A Cost-Effective Marine-Mammal Rapid-Assessment Protocol to Fill Knowledge Gaps and Target Conservation Activities in Tanzanian Coastal Waters
The greatest numbers of at-risk marine mammals populate the coastal waters of developing nations. However, basic information such as species presence or absence is lacking along tens of thousands of kilometers of coastline, so important conservation issues often are overlooked. Robust baseline data on marine mammal communities and threats across vast areas must be generated. Such research is essential for identifying and prioritizing species and locations where there may be a need for protection measures or more intensive study.
Gillian Braulik’s Pew Fellows project will address this challenge by designing a rapid assessment protocol. This will allow broad-scale spatial data on marine mammal populations to be quickly generated at national or regional levels. Braulik will collect and analyze information on the status of cetaceans (including whales, dolphins, and porpoises) and sirenians (including the dugong) in the coastal waters of mainland Tanzania using three methods. First she will search current and historical publications, examine museums for skeletal remains, interview dive operators and sport fishermen, consult with nongovernmental organizations engaged in marine conservation, and conduct interviews at selected coastal villages and ports to understand existing knowledge about marine mammals. She will then conduct boat-based visual and acoustic surveys. Finally, she will deploy a team of shoreline observers to systematically survey sections of the Tanzanian coastline to increase detection of rare species and to provide information on mortality and potential threats. The information gathered will help target research and critical conservation efforts in this potentially significant but poorly understood area. Braulik will also work to train local biologists and wildlife managers in Tanzania on biological survey methods, and marine mammal identification and conservation issues. Her model will then be used as a basis for identifying global priority zones where marine mammal rapid assessment can be applied.