Living Tools for Marine Conservation


Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises: a World Handbook for Cetacean Habitat Conservation . Hoyt, E. 2005 . Earthscan , Stirling , VA . 512 pp . ( xx + 492 ). $39.50 (paperback) . ISBN 1-84407-064-6 .

The prologue states this book's goal: “to promote the creation of the best possible marine protected areas (MPAs) for cetaceans.” This goal is lofty, and I began my review with high expectations, but was quickly disappointed. An introduction and four frustratingly vague and generalized chapters, consisting of only 86 pages, run the gamut from a history of MPAs to placing a spotlight on the value of cetaceans for marine-based conservation to MPA design principles and strategies. A fifth chapter, of a humongous 360 pages, consists almost entirely of tables of the world's MPAs that purportedly benefit cetacean conservation.

The introduction's first lines state this book's three “main driving forces”: the habitat requirements of cetaceans; the increased information now available; and the educational, scientific, and economic value of cetaceans that the author proposes “may provide a key to protecting ocean habitats.” Thereafter, the chapter rambles from subject to subject, with smatterings of MPA history, international jurisdictions, biosphere-reserve principles, and whale watching. Boxes introduce important conservation concepts—critical habitat, ecosystem-based management, and the precautionary approach. This collection leads the reader to expect thoughtful discussion in succeeding chapters. Unfortunately, nowhere in this book are the “forces” or subjects mentioned above reviewed in a manner that would justify MPAs to the unconvinced.

Chapter 1 extends the history. It reviews the World Conservation Union's protected-area (PA) categories and lists the many titles applied worldwide to MPAs (e.g., reserve, sanctuary, park, area, site and even “area to be avoided”). This discussion of PA categories leaves the reader to surmise which management regimes might apply best to conservation of cetaceans. However, the array of MPA titles merely illustrates the confused semantics of MPA designation. The chapter's centerpiece is a reasonable description of the widely accepted, “best” alternative MPA for ocean resources, the biosphere reserve. A biosphere reserve requires identification of a “core” area, logically leading to discussions of “critical habitat” and “networking.” These discussions are too general, however, to be of pragmatic use. Two tables list selected MPAs and their status and general location but lack literature references that would allow the reader to follow up. Another table (again sans references) purports to delineate critical habitat for 84 cetacean species, but the best the author provides, even for the well-known bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops, is to list critical habitat for national waters as “most breeding, calving, nursing, feeding,” in contrast to critical habitat for the high seas as “some breeding, calving, nursing, feeding” (emphases mine). In contrast to these tables, a useful one on treaties and other agreements does contains Web-site addresses.

Chapter 2 asks in its title, “Why spotlight whales, dolphins, and porpoises?” The author gives two reasons: cetaceans have intrinsic value and they play important roles in conserving other species and ecosystems. The first is clearly (and understandably) the author's bias, as is revealed in the chapter's final line: “We should not ignore or abandon … other reasons for marine habitat conservation [e.g., coral reefs, estuaries] even if they are not part of cetacean MPAs.” Nevertheless, a devil's advocate might ask, Which species do not have intrinsic value? And, as for cetaceans' ecological role, one is forced to ask, How so? The concept that high priority for a charismatic megaspecies automatically confers protection for other species, communities, and ecosystems remains empirically unproven and runs counter to much ecological and conservation theory; in fact, enhancing the “chosen few” runs the risk of reducing others of the community to insignificance. This chapter also includes yet another unreferenced table illustrating the world distribution of cetacean species within 18 marine regions, within which freshwater dolphins become marine (e.g., the Ganges River dolphin [Platanista] is said to occur in the Central Indian Ocean, the Amazon River dolphin [Inia] in the South Atlantic).

Chapters 3 and 4 are superficial reviews of MPA management principles and procedures. Chapter 3 draws heavily on major, recent works on these pragmatic subjects but fails to expand on them and more important fails to assess past successes and failures as guides to the future. The chapter once again considers cetacean habitat needs and the value of ecosystem-based management and concludes with steps needed to design, establish, and manage MPAs. These steps are trivialized, beginning with “do a literature review,”“examine the literature and case studies,”“identify funding sources,”“commission field surveys,”“identify critical habitat needs” and terminating with number 18, “don't give up and don't stop working for the best MPA possible.” The particular needs of cetaceans are not a significant part of the discussion. Chapter 4, on strategies to complement and supplement MPAs, could have been the most interesting and useful of all, given the very wide distributions of cetaceans and the extents of their critical habitats, but extends a mere three pages and consists of only brief asides on legal applications, pollution, shipping, land-use planning, education, politics, and the need for science. In the latter context, research and monitoring design lies at the heart of MPA conservation, but this book omits a serious consideration of either.

Chapter 5 is an extensive listing of MPAs and their supposed value for cetacean conservation. It is a book in itself, and the author is to be congratulated for even attempting it. Introductions and extensive tables are given for 18 marine regions. The tables list MPAs by name, identify the occurrences of cetaceans and other notable species within each MPA, present notes and a rationale for each, and give Web addresses or other sources for more information. It would be impossible for any reviewer to assess it all, so I checked only a few features with which I am familiar. First, occurrence of species within an MPA may be interesting, but occurrence is not an indication of critical habitat or the effectiveness of conservation efforts. This is particularly true for very small areas such as the Bahamas' tiny Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park (8.5 km2) or Florida's modest Fort Clinch State Park Aquatic Preserve (36.4 km2). Inexplicably, some of the Caribbean's larger MPAs are omitted (e.g., Buck Island Reef National Monument [∼80 km2], the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument [∼69 km2], and the extensive MPA system of the Cayman Islands, all of which host marine mammals from time to time). Turning to the Northeast Pacific, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is said to host “60 species of breeding birds;” the real number is one shorebird and 11 seabirds. These problems of omission and commission raise cautions about use of this table.

There is a reasonable logic to this book because it represents an effort to integrate taxon- and space-based conservation. The author, however, seems content with platitudes, avoids critical analysis, and includes an overwhelming proportion of gray literature, thereby ignoring much useful science and management literature. Further, the author repeatedly considers critical habitat but fails to consider how the wide variety of cetacean natural histories might potentially affect MPA strategies and tactics. For example, it is a serious mistake to lump strategies for K-selected oceanic specialists such as blue whales with coastal r-selected species such as the harbor porpoise (Phocaena). In other words, lacking species-specific natural histories, the establishment of MPAs can be a wasted effort. This brings to mind what the author might have done, for example: fully develop the concept of critical habitat as related to the concept of “optimum sustainable population” (an invention of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972); resolve scale-related connectivities between species' natural histories and the seascape in which these species live; use a case-study approach; fully define research and monitoring strategies; and critically examine referenced literature. To end on a bright note, the author rightly concludes that MPAs are starting points, “not end points, but living, working tools.” I would have wished for a better start for such an important group as cetaceans.