Maluku (15/11)-As an initial step to prepare the establishment of Marine Protected Area (MPA) network in Banda and Seram Seas, Maluku, the USAID Sustainable Ecosystems Advanced (SEA) Project initiated the Rapid Ecological Assessment (REA) for marine mammals in the area. The survey conducted by CTC in partnership with APEX Environmental was designed to address the data deficiency of cetacean migration pattern around Banda and Seram Seas which is crucial for future MPA network establishment in the target area. Covering 1,022 kilometers of track line from Ambon to the Banda Islands and West Seram, including Manipa Strait (which is a major marine corridor), the survey was completed in 11 days starting on 5-15 November 2016.
The Banda-Seram Sea survey revealed that the area is a vital habitat for large cetaceans as a calving and nursing ground. The survey results also illustrate the connectivity of marine biodiversity between Banda and Seram Seas, and from a marine spatial planning perspective, between Indonesia’s Fisheries Management Areas (FMA) 714 and FMA 715. For certain migratory cetaceans, the connectivity is transboundary, between east Indonesia, Timor-Leste and Australia – especially among migratory species such as Blue and Sperm Whales. Thus, protecting the sea mammals and their local habitats is essential as they are directly linked with a much broader ecological horizon.
Benjamin Kahn, Director of APEX Environmental and the survey’s Lead Scientist and Team Leader, when presenting the REA results to a group of stakeholder, underscored the important ecological role of Banda and Seram Seas for 16 species of marine mammals. The area, as he explained, is the migratory end-point for the endangered Blue Whales – that swim to east Indonesia from the sub-Antarctic convergence zone, south of Australia.
A total of 49 sightings were recorded, resulting in a minimal animal count of 1,771 individuals from 16 species of whales, dolphins and dugong. Blue Whales were the most frequently sighted large cetacean. Another important component of survey was the threat assessment for marine mammals. The main and immediate threat was the numerous plastic trash fields found along all the survey routes. Interactions between marine mammals and other ocean industries (shipping, oil and gas, fisheries, and tourism) are also planned to be part of a longer-term threat assessment. The current REA has identified the Banda-Seram Seas as a marine mammal conservation priority.