Indus River Canyon designated as Arabian Sea’s largest MPA

Press release issued by WWF  Pakistan on January 6th, 2018:


Boundaries of the new Indus River Canyon MPA, note the overlap with recent humpback whale sightings reported by WWF’s crew-based observer programme (right) and Soviet whale catches from the 1960’s (below)

Karachi, January 6: The Ministry of Climate Change (MoCC), Government of Pakistan declared the Indus River Canyon (Exclusive Economic Zone) as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) through notification No. 9-5/2001 (BD) on Saturday. This is the second Marine Protected Area in Pakistan after Astola Island, which was notified on 15 June 2017 by the Government of Balochistan. WWF-Pakistan congratulated Syed Abu Ahmad Akif, Federal Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change for taking proactive action in declaring the Indus River Canyon Marine Protected Area (IRCMPA). The area covers 27,607 square kilometres, thus being the largest MPA of the Arabian Sea.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), to which Pakistan is a signatory, requires nations under Article 2 to designate, regulate and manage geographically defined areas (protected areas) to achieve specific conservation objectives. By declaring the Indus River Canyon Marine Protected Area, Pakistan has achieved compliance to Aichi Target 11, which requires that by 2020 at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas of a country are conserved. Astola Island MPA has an area of 400 square kilometres, thus by declaring Indus River Canyon as a Marine Protected Area Pakistan has achieved 11.2 % of Aichi Target 11 of its sea area as MPAs.

According to Muhammad Moazzam Khan, Technical Advisor (Marine Fisheries), the Indus River Canyon is a deep fissure located about 150 km southeast of Karachi in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Pakistan and southwest off the mouth of the Indus River. It extends in the offshore waters with a maximum depth of about 1,800 m. The Indus Canyon has unique physical features, with sloping margins falling steeply to a depth of 1,800 m and then entering the deep Arabian Sea Basin. The Indus Swatch is known to be rich in biodiversity including cetaceans, sharks, fish and different species of invertebrates. It is an important fishing ground especially for large sharks whose population has been dwindling due to uncontrolled fishing practices.

The Indus River Canyon MPA is home to rich mega fauna including whales and dolphins. It is reported that about 19 species of cetaceans such as baleen whales, toothed whales, and other whales and porpoises are known from the area. Some species including rough toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis) and striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) are only reported from this area along Pakistan’s coast. The Longman’s beaked whale (Indopacetus pacificus) has also been also been found here. This area was an important hunting ground for Russian whaling fleets, which hunted 164 Arabian humpback whales in 1966 from this area. Most of the hunted females were observed to be pregnant indicating that this area is an important breeding ground of these rare whales. In addition, this area was also an important feeding ground for these whales as most hunted whales contained sardines and pelagic shrimps in their stomachs; which indicates richness in productivity of IRCMPA. Aside from the diversified cetacean and elasmobranch (sharks) fauna, the Indus River Canyon is known to have rich fisheries resources.

Khan further pointed out that the declaration of the Indus River Canyon as an MPA ensures that the biodiversity of the area will be conserved. It will also ensure that protected, threatened and endangered species such as crustaceans, coral, mammals, sharks, turtles, whales, and mobulids will be conserved. Moreover, whale sharks, sunfish, guitarfish and seabirds will not be harvested or killed. ‘This will ensure conservation of these species whose population is drastically declining along the coast of Pakistan,’ he added.

 While, Dr. Babar Khan, Regional Head (Sindh and Balochistan), WWF-Pakistan appreciated the efforts of the Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change, Government of Pakistan in the declaration of the Indus River Canyon Marine Protected Area. WWF considers that this initiative will help protect marine ecosystems, processes, habitats, and species, which can contribute to the restoration and replenishment of resources for social, economic, and cultural enrichment.  He further added that WWF works around the world to ensure that critical habitats are protected and restored, and continue to provide multiple benefits to people and livelihoods. ‘WWF-Pakistan started to collect information about the Indus River Canyon in 2012 especially about shark, cetaceans and other animals, which helped highlight the area’s rich biodiversity and the critical need for conservation of this area, ’ he added.

ASWN Members and Soviet catches3

Catch locations of whales taken by the Soviets in 1964-66.  Note the density of yellow stars and blue circles depicting humpback and blue whales in the Indus River Canyon area off the coast of Pakistan – recently declared as an MPA.

Media coverage of this in Pakistan so far includes:

The News (08/01/2018)

The Daily Times (07/01/208)

The News (11/01/2018)

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