September 12, 2011

Santo Domingo, 9/11/2011

On Saturday, September 10, 2011 guests at the first Dominican Republic Environment Film Festival (DREFF) joined with marine mammal conservation experts to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Dominican Republic’s historic Marine Mammal Sanctuary. The people of the DR formed the very first marine mammal sanctuary and it has grown over the years to be about equal in size to the land area of the country. 
The celebration was organized in partnership with GFDD and FUNGLODE and was held at FUNGLODE’s headquarters in Santo Domingo, preceded by the screening of the documentary film Ocean Voyageurs. The film follows a mother whale and her young calf on their sometimes perilous journey of discovery, and much of the footage presented was captured at the Marine Mammal Sanctuary off the coast of Samaná.

Invited guest speakers included renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Minister of the Environment in the Dominican Republic, Don Ernesto Reyna and Dra. Idelisa Bonnelly de Calventi, President of the Dominican Foundation for Marine Research (FUNDEMAR).
Historically the role of the Dominican Republic as a world leader in the conservation of marine mammals is well established. On October 14, 1986, the Dominican Republic recognized the vital importance of the Silver Bank by establishing the La Plata Bank National Marine Sanctuary, also known as the Silver Bank Sanctuary. Ten years later the Dominican Republic strengthened that commitment on July 5, 1996, when a presidential decree enlarged the Sanctuary to its current size and renamed it the ‘Sanctuary for the Marine Mammals of the Dominican Republic.’ 

President Leonel Fernández and Dr. Earle
As part of the Sanctuary, all activity on the Silver Bank must adhere to strict guidelines set forth by the office of the Sub-Secretariat of Protected Areas & Biodiversity of the Dominican Republic, and is overseen by the on-site Coordinator of the Silver Bank. Among other things, these guidelines limit the number of vessels on the Silver Bank. In fact, no vessel may visit the area without a permit.

 La Plata Bank National Marine Sanctuary later inspired the creation of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. This 842-square mile stretch of open water at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay is home to some 1,600 humpback whales of the more than 10,000 that migrate to the areas of Banco de Plata, Navidad and Samaná Bay each year. The whales travel between the rich feeding grounds of the Stellwagen Bank before heading south to the warmer waters of the Dominican Republic to give birth to their calves between December and April. Now, the Silver Bank is proud to host the largest concentration of whales in the world.

Dr. Earle met with the Director of the fishing cooperative at the La Caleta marine protected area, who took action to start conserving his reef area in collaboration with Reef Check. On a dive with Reef Check to explore the newly created marine protected area at La Caleta, Dr. Earle was pleased to see baby fish and healthy coral returning to the reef. 

The creation of the Dominican Republic’s  cutting-edge marine mammal sanctuary was made possible through the hard work and vision of many individuals, organizations and institutions, including FUNDEMAR, CIBIMAR and CEBSE.  We look forward to watching what the next 25 years will bring for this historic and inspirational corner of hope on our blue planet.

~ Deb Castellana & Jenifer Austin Foulkes

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