NUKU’ALOFA-April 6: 3.05pm (Environment): Tonga was one of the 11 countries that have signed the ‘Pacific Islands Year of Whale Declaration 2016-2017’ at the ‘Whales In a Changing Ocean’ conference here at the Tanoa Dateline International Hotel in Nuku’alofa today.
The Minister of Fisheries, Hon Semisi Fakahau signed the document on behalf of the Island Kingdom, in front of the meeting delegates and participants.
The Declaration signing was the major highlight of the three-day event, with the document now available for the Oceania team to take to the United Nations Oceans Conference in June.
Other countries that joined Tonga in signing the Declaration were Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tokelau and Tuvalu .
Niue, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, French Polynesia and the United States of America were some of the countries that have not signed, although they were represented at the conference.
The Declaration focuses on, amongst other things,
- requestingthe experts at the Whales in a Changing Ocean conference to work with the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) to develop a draft Whale and Dolphin Action Plan for their review and endorsement at the SPREP Annual Meeting in September 2017;
- requesting SPREP to engage with Pacific islands and territories and others to identify key capacity development needs for the conservation of whales, for consideration in the 2018-2023 Whale and Dolphin Action Plan;
- to commit the respective Pacific governments to collaborations with other Pacific islands and territories to provide a secure future for whales in the Pacific islands region.
Hon Fakahau, who helped in writing up the Royal Proclamation on Whales by the late King, His Majesty King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV in 1978, said the Declaration was another milestone for Tonga and the region.
SPREP’s Director General Mr Kosi Latu thanked all the countries who have signed and urged those who have not to sign up before the June UN Oceans Conference.
He said the document will be something the regional team can take to that conference.
In his closing remarks, Mr Latu thanked the Kingdom of Tonga and Government for hosting the three-day conference.
He also thanked all the delegates and participants for their input during the three days.
Deputy Prime Minister Hon Siaosi Sovaleni had chaired the meeting on Day 1 and part of Day 2 before leaving for the Defense Ministers’ meeting in New Zealand.
Hon Fakahau continued the chairmanship up to the final acts today.
Other signatories for the different countries were: Australia – Suzie Heaton, Cook Islands – Hon Kiriau Turepu, Fiji – Joshua Wycliffe, New Zealand – Amy Laurenson, New Caledonia – Soumynie Kardadiwijira, Palau – Percy Recheluul, PNG – Michael Bongro, Samoa – Hon Fiame Mataafa, Tokelau – Mikaele Fatia and Tuvalu – Fakavae Taumia.
Here is the text of the Declaration:
We, the undersigned Ministers and government officials from Pacific Islands and Territories gathered at the Whales in a Changing Ocean conference held in Nuku’alofa, Kingdom of Tonga, 4-6 April 2017, to celebrate the Year of the Whale in the Pacific Islands and Territories:
CONSCIOUS of the deep cultural relationship, including traditional knowledge, between whales and Pacific peoples;
RECALLING that many species of large whales that overwinter in Pacific islands breeding grounds were reduced to near-extinction by industrial whaling fleets in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries;
AWARE that some populations of these species are now recovering in numbers, thanks to the global moratorium on commercial whaling imposed and maintained by the International Whaling Commission;
GRATEFUL that many Pacific island countries and territories have established legislation, whale sanctuaries, and other commitments which add to the regional protection of whales;
NOTING that for many Pacific island countries and territories, the presence of whales in their waters is an important cultural resource, and that well-managed whale-watching activities can promote sustainable economic benefits;
AWARE also that recovering populations of whales in the Pacific island countries and territories are now at risk from an emerging range of new threats, including climate change, entanglement in marine debris, by-catch in fishing operations, noise and pollution;
ENDORSING the Year of the Whale theme that whales are living sentinels that reflect and contribute to the health of our oceans;
GRATEFULLY ACKNOWLEDGING the generous hospitality of the Government of Tonga and the excellent arrangements provided to host the Whales in a Changing Ocean conference;
ACKNOWLEDGING the contributions of regional and international agencies, IGOs, NGOs, private sector and others to promote the recovery of whale populations;
RECOGNISE that lost and abandoned fishing gear is one of the most harmful forms of marine debris for whales, and that accelerated action to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution is needed;
COMMEND SPREP’s commitment to the production of a Whale and Dolphin Action Plan to provide a framework for conservation activities in the Pacific islands region 2018-2023;
REQUEST the experts at the Whales in a Changing Ocean conference to work with SPREP to develop a draft Whale and Dolphin Action Plan for their review and endorsement at the SPREP Annual Meeting in September 2017;
REQUEST SPREP to engage with Pacific islands and territories and others to identify key capacity development needs for the conservation of whales, for consideration in the 2018-2023 Whale and Dolphin Action Plan;
COMMIT our governments to collaborations with other Pacific islands and territories to provide a secure future for whales in the Pacific islands region;
WELCOME the engagement and contribution of all stakeholders in this endeavour, including IGOs, NGOs, academia, the private sector, civil society and local communities;
WELCOME new partnerships including multilateral organisations, to implement voluntary commitments by Pacific islands and territories to meet the aspirations of this Declaration.