The Government of Bangladesh has created the country's first marine protected area that will now safeguard whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and other oceanic species, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The creation of the "Swatch of No Ground Marine Protected Area" occurs as the world's conservation community prepares to meet at the World Parks Congress, a global event held every 10 years for the purpose of promoting and safeguarding Earth's most valuable natural places and formulating solutions to conservation challenges. The World Parks Congress will take place in Sydney, Australia, November 12-19.
"Bangladesh brings us excellent news as we prepare for the World Parks Congress, a once-in-a-decade event where the conservation community from around the world will gather to discuss and make progress in improving the management and expansion of protected areas on the land and in the oceans," said Dr. Cristián Samper, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "The Swatch of No Ground Marine Protected Area -- created to protect whales, dolphins, sharks, and other marine life -- helps us on our way to reaching the global target of protecting 10 percent of the ocean's ecosystems by 2020."
The Swatch of No Ground Marine Protected Area (SoNG MPA) was signed into law by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) on October 27, 2014.
Said Yunus Ali, Chief Conservator of Forests of the Government of Bangladesh: "This is a momentous occasion for Bangladesh and we are proud to protect the rich diversity of marine species inhabiting our waters."
Rubaiyat Mansur of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project added: "The SoNG MPA supports an astonishing diversity of dolphins, porpoises and whales including species in need of immediate protection. Declaration of Bangladesh's first Marine Protected Area shows our country's commitment to saving its natural resources and wonders."
Spanning some 672 square miles (1,738 square kilometres) in size with a depth of more than 900 meters, the Swatch of No Ground Marine Protected Area is larger than Cape Cod Bay and includes waters at the head of the submarine canyon from which it gets its name.
WCS's Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project has worked along with the Government of Bangladesh since 2004 to ensure the long-term protection of the cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) in waters of Bangladesh through collaborative efforts with local communities. Pioneering work by WCS and local partners in these waters found large numbers of Irrawaddy dolphins, finless porpoises, Pacific humpback dolphins, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, spinner dolphins, and what may be a resident population of Bryde's whales.
Tapan Kumar Dey, Conservator of Forests, Wildlife Circle, stated: "Protection of threatened marine wildlife in Bangladesh, especially cetaceans, can serve as a global safety net to prevent species extinction. Measures taken to conserve cetaceans, sharks, and sea turtles will also benefit Bangladesh's coastal fishing communities by improving livelihoods and food security."
The creation of the SoNG MPA -- which borders the territorial waters of India -- will promote discussions with Bangladesh's neighbor on a potential transboundary protected area, which contains similar species richness facing the same threats such as entanglement in fishing gears and climate change.
"Marine protected areas that conserve cetaceans and other marine life are extremely important steps in saving vital marine ecosystems that support hundreds of thousands of people," said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Ocean Giants Program. "Safeguarding these species and natural resources will become even more important in the years to come, particularly due to the challenges of climate change."
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