MERI and the Maritime Government of Castro develop regulations to reduce collisions between vessels and cetaceans

MERI and the Maritime Government of Castro develop regulations to reduce collisions between vessels and cetaceans

The objective of this initiative is to regulate navigation in Northern Patagonia, in order to reduce one of the main threats to whales in our oceans.

A document with a series of measures that seek to regulate the navigation of vessels in Northern Patagonia and thus reduce the risk of collisions with cetaceans -especially whales- was agreed upon by the MERI Foundation and the Maritime Government of Castro.

The regulation, the first of its kind in the country, was developed by both entities based on joint work that included the analysis of scientific evidence. The MERI Foundation conducted training in environmental education where officials of the Maritime Government and dependent port authorities learned about the behavior and biology of whales, the threats that affect them and the fundamental role their institutions play in reducing threats such as collision with vessels. This initial collaboration led to the development of the regulations.

Although there are no official figures in Chile, some international studies indicate that, for populations in certain areas, up to 1 in 3 whales found dead have signs of having died from collisions, according to an article published by Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Based on this background information, these regulations were born, which at the beginning will be voluntary, without ruling out future work and evaluations to change them to “mandatory”. The areas protected by these regulations are part of the so-called Marine Chiloense Ecoregion (EMC), which extends between Chacao and the Taitao Peninsula, which houses critically endangered species such as the southern right whale, endangered blue and sei whales, as well as other cetaceans such as the sperm whale and the endemic Chilean dolphin.

The signing of the agreement was attended by the Second Lieutenant and Head of the Department of Maritime Interests, Natalia Martínez, and those in charge of Marine Environment in the Maritime Government of Castro, Vanessa Beiza and Romeo Vargas, as well as the person in charge of Educational Programs and Ecotourism for the MERI Foundation, Gloria Howes, and the MERI Foundation Assistant of Environmental Education, Catalina Valencia.

Despite its relevance in terms of conservation, this region – defined as one of the 35 priority sites for conservation efforts according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – contains important navigation routes and, therefore, there is a constant risk of collision between these animals and the vessels.

Among the suggestions included in the document for vessels sailing in these waters is the incorporation of trained lookouts to identify the different species of cetaceans, the notification of sightings by radio to the Chilean maritime authority and the maximum day and night speed of 10 and 8 knots, respectively.

“At the MERI Foundation, we saw with concern the large number of collisions between cetaceans and vessels in the area, which can cause from wounds in the fins to the death of the animal.
In this sense, this collaborative work is a first step for the effective conservation of whales that will not only reduce collisions, but will directly impact the conservation of the Chiloé ecosystem and its tourist and economic potential”, said the Executive Director of the MERI Foundation, Ana María Molina. 

The regulation – she added – proves that people and institutions can commit to stopping a threat, since many times the actions are not taken because of lack of will, but because of lack of knowledge. “Now that the Maritime Government has taken on this task, it is up to the vessels to collaborate in the voluntary compliance with these regulations”, explained Ana María Molina.

Meanwhile, the second lieutenant, Natalia Martínez, Head of the Department of Maritime Interests of the Government, said that “this initiative caught our interest immediately, so -based on the scientific background provided by the foundation-, we developed the local resolution GMCAS. ORD. No. 12,600 / 339 VRS. Said resolution reports the collision risks between vessels and whales, the conservation problems that these events entail for these species and the necessary measures to avoid them, also taking into account that these do not affect the safety of human life in the sea”.

After the signing of the work report, the Maritime Government of Castro sent the resolution to their port authorities for the dissemination of these measures among shipping companies and other companies with maritime activities in the area, in addition to being published on the Directemar website.