Organization for the Conservation of Cetaceans: Marine Sanctuary

OCC (Organisation for the Conservation of Cetaceans) is a small non-government organisation in Uruguay, South America, which focuses on marine conservation. In the last decade, OCC-Uruguay has identified the major threats to marine conservation along Uruguay’s Atlantic coast, and worked hard to establish both the legislative foundations, inter-institutional and public support necessary for change.

The Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary (created by law 19.128 in 2013) is Uruguay’s largest multi-use protected area. It will serve as a legal and awareness platform for the #OceanoSanos (#HealthyOceans) campaign that seeks to protect the country’s marine environment from destructive activities including the new development of a large Chinese-financed port. The project will obtain and evaluate official information relating to the port investment and other issues seriously affecting the health of our marine habitat: unsustainable and illegal fishing, traffic of megaships, by-catch, pollution. A lively media campaign, #OceanoSanos will begin to inform, raise awareness and involve the public, private and government sectors. The project will draw on marine protection laws and international agreements, with legal actions and sanctions if necessary to protect the Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary.

The issue of the Chinese port will draw public attention to the lack of compliance with important national legislation and international agreements for the marine protection, and the alarming reality of unsustainable fishing, exploitation of the marine resources, pollutant spills, the mortality of marine life through by-catch and ship-strikes, and the illegal hunting of sharks, turtles, pinnipeds and cetaceans. Using educational channels, media and social media, the public and many government sectors will be better informed and armed with the tools to help prevent development of the mega-port.

The law establishing Uruguay’s Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary, which won a historic and majority Parliamentary vote, was achieved by OCC-Uruguay through similar actions and with the direct presence of school children in Parliament. There is political will and public concern to address this latest threat to our marine environment, and this project will help leverage that interest into positive action.

Although the Sanctuary lacks a management plan, it serves as a framework and platform to generate legal protection, mitigation, contingency and compensation actions for the protection of several key threatened marine ecosystem species. Whales and dolphins are true flagship species, and Uruguay waters are a sanctuary for the southern right whale and other cetaceans, such as the franciscana dolphin (Pontoporia sp.), which are included in the 2008 IUCN Red List, the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS), and are considered in other international agreements such as the International Convention on Trafficking in Endangered Species (CITES) and International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The project will work with international allies, generate a strong communication plan with government and media interviews, produce flyers, posters and other printed material aimed at the general public, and use online platforms and social media for short videos and other messaging.


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