On October 8, 2021, an all-Guyanese research team today completed the first extensive expedition and survey of Guyana’s marine area, which is meant to establish a baseline of Guyana’s large marine wildlife within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The team arrived on a catamaran at the Transport & Harbours Department wharf at 4:00 am where they were greeted by a small team of the project partners and the local media.
The Ocean Expedition is part of the EU funded Marine Spatial Planning project titled, “Promoting Integrated Ocean and Participatory governance in Guyana and Suriname: The Eastern Gate to the Caribbean”. Locally it has been implemented through a partnership lead by WWF-Guianas and the Protected Areas Commission (PAC). The project aims to significantly enhance the governance and protection of marine and coastal resources of Guyana through collaborative marine spatial planning processes with all ocean stakeholders and improving knowledge about the coastal and marine environment. The findings from the ocean expedition, along with the other project outputs, is expected to propel Guyana further along toward a comprehensive Marine Spatial Plan to contribute to improved marine protection and strengthened governance.
Donnette Streete, Director, Frontiers Department of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation posited “Guyana has in excess, 138, 000 km2 of exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and that space is a critical contributor and enabler to the overall economy of Guyana. Any project, therefore, aimed to enhance the governance and protection of marine and coastal resources of Guyana, improved knowledge of the coastal and marine environment, enhanced capacity of key stakeholders and informed marine spatial management, as this project aimed to do, will have many more spinoff benefits for this country.”
From the onset of the expedition, enduring rough seas, the team spotted the magnificent Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus). Over the six-day expedition the team also observed three rarely seen dolphin species including Pygmy Sperm Whale (Feresa alttenuata) [see video footage], numbering between 3-15 individuals. The team also spotted one of the four species of marine turtle, the Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), which are known to forage in Guyana’s waters offshore. Several species of birds were also observed throughout the six days including terns and boobies.
His Excellence Fernando Ponz Cantó, EU Ambassador to Suriname and Guyana stated, “I would like to commend the partners for organising this remarkable expedition at a time where both Suriname and Guyana have embarked on new economic paths in the oil sector. It is now more necessary than ever that these countries collaborate to protect their ocean space and ensure sustainable use of its resources.”
The Protected Areas Commission, Deputy Commissioner, Ms. Odacy Davis, expressed profound gratitude to the team for their commitment and professionalism in the conduct of the surveys: – “This expedition has allowed us to verify and document several important species which again show how biodiverse and naturally rich Guyana is – we should all be proud. This data will contribute to the marine spatial planning process which will inform decision making with regard to marine and coastal governance and conservation.”
“Our coastal and marine environment play an important role for all Guyanese life and livelihood,” Guyana’s Country Manager of WWF-Guianas, Aiesha Williams asserted: “Whether we live on the coast or in the hinterland, the coastal and marine environment are home to a range of species, that provide us with fish- a food source for many, support coastal protection, and a means for transport, travel and recreation. These are reasons for the urgent need for marine spatial planning and governance in Guyana marine and costal space, ensuring that all stakeholders have the opportunity to actively participate each step of the way, so that valuable nature will be preserved.”
While the ocean exploration has generated rarely document species and provides vital scientific data, it was also designed to create considerable excitement and appreciation for the coastal and marine environment among Guyanese. It is intended to raise awareness on the value of the coastal and marine ecosystems and the need for sustainable planning which fosters effective coastal and marine management and protection.
The 100% Guyanese research team was led by Sopheia Edghill, WWF-Guianas Marine Conservation Officer and Scientific Lead Researcher, Elford Liverpool, Fish Expert and Lecturer at University of Guyana, other team members were Samuel Benn, Ivana Thompson, Arianne Harris, Maria Fraser, Darell Fraser and Kevin Lutchman- young researchers and representatives of local agencies: – the PAC, Fisheries Department, MARAD, and Guyana Marine Conservation Society. And the support staff members of the team were Karen Gonsalves and Dewene Griffith, and with the Catamaran “Guyavoile” crew was Captain Gaetan Benis and Wallys Hascoet.
WWF-Guianas along with partners also led a similar ocean expedition in Suriname which concluded one week ago with another expedition team. WWF-Guianas, the Protected Areas Commission and the research team will publish the full results of ocean expedition later in October.