Virginia CZM Program: 2015 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task Number:CZM logo

95.02

Grantee:

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

Project Title:

 Introductory Materials for Update of the Virginia Marine Mammal Conservation Plan

Project Description: 

The original Management Plan for Sea Turtles and Marine Mammals in Virginia was published in 1995 and was undertaken, in part, through a Virginia CZM Program grant.  The sea turtle component of the plan is currently being updated as a combined effort with the state of Maryland.  The same update needs to be completed for the marine mammal component of the original plan, which is lacking the latest information on the distribution, abundance and ecology of these species in Virginia and does not address new threats that have arisen since the writing of the original plan.  A great deal of additional data have been collected through previous grants from Virginia CZM to the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center for aerial surveys of marine mammals and additional data syntheses have been undertaken by a team led by Duke University on behalf of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO). Moreover, given the enormous expense and logistical difficulties associated with marine mammal research, monitoring and management, it is critical that new conservation actions are developed, prioritized and paired with measurable effectiveness measures to ensure that the future conservation and management of these species is conducted through an informed and productive planning process. 

Target species for inclusion in the Plan are:  harbor porpoise, Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, striped dolphin, saddleback (common) dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphin, Atlantic white-sided dolphin, Risso's dolphin, rough-toothed dolphin, short-finned pilot whale, long-finned pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, dwarf sperm whale, sperm whale, fin whale, minke whale, humpback whale, northern right whale, goosebeaked whale, dense-beaked whale, Cuvier's beaked whale, Gervais' beaked whale, true's beaked whale, blue whale, sei whale, Bryde's whale, West Indian manatee, gray seal, harbor seal, harp seal, and hooded seal. Of these species, the following seven are listed as state and federally endangered :

• Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) – State and federally endangered
• Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) – State and federally endangered
• Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) – State and federally endangered
• Northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) – State and federally endangered
• Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis) - State and federally endangered
• Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) - State and federally endangered
• Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus) - State and federally endangered

Updating a conservation plan that covers 30 marine species, most of which occur in offshore waters, is a difficult undertaking at best.  Priority will be given to endangered species and species with confirmed sightings in state waters. Capturing all the new information that has been gathered on the ecology of marine mammals since 1995, largely through technological advances in monitoring techniques, along with identifying new real and potential threats such as various types of offshore energy exploration and development, advanced offshore military training exercises and global climate change, will take considerable time and effort but is greatly aided by new data contained in MARCO’s Ocean Data Portal at http://portal.midatlanticocean.org/ .

The VDGIF will leverage its partnership with the Virginia Aquarium to complete the following sections of the Virginia Marine Mammal Conservation Plan which will collectively comprise the introductory component of the plan: 
1. Updated species descriptions that will include distribution, abundance estimates and life history parameters most relevant to Virginia. 
2. Current limiting factors and threats with a focus on those which are most relevant to Virginia.
3. Brief synopsis of existing legislation, regulations & Cooperative Agreements in Virginia.
4. Current marine mammal conservation efforts in Virginia.

This work will serve to greatly advance the “in-depth assessment” called for in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan should areas off the Virginia coast be identified as “Ecologically Rich Areas ” or be subject to proposed future development.  At the completion of this introductory material, the VDGIF, in partnership with the Virginia Aquarium, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, and other collaborators will develop conservation actions and effectiveness measures based on the most recent science on marine mammals that occur in Virginia and threats they currently face and are likely to encounter in the future.  This collaborative process has worked well in the development of the Virginia/Maryland Sea Turtle Conservation Plan.  Conservation actions to effect protections for these species in Virginia could include, but are not limited to: implementing statutory and/or regulatory changes through the VDGIF, Virginia Marine Resources Commission, or other regulatory entities in the Commonwealth: enhancing outreach and education efforts about marine mammals; improved communication and education of best practices for boaters, fishers and others likely to encounter marine mammals; and improved management of commercial and recreational fishing interactions with marine mammals.

Federal Funding:

$39,007.00

Project Contact:

Becky Gwynn; 804.829.6720; becky.gwynn@dgif.virginia.gov

Project Status:

10/1/16 - 3/31/17; Project Open

Final Product:

Introduction to the Virginia Marine Mammal Conservation Plan (PDF)

Project Summary:

The original Virginia Management Plan for Sea Turtles and Marine Mammals in Virginia was published in 1995 and was undertaken, in part, through a Virginia CZM Program grant.The sea turtle component of the plan is currently being updated as a combined effort with the state of Maryland.An update has now begun for the marine mammal component of the original plan, and includes 30 species of porpoises, dolphins, whales, seals, and manatees.The work completed in this task provides important background information to inform the development of the rest of the Plan and includes the latest information on the distribution, abundance and ecology of these species in Virginia.Much of the synthesized information came from projects that have been funded by Virginia’s Coastal Zone Management Program through the Virginia Aquarium and from data developed for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean’s Ocean Data Portal.Current limiting factors, as well as new threats to these species, are also described with a focus on those that are most relevant to Virginia.Finally, this introductory document summarizes existing legislation, regulations and cooperative agreements in Virginia that support conservation and management of marine mammals and includes a report of current marine mammal conservation efforts in the state.

 

The resulting publication, “Introduction to the Virginia Marine Mammal Conservation Plan (VAQF Scientific Report #2017-02; authored by A.M. Costidis, K.M. Phillips, S.G. Barco and R. Boettcher) will now be used by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), in partnership with the Virginia Aquarium, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, and other conservation partners, in the development of conservation actions and measures of success to guide marine mammal conservation in the Commonwealth for the next 10 years and beyond.Once the full Virginia Marine Mammal Conservation Plan has been completed, the VDGIF and other partners will make it available on their web sites and through other marine mammal conservation portals.

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:Laura.McKay@deq.virginia.gov

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to Virginia.Witmer@deq.virginia.gov

 

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000


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