The distribution and abundance of marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles, rays and sharks are indicators of the health of ecosystems. They are therefore key elements for the development and implementation of a marine biodiversity conservation strategy.
Initiated by the Agency for Marine Protected Areas, then continued by the French Biodiversity Agency (AFB) in 2017, REMMOA is a monitoring campaign of pelagic megafauna throughout French overseas waters by aerial observation. The program started in the French West Indies in February 2008.
The main objectives of the REMMOA surveys are to produce instantaneous reports on the distribution and abundance of animals visible at the surface, and the identification of priority conservation areas. These surveys can identify the habitats associated with the highest densities and diversity of animals, and also the distribution of human activities (fishing, maritime traffic, waste).
The Agoa Sanctuary relies on the data collected by REMMOA, together with data collected during censuses (by boat and acoustic monitoring) and opportunistic data to guide its management and conservation measures.
An appropriate method
Aerial observation is the method chosen for the REMMOA programme. Unlike boat observation, it can cover large areas in a short period of time. It thus allows to establish a picture of the distribution of large open-sea fauna, in a given region and at a specific time of the year. The implementation of this method is flexible, depending on wind and sea conditions, on which the quality of observations depends.
Marine mammals aerial surveys off the French West Indies...
February/March 2008: This was the programme’s first survey and covered the entire Agoa Sanctuary. It enabled to refine the protocol by identifying the importance of scheduling monitoring flights during the period of the year when the winds are weakest. Despite the unfavourable observation conditions, it provided useful information on the distribution of marine mammals.
September/October 2017: Scheduled this time during the wet season, the survey extended its overflight area to Dominica and Sint-Marteen, Saba, and St. Eustatius.
...and their implementation
The French Biodiversity Agency (AFB, now OFB) supervised the carrying out of these surveys and entrusted the implementation and scientific management to the PELAGIS Observatory of the University of La Rochelle. Observation relies on networks of local stakeholders, made up of NGOs and institutions locally involved in the study and conservation of marine megafauna. For the West Indies, members of the Guadeloupean association Evasion Tropicale and of the Martinique association La Sepanmar participated in the surveys.
Banner photo credit: Frank Mazéas