Optimizing cetacean conservation by habitat-use based spatial planning and marine park management in Wakatobi, Indonesia

Motivation

Cetaceans are important top predators of the marine food chain and their presence indicates a healthy marine environment. However, several species of cetaceans are endangered. During their broad migration across the oceans, they encounter many risks, and due to their relative slow growth and reproduction their populations do not easily recover. Although officially most of the cetacean species are protected by international and national regulations, in reality they are not because their migration routs are hardly considered. Migration paths of cetaceans therefore also have to be incorporated in provincial Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) in Indonesia, but at the moment no province has finished their MSP yet. The lack of information about their habitat requirements and threats make incorporation of migration routes in MSP maps a challenge. This PhD project aims at filling this knowledge gap of habitat preference and use by cetaceans to provide better understanding of their biology and ecology for conservational purposes.

Research Questions

  • What cetacean species can be found in Wakatobi Indonesia, and what is their spatial distribution and density; What habitats and potential ecological corridors do they use?
  • What are the environmental characteristics that determine the spatial distribution and habitat use of cetaceans in Wakatobi; How do marine resource use by humans influence the spatial distribution?
  • Are selected cetaceans in Wakatobi resident or only migrating: how long do individual animals stay in the area and do they use it?
  • How can the newly obtained information be used to optimize park management, zoning spatial planning and cetacean conservation?

Approach and Methods

Scientific sighting data collected from 2004 to 2014 will be combined with ecological niche factor analysis (ENFA) to model their spatial distribution (Part 1). By tracking individuals of selected cetacean species, the use they make of the habitat will be determined (Part 2). All data also will be analyzed for cetacean species biodiversity, spatial distribution, seasonal density and their potential ecological corridors (Part 3). The results will be combined with data of marine resource use by humans to identify possible conservation gaps of the current conservation system, especially regarding the cetacean migration paths (Part 4). Advise for improvement of park management will also be formulated.

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