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Santuario de Mamíferos Marinos Bancos de La Plata y Navidad

Date of Submission: 05/02/2018
Criteria: (iii)(ix)(x)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of the Dominican Republic to UNESCO
Coordinates: 19Q 548232 m E / 2107377 mN
Ref.: 6293

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Marine Mammals Sanctuary Bancos de La Plata and Navidad created by Decree No. 319 of October 14, 1986, is one of the first protected areas of this nature established worldwide, being the largest marine protected area in the Dominican Republic and the first sanctuary of marine mammals created in the Atlantic Ocean. Currently belongs to Category I, Scientific Reserve in the National System of Protected Areas, which corresponds to a Natural Strict / Wild Area of IUCN.

The protected area is made up of the Banco de la Plata, the Banco del Pañuelo and the Banco de la Navidad, part of the Samaná bay and the intermediate waters in the banks and the aforementioned bay, including the coastal waters of part of the area North of the island of Santo Domingo between Francés cape and the bay of San Lorenzo, called Scottish bay. The conservation unit has an area of 19,438 square miles. This conservation unit extends from the Banco de La Plata on the northern boundary of the exclusive economic zone of the Dominican Republic, to the coast of Seibo province to the northeast of the island of Santo Domingo.

This maritime zone has its main attraction in the presence of humpback whales between the months of January and April, when these marine mammals move to the area to mate and give birth. The Sanctuary is considered a critical habitat for the survival of the humpback whale. The Sanctuary includes considerable extensions of coastal and marine ecosystems, such as: coral reefs, mangroves and marine grasslands. To this is added the protection for multiple species associated with these ecosystems, including valuable species for the local and national economy. Among the groups of species that are protected in the area of the Sanctuary are: whales, dolphins, manatees, marine turtles, pelagic fish of commercial importance and invertebrates such as lambi. In short, this area hosts a highly varied marine life and in excellent condition.

In these marine bottom are located a large number of shipwrecks that occurred from the time of the colony to the present, which gives it an enormous cultural value, since by investigating wrecks we can obtain extraordinary information about the first voyages to the American continent. Some of them were excavated are well known, such as Concepción, Guadalupe and Tolosa galleons.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Bancos de la Plata and Navidad Marine Mammal Sanctuary is one of the first protected areas of this nature established worldwide, being the largest marine protected area in the Dominican Republic and the first sanctuary of marine mammals in the Atlantic Ocean. The Sanctuary protects the habitat of the largest population of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) that arrives from the North Atlantic each year to the warm waters of the Caribbean Region in winter (December-March). In this sea waters the wales develop out vital functions, such as mating and breeding. The main areas of concentration of the species are the banks of La Plata and Navidad and the Bay of Samaná. The Sanctuary is considered a critical habitat for the survival of the humpback whale, even more so when predictions about global climate change and particularly for the Dominican Republic indicate that extreme weather events will increase and there will be important impacts on biodiversity.

The main species of marine mammals located in the protected area are the following: Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus); Manatee (Trichechus manatus), reported in shallow areas of the Bay of Samaná, especially on the south coast of the bay, in the bay of San Lorenzo and in the mangrove of La Jina; bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), in the Sanctuary has been reported in the Bay of Samaná and in the Banco de la Plata; Spotted Atlantic dolphin (Stenella frontalis); spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata); common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), reported for the Bay of Samaná; rough-tooth dolphin (Steno bredanensis); Orca (Orcinus orca); pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus); minke whale (Balaenoptera acurostrata); whale of bryde (Balaenoptera edeni); beaked whale from the Antilles (Mesoplodon europaeus); Cuvier's whale (Ziphius cavirostris); sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis). It turns out that the great diversity of species that populate the area and the importance that it has for its survival make of the Sanctuary of Marine Mammals Banks of La Plata and Navidad an area with an extraordinary value from the natural point of view.

The protected area has other conservation objects in the natural field such as coral reefs and mangroves, with high value for conservation and local economic development. These ecosystems are fundamental for the sustainability of the populations of fish and crustaceans and therefore for the survival of the marine mammals that inhabit this coastal marine area. In the Sanctuary are carried out in an orderly and sustainable, relevant activities such as whale watching that attracts tens of thousands of tourists, being an educational activity of the first order, it allows to spread among the local and foreign population the importance of the presence of cetaceans in marine ecosystems and the need to protect these species.

As for the cultural resources it contains, the wrecks of the Guadalupe and Tolosa galleons, sunk by a hurricane in 1724 when they made the crossing from Spain to America and whose wooden hulls are in big part preserved, being one of the most important testimony of the architecture naval of the early eighteenth century. Also it is necessary to emphasize the rest of the wreck of the Conception, sunk in 1641 in the Silver bank; the wreck of the Scipion, a French ship of war sunk in 1782; the wreck of the Golden Fleece that was the boat of the pirate Bannister sunk in the bay of Samaná in 1686; the possible wreck of the San Miguel a Spanish naos traveling from Mexico to Spain loaded with precious metals and American pre-Hispanic jewelry sunk in 1551 off the coast of Rio San Juan; a Spanish ship of the eighteenth century loaded with material of war sunk in front of Playa Grande. In short, a unique and exceptional underwater heritage for the most part well preserved that has been investigated only in part and that is conserved within the marine coastal protected area.

Criterion (iii): The wrecks of ships of the colonial period that are located on the seabed of the Sanctuary of Marine Mammals Banks of La Plata and Navidad are a outstanding testimony of the commercial relations and the conflicts that existed from the first times of the discovery of America. They also provide us with unpublished information on the naval construction of colonial times, as some of the wrecks, especially those of the galleons Guadalupe and Tolosa, sunk in the Bay of Samaná in 1724 whose wooden hulls are still preserved in good part, being exceptional samples of the naval construction of principles of the XVIII century.

Criterion (ix): The Sanctuary of Marine Mammals de La Plata y Navidad is one of the few coastal-marine protected areas of the insular Caribbean where the ecological and biological processes associated with the ecosystems it harbors, are kept in perfect conditions. The Sanctuary is a protected area of extraordinary importance worldwide. This is due, in the first place, to the fact that protecting this area preserves the habitat critical for the reproduction of a population of about 3,000 North American humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) that migrate each year to the warm waters of the Caribbean during the season wintry. It is estimated that 85% of the population of humpback whales of the North Atlantic uses the waters of the Sanctuary to carry out vital functions, mating and breeding.

Criterion (x): The Marine Mammal Sanctuary Bancos de La Plata y Navidad contain some of the most important and significant natural habitats for “in situ” conservation of Caribbean biological diversity, especially of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). For this reason, the area has been proposed as a critical habitat for the survival of this species, under the Biodiversity Agreement. In addition to the humpback whale, six other species of marine mammals have been reported in Sanctuary waters, including the Manatí (Trichechus manatus) endangered species. The Sanctuary includes considerable extensions of coastal and marine ecosystems, stories such as: coral reefs, mangroves and marine grasslands. To this is added protection for multiple species associated with ecosystems, including valuable species for the local and national economy. Among the groups of species are protected in the area of the Sanctuary are: whales, dolphins, manatees, marine turtles, and pelagic fish of commercial importance and invertebrates such as lambi. It is also the refuge of a multitude of threatened and endangered species that have an exceptional value. Some of the species living in the area are considered as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, beeng the protected area an exceptional place to shelter them.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

In terms of authenticity, marine mammals are the main resource and object of conservation of the Sanctuary, especially the humpback whale that, in its reproductive season, makes this area a outstanding site in the Atlantic Ocean for this species. Given that marine mammals have not been the object of predation or hunting in Dominican waters throughout their history, the state of the populations that reside or cross the Sanctuary are in excellent conditions. However, although conservation efforts on a global scale have managed to reverse the declining trend of the world population of humpback whales, it is currently estimated that only around 10% of the population existing at the beginning of the 20th century.

It is considered that the 5 year moratorium established in 1982 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for whaling, which came into force in 1986, was decisive for the survival of several species of this group of animals. This moratorium has been extended to the present, however every year it is strongly questioned by countries with strong interests in whaling like Japan and Norway.

The humpback whale, which is a highly migratory species, moves annually between the feeding areas, in the high latitudes of the Atlantic Ocean in which it passes the summer months, towards the warm waters; this population maintains as main areas of reproductive concentration the Silver Bank, Christmas and the Bay of Samaná. Habitats that serve as a refuge for humpback whales in the breeding season, coral reefs and shallows, as well as other marine ecosystems such as coral reefs and mangroves, are natural resources of high conservation value that are currently maintained in good condition.

The integrity of the natural resources of the Marine Mammal Sanctuary is good. The protected area has a recent Management Plan for 2015, which ensures the correct management of the resources of the conservation unit. Likewise, regular monitoring of species is carried out, with detailed inventories of their natural heritage. The management of cetacean populations is based on the Latin American strategy for the conservation of cetaceans, defined in 2007 by the countries that make up the International Whaling Commission.

In accordance with the provisions of the General Law on Environment and Natural Resources (Law 64-00) and the Sectoral Law on Protected Areas (Law 202-04), the administration of the Sanctuary as a protected area corresponds to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, through the Vice Ministry of Protected Areas and Biodiversity. In the operative part, the Provincial Directorates of Environment and Natural Resources of the provinces also support the administration of the Sanctuary: María Trinidad Sánchez, Samaná and Puerto Plata. Many actors are involved in the management of the Sanctuary, of a diverse nature: Governmental, Universities and Academia, National NGOs, International NGOs, Cooperation for Cross-Border Governance, Private Sector and Community Sector. Currently the Sanctuary has an Administrator hired by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

Regarding the underwater cultural heritage located in the protected area, they are generally in good condition. Fundamentally, these are wrecks of colonial ships that cover a period of almost 500 years of the history of navigation in the Caribbean. Some of the wrecks, such as those of the Guadalupe and Tolosa galleons, have been investigated and there are even excellent drawings of the Guadalupe's hull still well preserved underwater. Much of the wooden hull of the Tolosa is still well preserved buried under the sand. The remains of the pirate ship Golden Fleece are still almost intact in front of the town of Santa Bárbara de Samaná and the wreck of the Spanish ship loaded with canyons located in front of Playa Grande is intact. Other wrecks, such as the Scipion, have been partially excavated, but most of their remains are still in place. The wrecks of Concepción and San Miguel have been removed for the most part by hunting treasures, but interesting data could still be obtained from the boats if methodological archaeological excavations are carried out in the area where they were located.

Comparison with other similar properties

In the Atlantic Ocean, there is still no sanctuary for marine mammals that has been declared by UNESCO as World Heritage. If we must compare the protected area Bancos de la Plata and Navidad marine mammal sanctuary we must refer to the most important protected area of the French Antilles, located in the waters of the islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique and Mari Galante and called the Sanctuary of Agoa. It has an area of 143,256 km2, which corresponds to the total area of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the French Antilles. The more than 20 species of marine mammals that populate its waters are very similar to those that are conserved in the Sanctuary of Dominican marine mammals: sperm whales, humpback whales and dolphins are the most abundant species. The protected area has management and protection, but in this Sanctuary there is no data on the number of marine mammals that frequent it. Currently, a twinning plan is being managed between the Dominican and French sanctuaries.

Another protected area that is also an important destination for cetaceans and that is already formally twinned with the one of Marine Mammals Sanctuary Bancos de La Plata and Navidad is Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, located in the Bay of Massachusetts, to the Southwest of the Gulf of Maine, with an area of 2,180 km2 always within the federal waters of the United States of America. Its main object of conservation is the 22 species of marine mammals that inhabit its waters, especially the humpback whales. In addition to the natural heritage in this protected area, like the Dominican one, important underwater cultural resources represented by 35 colonial and modern shipwrecks have already been located. It has a good management plan and control, protection and monitoring measures.

For years several countries and the most representative environmental organizations in the world, are trying to create a marine sanctuary in the South Atlantic, it is an area of extreme importance for the development of communities of 51 species of marine mammals and especially whales Humpbacks. However, at present it has not been achieved due to the economic interests of the countries that hunt wales. It is estimated that around three million whales were hunted during the 20th century and more than 70% were captured in the South Atlantic. Unfortunately, despite this, we still do not have a protected area that can house the marine mammals in danger in this oceanic area.

Given the aforementioned background, it is clear that there are very few marine protected areas with the characteristics of the Bancos de La Plata and Navidad marine mammals sanctuary and that it has all the characteristics to be a refuge for the most threatened marine mammal species. We consider it of utmost importance that it be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, since it would be the first of its kind in the Atlantic Ocean, a primordial place for the development of marine mammals and especially for humpback wales.