republic. Its mission is to protect and manage the country’s environment and natural resources with the objective of reaching sustainable development. Every year, during the humpback whale observation period of January to March, the ministry establishes an agreement with local and governmental institutions to promote tourism, marine and business activities within the sanctuary that do not affect the habitat and reproductive cycle of the mammals. This initiative is the result of the ministry’s policy for an open, democratic and participative management based on the cooperation and strategic alliances between the state, local communities, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is celebrating 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

On the Internet:
Dominican Minister of Environment
NOAA
National Marine Sanctuary Program
Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary


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