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Oceanic scientific expedition begins in southwestern Barahona; new marine sanctuary proposed

A marine expedition is underway in February 2024 to compile data for the declaration of the Orlando Jorge Mera Marine Sanctuary in southwestern Barahona in the Beata underwater mountain range area.

The Beata mountain range is a chain of mountains and plains submerged in the Caribbean Sea, which is home to numerous species along 450 kilometers, extending between the peninsulas of La Guajira, in Colombia, and the Dominican Republic.

Deputy Minister of Environment Jonathan Delance explains that the declaration of the protected area would make the Dominican Republic the country with the highest proportion of protected area in deep ocean waters in the Greater Antilles.

At a time when cruise ships are discovering the southwestern coastline, the Ministry of Environment is stepping up conservation efforts. “We would have a great responsibility in the Caribbean and the duty to support ocean conservation efforts in the region,” stresses Deputy Minister Delance. He says the Beata Initiative is part of the Joint Declaration of the presidents of the Republic of Colombia and the Dominican Republic for protecting the seamounts of the Beata Mountain Range ecozone in the Caribbean Sea signed on 26 July 2022.

As the area opens up for mass tourism, the Ministry of Environment is working with the Blue Nature Alliance and Blue Marine Foundation and the technical support of the Caribbean Cetacean Society to create a marine sanctuary in the area.

The Ministry of Environment explains that as a preparatory step to declare the Cordillera Beata in Dominican territory as an oceanic protected area, the first scientific expedition of the seamount chains of the Caribbean Sea is ongoing this February 2024.

With the assistance of international and national experts and specialists from the Cordillera Beata Natural Reserve (RNCB) in Colombia, at least 16 Dominican professionals from government entities and civil society are participating in the expedition that set sail from Barahona province to the southwestern sea on 4 February and will last until 14 February.

The local and international teams will survey pelagic fauna and collect data on the distribution and abundance of marine mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, among others.

Jonathan Delance, from the Vice Ministry of Coastal and Marine Affairs, is coordinating the Beata initiative. He highlights already numerous species are being identified for their inventory. In addition to onshore expeditions, images and videos are being taken at depths of up to 4,200 meters.

“All this will be combined to provide scientific support for the importance of protecting this oceanic area,” he added.

The data seeks to provide the arguments for the importance of declaring the marine sanctuary to protect the Beata underwater mountain range in its entirety. Delance explained that so far only the southern part of the mountain range has been declared a protected area in Colombian territorial waters.

When the project is completed, the proposal is for the Marine Protected Area would be called the Orlando Jorge Mera Marine Sanctuary, honoring the late minister of Environment.

The Dominican Republic is moving to comply with the international agreements assumed in the Global Biodiversity Framework for the protection of 30% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2030, Delance highlights.

“Currently, we have about 11% of the territory protected on the marine surface, but with the creation of this area we could reach about 24%,” he says.

Expedition members highlight the importance of expanding the knowledge on the biodiversity of the coastal waters and how to protect them in a correct way.

For the Dominican Republic, Rebeca García Camps, marine biologist at the Grupo Puntacana Foundation. For the government’s National Authority for Maritime Affairs (Anamar), marine biologist Edgar Fernando Dorado and ecologist Aileen de la Cruz are participating.

Other expedition members include: José Benito Vives de Andráis Marine and Coastal Research Institute (Invemar) of Colombia.

The Ministry of Environment has been working closely with the Blue Nature Alliance, Blue Marine Foundation and Caribbean Cetacean Society to design and implement a roadmap aimed at protecting key areas of the country’s jurisdictional waters and putting in place foundational pillars to guarantee effective and lasting management of national large-scale protected areas.

The overall engagement will support the Caribbean region in designating approximately 109,846 square kilometers of new protections and standing up essential systems to improve management, contributing to another 125,820 square kilometers. The Blue Nature Alliance’s goal is to help the Caribbean progress protection of 30% of its waters, thereby safeguarding some of the most extraordinary marine biodiversity, building climate resilience, and positioning the Caribbean as a global model for large-scale and networked ocean conservation.

Read more:
Ministry of Environment
Caribbean Cetacean Society
Blue Nature Alliance
Blue Marine Foundation
Puntacana Foundation

6 February 2024