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Marine Life & Conservation

Dominica Establishes World’s First Sperm Whale Reserve, a Boost for Climate, Biodiversity and the Local Economy

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Sperm whale

Protecting the country’s whales sequesters as much carbon as taking 5,000 cars off the road every year – it also bolsters the local economy and paves the way for other countries to safeguard this at-risk species elsewhere.

The government of Dominica announced its commitment to establish a Sperm Whale Reserve off the Caribbean (western) side of the Island nation. The new reserve will help sequester carbon and generate tourism income while also protecting a species under increased threat from human activity. Scientists involved in its planning and establishment assert that protection of almost 800 square kilometers will deliver benefits from the local to the global.

Sperm whales have the largest brains on earth, matrilineal societies, and a complex language. They are the largest-toothed predator on our planet, with males on average 16 meters (52 ft) long – bigger than a school bus. Sperm whales are found in waters worldwide – from Iceland to New Zealand. But Dominica is one of the few countries in the world where sperm whales can be seen consistently throughout the year. Dominica offers a unique habitat where a resident population of sperm whales finds food and shelter, making the west coast of the island critical feeding and nursing grounds.

“The 200 or so sperm whales that call our sea home are prized citizens of Dominica,” said Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit. “Their ancestors likely inhabited Dominica before humans arrived. We want to ensure these majestic and highly intelligent animals are safe from harm and continue keeping our waters and our climate healthy. Dominica is honored to establish the first Sperm Whale Reserve on our planet.”

Once the 788 square-kilometer reserve is established, a “Senior Whale Officer” and observers stationed to tourism and research vessels will oversee and reinforce the expanded whale tourism regulations. Sustainable artisanal fishing, which does not interfere with the sperm whales’ behavior or compete with them for food, will be permitted. Visitors to Dominica will have the opportunity to swim with these whales or view them from a boat, but they will do so in more sustainable numbers and under new strict regulations, to ensure that the sperm whales and other species of whales and dolphins aren’t disturbed.

Overlooked Climate Benefits

“Protecting these whales offers an incredible, cost-effective climate solution that has been overlooked by policymakers,” said Enric Sala, the founder of Pristine Seas and an Explorer in Residence at National Geographic. “By protecting sperm whales, Dominica is bolstering its climate resilience. The more sperm whales in Dominica’s waters, the more carbon sequestered in the deep sea, thus helping to mitigate global warming.”  Sala has been advising  the government of Dominica on the establishment of the reserve.

Whale feces are particularly climate-friendly. Sperm whales dive between 650-1000 meters deep to hunt squid. When they are at the surface between dives, they breathe, rest and defecate. Their nutrient-rich feces – with iron concentrations 10 million times greater than the surrounding water at the surface – foster plankton blooms which capture carbon dioxide from seawater. When the plankton dies, it sinks to the deep sea with the carbon in it, thus becoming a carbon sink and helping to mitigate the impacts of global warming.

Based on a study of carbon sequestration by sperm whales elsewhere, and assuming 250 sperm whales currently in Dominica’s waters, Sala estimated that these whales could sequester 4200 metric tonnes of carbon every year – equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 18,000 acres of U.S. forests in one year.

Sperm Whales Under Threat

“The community of sperm whales which use the waters off Dominica are at risk,” said Dr. Shane Gero, National Geographic Explorer, Founder of The Dominica Sperm Whale Project and also Lead Biologist for Project CETI, who was a scientific advisor on the establishment of the reserve. “These ‘island whales’ live alongside humans, preferring this island over others, making our actions in their ocean home their biggest threat. These whales are entangled in fishing gear, ingest our plastic trash that washes into the sea, engulfed in our noise which radiates deep into the ocean where they hunt for squid, and are hit by ships, a particularly heightened threat in the Caribbean, where everything is imported and many vessels transit between islands. All of this comes together to paint a distressing picture for the future of sperm whales.”

Between 2005 and 2015, the numbers of sperm whales in the 12 most-studied families off Dominica have shown a steady decline, seemingly caused by a substantial drop in survival starting in about 2008. If overall trends continue, by 2030 there will be very few animals left.

A Conservation Business Plan

The Reserve will cover less than three percent of Dominica’s waters, which offers enough protection for the sperm whales. Restricting ships to only use designated corridors has been proven to  not only reduce the risk of ship strikes and noise in an area sperm whales use for feeding and nursing, but it also reduces the risk of fishing gear being broken by large ships, which in turn protects the whales from entanglement and reduces replacement costs to fishers. A win-win.

“Dominica has the opportunity to show the world how to reconcile marine conservation with responsible use of the sea. A well-designed and regulated whale tourism operation can bring in economic revenue to offset the direct costs of managing and enforcing the reserve – and bring additional benefits to Dominica’s people,” said Kristin Rechberger, the CEO of Dynamic Planet, which advised Dominica on the economic aspects of the reserve. “With a proper conservation business plan, protecting nature is achievable by all countries, large and small.”

For more information about Pristine Seas, visit www.nationalgeographic.org/society/our-programs/pristine-seas/

Photo: Enric Sala/National Geographic Pristine Seas

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The Ocean Cleanup to Complete 100th Extraction Live from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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the ocean cleanup
  • The Ocean Cleanup marks 100th extraction of plastic pollution from the Pacific Ocean by livestreaming entire cleaning operation from start to finish.
  • Occasion brings together supporters, partners, donors and followers as the project readies its cleanup technology for scale-up.
  • Founder and CEO Boyan Slat to provide insight on the plans ahead.

The Ocean Cleanup is set to reach a milestone of 100 plastic extractions from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Extraction #100, scheduled for 28 or 29 May 2024, will be the first ever to be livestreamed direct from the Pacific Ocean, allowing supporters and partners around the world to see up close how the organization has removed over 385,000 kilograms (nearly 850,000 lbs) of plastic from the GPGP so far – more than double the bare weight of the Statue of Liberty.

the ocean cleanup

The mission of The Ocean Cleanup is to rid the oceans of plastic. To do this, the non-profit project employs a dual strategy: cleaning up legacy floating plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (the world’s largest accumulation of floating plastic), while stopping the flow of plastic from the world’s most polluting rivers.

The Ocean Cleanup captured its first plastic (the first ‘extraction’) in the GPGP in 2019 with System 001, following years of trials and testing with a variety of concepts. Through System 002 and now the larger and more efficient System 03, the organization has consistently improved and optimized operations, and is now preparing to extract plastic trash from the GPGP for the 100th time.

the ocean cleanup

Extraction #100 will be an interactive broadcast showing the entire extraction procedure live and in detail, with insight provided by representatives from across The Ocean Cleanup and partners contributing to the operations.

This is an important milestone in a key year for The Ocean Cleanup.’ said Boyan Slat, Founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. ‘We’ve come a long way since our first extraction in 2019. During the 2024 season, with System 03, we aim to demonstrate that we are ready to scale up, and with it, confine the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the history books.

the ocean cleanup

The livestream will be hosted on The Ocean Cleanup’s YouTube channel and via X. Monitor @theoceancleanup for confirmed timings.

www.theoceancleanup.com

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Marine Life & Conservation

Dive with a Purpose: Shark Guardian’s Expedition Galapagos

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Shark Guardian has just unveiled their largest and most exciting expedition yet: a seven-night, eight-day adventure in August 2026 aboard the Galaxy Diver II, a state-of-the-art
vessel specifically designed for divers exploring the enchanting waters of the Galapagos
Islands. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to engage deeply with marine
conservation in one of the world’s most revered diving destinations.

Shark Guardian is a UK registered charity dedicated to protecting sharks and marine
ecosystems worldwide. Founded by marine biologists and conservationists, Brendon
Sing and Liz Ward-Sing, Shark Guardian leads educational programs, research projects,
campaigns and expeditions aimed at fostering a better understanding and respect for
marine life. Their work spans several continents and focuses on direct action,
education, and advocacy.

Shark Guardian’s ethos revolves around the concept of “diving with a purpose.” This
philosophy underscores the importance of not just experiencing the wonders of the
underwater world but actively learning and contributing to its preservation. Participants
in Shark Guardian expeditions engage in citizen science projects, which involve
collecting data that supports ongoing research and conservation efforts. These
activities empower divers to make a tangible difference, turning each dive into an act of
conservation.

One of the newer additions to the Galapagos diving scene, the Galaxy Diver II, is
specifically tailored for divers. Its design prioritises comfort, safety, and environmental
responsibility. The vessel boasts modern amenities, spacious dive decks, and the latest
navigational technology, ensuring that every dive is not only memorable but also has
minimal environmental impact.

A highlight of this expedition is the opportunity to dive at Wolf and Darwin islands,
renowned for their vibrant, untouched marine ecosystems and as a haven for large
pelagic species. These islands are famous for their schools of hammerhead sharks,
whale sharks, and manta rays, offering spectacular diving that attracts enthusiasts from
around the globe.

Shark Guardian have developed this trip to ensure a hassle-free experience. The
expedition package also includes internal flights from Quito, Ecuador, to the Galapagos,
plus accommodation in Quito before and after the trip. This allows divers to relax and
enjoy the experience without worrying about logistics.

Participants will join a diverse group of passionate divers and conservationists. This trip
offers a unique opportunity to network with like-minded individuals who are eager to
learn about and contribute to marine conservation. It’s a chance to share experiences,
knowledge, and a commitment to protecting the marine world.

sharks

Shark Guardian is offering an early bird price available until May 31st 2024. This special
rate provides a fantastic opportunity to secure a spot on this exclusive expedition at a
reduced cost. Availability is limited, so interested divers are encouraged to act quickly
to ensure they don’t miss out. All the details can be found on their WeTravel page, where
bookings can be made easily and payment instalments are available.

Expedition Galapagos, aboard the Galaxy Diver II offers more than just a diving
holiday—it is an investment in both personal and planetary well-being. By participating,
divers not only witness the majesty of one of the world’s premier diving locales but also
contribute to its preservation for future generations.

Find out more about Shark Guardian at www.sharkguardian.org.

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Experience the Red Sea in May with Bella Eriny Liveaboard! As the weather warms up, there’s no better time to dive into the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. Join us on Bella Eriny, your premier choice for Red Sea liveaboards, this May for an unforgettable underwater adventure. Explore vibrant marine life and stunning coral reefs Enjoy comfortable accommodation in our spacious cabins Savor delicious meals prepared by our onboard chef Benefit from the expertise of our professional dive guides Visit our website for more information and to secure your spot: www.scubatravel.com/BellaEriny or call 01483 411590 More Less

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