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Master plan

MI students make plans to protect, conserve right whales and coral reefs

Teaching and Learning

By Moira Baird

Sharing the world’s oceans resources is no easy task, as a pair of graduate students at the Marine Institute (MI) are learning first hand.

They’re helping to develop marine spatial plans – one to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales off Canada’s East Coast, the other to expand a Barbados marine reserve to safeguard coastal reefs.

Marine spatial planning brings together many ocean users — fisheries, shipping, energy sector, conservation organizations, tourism operators, recreational groups and governments — to protect the marine environment and sustainably share marine resources and space by avoiding user conflicts.

Both MI students are working on internships during the final months of their master of marine studies program, the first graduate-level marine spatial planning program in North America.

Vessel-whale collisions

Stacey Rehel grew up on Montreal’s north shore and completed a bachelor of science degree, majoring in marine biology, at Memorial.

Stacey Rehel
Stacey Rehel
Photo: Submitted

She’s working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Moncton, N.B., on the development of a plan aimed at the protection and conservation of the North Atlantic right whale population in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Ms. Rehel is mapping vessel traffic in the gulf region, identifying the risk of vessel-whale collisions and assessing other jurisdictions’ experiences with marine spatial plans.

“The main driver of this is the number of right whale deaths that occurred last summer in the Gulf of St. Lawrence,” she said. “They’re either being obstructed by the large transport ships or they’re getting tangled in the fishing gear.”

Twelve right whales died last summer following collisions with large ships in Canadian waters. Another five were entangled in fishing gear and released. More whale deaths and entanglements occurred in U.S. waters.

Ship traffic and noise

While right whales winter off the states of Florida and Georgia, their summer feeding grounds place them squarely in busy shipping lanes and fishing grounds off North America’s Northeast Coast.

“We want to make sure these waters are managed . . . so that future generations can use the waters.” — Stacey Rehel

Ms. Rehel says that acoustic disturbance is another major threat for the right whale and can cause habitat displacement, behavioural changes and increased stress.

“We want to understand what’s happening in our waters so that we can help make better management decisions to protect the right whale and other species as well.”

She also says collaboration and participation are key aspects of marine spatial planning to reduce conflict among the shipping, tourism and fishing industries that utilize the same space as right whales.

“And it’s not just about industries, it’s about local people too – no matter what happens, it will affect them too. We want to make sure these waters are managed in a sustainable manner so that future generations can use the waters as well.”

Change of plan

Georgina Reid, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland, had intended to pursue a legal career in her home country where she received a law degree and a master’s in oil and gas law. Then, she took an elective in marine spatial planning that changed all of her plans.

Georgina Reid
Georgina Reid
Photo: Submitted

“The lecturer of my elective, Anne-Michelle Slater was, and continues to be, very passionate about marine planning and I found the course was far more interesting to me than those relating to oil and gas.”

The teacher support cemented Ms. Reid’s interest in marine spatial planning and the pair co-authored a chapter on the subject for a 2017 textbook, Marine and Coastal Resource Management: Principles and Practice.

The MI student’s internship is currently with Barbados Coastal Zone Management Unit, a government agency overseeing the proposed boundary expansion of Folkestone Park and Marine Reserve, including the creation of a new zoning and management strategy.

The 2.2-square-kilometre marine reserve on Barbados’ west coast was created in 1981.

Sustaining reefs and livelihoods

Ms. Reid is updating socio-economic data that was collected when the reserve expansion was first contemplated almost 20 years ago, and is also gathering new data on tourist visits, activities and current fishing trends.

“Socio-economic aspects are very important because the interests of all stakeholders within the managed area must be taken into account,” she said. “Failing to do so could lead to conflicts, compliance issues and a lack of trust and support for future management.”

“Managing the space and time aspects of human uses . . . means the difference between a healthy, functioning marine environment and the potential for irreversible damage.” — Georgina Reid

Ms. Reid says coral reefs are “vital” ecosystems that sustain diverse marine life and also provide livelihoods for local tourism operators.

“Managing the space and time aspects of human uses in these environments means the difference between a healthy, functioning marine environment and the potential for irreversible damage to that environment,” she said.

“The management of the Folkestone Marine Management Area will try to balance the competing interests of Jet Ski operators, speedboat operators, catamarans, diving, snorkelling, fishermen, residents, swimming, conservation, education, cultural heritage and scientific research.”

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