Info: Report on Grey Whale Conservation

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 29 Mar 1995 16:39:47

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From: Michael Williamson <WHE_WILLIAM@FLO.ORG>
Subject: Info: Report on Grey Whale Conservation
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Subj:	summary of report on gray whale conservation in Mexico
Date:         Tue, 28 Mar 1995 12:49:31 PST
Reply-To:     Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
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Subject:      summary of report on gray whale conservation in Mexico
To:           Multiple recipients of list MARMAM <MARMAM@UVVM.BITNET>
The executive summary of a report on gray whale conservation in
Mexico follows.
S. Dedina and E.H. Young. 1995. Conservation and development in the
     gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) lagoons of Baja California
     Sur, Mexico. Final report to the U.S. Marine Mammal
     Commission, Contract T10155592. 81pp.
Executive summary
     In this report we identify ongoing and possible future
development and related activities that could have a negative
impact on two of the three main calving/breeding habitats for the
eastern North Pacific gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) population
in Baja California Sur, namely Laguna San Ignacio and Bahia
Magdalena. We also identify steps that are being or could be taken
to assess and to prevent or minimize activities that may have
adverse effects. We provide: (1) a brief summary of natural
history, exploitation, protection, and current status of the gray
whale population in Mexico; (2) a description of the physical and
human geography of the study area; (3) a history of environmental
conservation efforts in the study area; (4) an overview of the
environmental management structure in the study area and the
environmental impact review process in Mexico; (5) descriptions of
past, existing, and planned development and commercial activities
in the study area; and (6) descriptions of impediments to effective
assessment and control of activities with potentially adverse
impacts and possible means to strengthen current gray whale
     This study is based on field research conducted in Laguna San
Ignacio and Bahia Magdalena in Baja California Sur. Background
research and interviews were conducted in San Diego, California, La
Paz, Baja California Sur, and Mexico City. The research included:
(1) conducting open-ended and semi-structured interviews; (2)
participant observation of local residents' activities; (3)
reviewing primary and archival data; and (4) reviewing newspaper
coverage. This enabled us to compare actual use and management of
gray whale habitats with: (a) how government officials think these
areas are and should be used and; (b) how different user groups in
the study area view regulations of their activities for gray whale
habitat management.
     Laguna San Ignacio is the only primary gray whale
breeding/calving area in Mexico that remains superficially
unaltered. In contrast, portions of Bahia Magdalena have been
changed by industrial and mining activities, as well as the recent
construction of a thermoelectric plant. The majority of local
residents at both sites are employed in fisheries, which suffer
from chronic over-harvesting and poaching. While Laguna San Ignacio
is formally protected as part of the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve and
Bahia Magdalena remains unprotected, they face similar problems in
terms of management structure, insufficient funding, and a shortage
of on-site personnel, facilities, and equipment. In both areas,
problems related to gray whale tourism have emerged as a result of:
(1) overlapping government agency jurisdictions; (2) permitting
irregularities; (3) non-uniform interpretation and enforcement of
rules and regulations; and (4) poor communication among user groups
and regulatory agencies. One issue of particular concern is that of
how to better redistribute the economic benefits from gray whale
tourism and elicit more active involvement of local communities in
gray whale conservation programs.
     Mexico has played an important role in protecting the gray
whale population and the population's main wintering areas. The
gray whale has become a powerful political symbol of Mexico's
commitment to environmental protection. Three federal agencies are
primarily responsible for on-site protection of gray whales and
regulation of human activities in Laguna San Ignacio and Bahia
Magdalena. These are the National Institute of Ecology (INE),
Federal Attorney General's Office for Environmental Protection
(Profepa), and the Secretariat of Fisheries (Pesca). In terms of
restricting development activities, INE and Profepa are both
legally obligated to work within the legislative framework provided
by the 1988 General Ecology Law to review and prevent development
projects that could cause adverse impacts to critical gray whale
habitats in both areas. Under the 1992 Fisheries Law, Pesca is
required to develop conservation programs for marine mammals.
Article 254 bis of the Federal Penal Code prescribes up to six
years in prison for individuals convicted of harassing or killing
marine mammals. In Laguna San Ignacio, federal agencies have taken
the lead role in habitat conservation. In Bahia Magdalena, the
municipal government of Comondu has convened local residents,
state, and federal agencies to discuss issues related to tourism
development and conservation in the bay.
     The greatest threats to the whales and their habitats are
from: 1) the development of a 52,150 ha salt production facility on
the shore of Laguna San Ignacio; 2) a proposed 2,000 ha tourist
resort development at Bahia Magdalena; and 3) uncontrolled gray
whale tourism in the North Zone of Bahia Magdalena. Strict review
and monitoring of development and whale-tourism by INE, Profepa,
and Pesca under existing environmental impact assessment
regulations, and the review of project plans and tourism activities
by non-governmental organizations, research institutions and
scientists familiar with gray whale habitats, should help to
minimize potentially adverse impacts.
     Possible ways to improve conservation of gray whales and their
habitats in Laguna San Ignacio and Bahia Magdalena are to: (1)
decentralize INE management structure, shifting administrative
responsibilities to La Paz and establish on-site administrative
facilities for the Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve; (2) create a gray
whale conservation advisory committee, based in Baja California Sur
and made up of representatives from related government agencies,
research institutions, and the local communities to review and
provide advice on development and other activities that could
affect gray whales and their habitat; (3) increase user fees for
whale-tourism permits to help support on-site gray whale habitat
protection; (4) increase efforts to emphasize local involvement,
participation, and education during implementation of management
programs by government agencies; (5) establish simple and
inexpensive interpretive centers at the lagoons; (6) establish
permanent operation bases for INE, Profepa, and Pesca staff at both
sites; (7) hold regular meetings between gray whale advisory
committee representatives and all users of the lagoons and their
resources; (8) conduct annual, on-site training seminars through
INE and other relevant federal agencies and research institutions
for operators of whale-watching boats; (9) encourage voluntary,
self-imposed restrictions by whale-tourism operators and government
agencies on the promotion of friendly-whale encounters; (10) issue
permits to operate and/or guide whale-watching boats only to
locally-based, whale-tour operators that employ lagoon and bay
residents; (11) foster greater involvement by whale-tour operators
that employ around the lagoons, through sponsorship of education
programs and community development projects; (12) implement a
twenty-year mitigation monitoring program of the proposed salt
production facility in Laguna San Ignacio and a tax on salt
production to fund biosphere reserve research and conservation
programs; (13) establish a five-year research program in Bahia
Magdalena to assess impacts of tourism on gray whale behavior and
distribution; (14) establish a gray whale refuge in the North Zone
of Bahia Magdalena; (15) promote an international symposium on
marine mammal tourism by government agencies, research
institutions, non-governmental agencies, and tourism operators; and
(16) map North American gray whale habitat through remote sensing
and use of geographic information system (GIS) to provide detailed,
comprehensive assessment of human impacts and habitat alteration.