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SIC Cetacean Programme Under Development

The Advisory Committee for the Monitoring of the Special SIC Cetaceans 7Whales7 Programme met recently for the first time, with the Regional Secretary for the Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change, to begin the process of preparing the document that will create rules and competences for the new SIC Cetacean Programme. According to a spokesperson, the programme should take 18 months to create. This 1st meeting included a presentation outlining the objectives of the Programme, defining responsibilities and work methodologies.

The Sítio Cetáceos da Madeira was first proposed to the European Commission in 2017 to integrate the Natura 2000 Network, being classified as a Site of Community Importance, under the Habitats Directive. After approval and integration in the Natura 2000 Network, the Government has six years to develop its Special Programme which should establish monitoring and if required specific protection measures for individual species.

To this end, in June 2020, a Consultative Commission for Monitoring the Elaboration of the Programme was created.

What is SIC Cetaceans?

SIC Cetáceos is the first area in Portugal designed specifically for the protection of whales, dolphins, and other vertebrates such as turtles and the fur seal (Monk Seal). Due to their characteristics, the seas of the Region boast a high diversity of species, being an ecological, cultural and socio-economic asset that must be conserved. The archipelago is an important area for highly mobile marine species, such as cetaceans, constituting a frequent crossing point for animals living in the Atlantic or as their seasonal migration destination.

The Regional Government felt the need to create a classified area that enhances the monitoring of cetaceans, increases scientific knowledge about them and ensures compatibility with the main economic-maritime activities.

The delineation of this area was carried out in accordance with strict scientific criteria, as well as information collected by the Whale Museum, over two LIFE projects

The SIC Cetáceos area covers all marine waters around Madeira Island, the Desertas Islands  and Porto Santo Island: the interior limit is 1 mile from the coast; the outer limit follows the bathymetric of 2500 meters, with an area of ​​approximately 682 thousand hectares.

The creation of SIC Cetáceos does not imply the end of or limitation of human activities in the area in question: studies show that the fishing equipment used in the archipelago has no relevant impact on cetaceans and is sustainable: also, traditional and artisanal practices, selective and non-general fishing have very little impact on cetaceans. The main fishing activities (tuna and swordfish) take place in deep waters and away from the coast. As for maritime-tourist activities, local legislation already provides guarantees the safeguarding these mammals. The creation of SIC Cetáceos will be an asset in promoting Madeira and Porto Santo as desirable destinations and will bring added value to the tourist product provided by maritime-tourist activities.

Samantha Gannon

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