Workshop discuss protection of endangered species

Environment Chief Executive Officer Paula Ma’u speaking at the opening ceremony of the CITES workshop in Nuku’alofa. Photo: ENVIRO NEWS

Nuku’alofa – June 17, 2019: 3.55pm (Enviro News): Government is keen to work with all partners and stakeholders in ensuring that plants and birds that are classified as endangered species in the Kingdom are protected.

The Chief Executive Officer of Environment (MEIDECC), Mr Paula Ma’u, made the comments this morning while opening the three day “Strenthening implementation of CITES in Tonga” workshop currently being held at the Tanoa Dateline International Hotel in Nuku’alofa.

Guests, facilitators and participants at the CITES workshop at the Tanoa Dateline hotel
in Nuku’alofa this morning. Photo: ENVIRO NEWS

CITES is a global agreement between governments to regulate or ban international trade in species under threat.  It is one of the largest and oldest conservation and sustainable use agreements in existence.  Participation is voluntary, and countries that have agreed to be bound by the Convention are known as Parties.  

Tonga became the 183rd Party to the Convention in 2016, and since joining, there has been a need to review Tonga’s existing legislation and policy frameworks to meet the requirements of the Convention.  This also includes strengthening the collaboration across the various Government, Non-Governmental Organisation and Private Sectors to implement and meet the obligations as a Party.

“As a new Party, we have requested the assistance from the Secretariat through a national workshop that would bring you all together, to identify your respective roles and responsibilities, raise awareness on the Convention, reporting requirements, have in place permits and certificates, and so forth,” Mr Ma’u told participants.

“This workshop would provide an opportunity to note potential challenges from yourselves in implementing the Convention and a way forward to address these issues.

“It is with great pleasure to welcome you all this morning to Tonga’s initial national workshop on the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species and Wild Fauna and Flora, also known as CITES.”

Mr Ma’u said that implementing CITES, as in other various obligations, is always a challenge with the small sized government departments and the capacity remains a critical issue.

“CITES is normally, but a small part of the wide range of environmental and conservation responsibilities of a small number of government officials.  Often just one or two people deals with all the Multilateral Environmental Agreements, and staff turnover rates are often high in small public services, such as ours.  However, Tonga has been working collaboratively with environment, fisheries, police, customs in implementing our various obligations, and I’m sure we will do the same with implementing CITES,” Mr Ma’u added.

He thanked the New Zealand Management Authority for their expert advise and help, while adding that New Zealand and Tonga have started discussions on CITES implementation, with Tonga considering an invitation to visit New Zealand to view implementation processes and discuss ways Tonga’s CITES implementation can be further supported. 

The workshop is being facilitated by the Secretariat if the Pacific Environment Programme (SPREP), in conjunction with other partners such as the CITES Secretariat, The PEWS Charitable Trust, the Department of Conservation of New Zealand and the Gulf Elasmo Project.

SPREP’s Juney Ward, who is also the CITES Communication Officer, said the workshop is an important one.

SPREP’s Juney Ward speaking at the opening of the CITES workshop this morning

“It demonstrates Tonga’s commitment to protect its wildlife from the impacts of unsustainable international trade,” she said.

She said the involvement of various stakeholders in the workshop will help everyone know the critical role and responsibilities they play in ensuring the protection of Tonga’s wildlife, “especially those that are considered endangered and vulnerable”.

The CITES Secretariat was also represented at the meeting.

Haruko Okusu said the workshop is a pioneering event, as it is the first time the CITES Secretariat has ever visited the kingdom of Tonga.  

“We would like to sincerely thank the Government of Tonga, and especially the Ministries of Environment and Fisheries, for hosting this meeting, and making this visit a reality,” she said.

She said CITES is the preeminent global legal instrument for regulating international trade in wildlife. It serves to both intercept and combat illegal trade, and to facilitate legal, sustainable and traceable trade. 

Ms Haruko said according to available information, Tonga is home to over 400 CITES-listed species. 

CITES Secretariat Haruko Okusu speaking at the opening ceremony earlier today.

“A majority of these are corals and other marine species, but there are also a number of reptiles, birds and plants that are regulated by the Convention. Some of these are traded actively, with an international demand for exotic and interesting species of animals and plants,” she said. 

She added that legal and sustainable trade can be beneficial for conservation of these species, and may support the livelihoods and economies of Tonga. However, on the other hand, illegal and unsustainable trade can pose a serious risk to the species, people and business.  

“It is for this reason that the Secretariat is here today, in cooperation with SPREP and others, to convene a national workshop dedicated to bringing awareness and understanding on the roles and responsibilities you have in making sure that international trade of these wildlife is not exploited unsustainably, as the relevant government authorities implementing CITES in the country.

“The workshop also comes at a timely moment, as we gear ourselves for our next triennial meeting, CoP18, which will be held at the end of August this year.  This will be the first CoP meeting that Tonga will participate as a Party, and we very much look forward to your active engagement in the negotiations.”

Participants at the CITES workshop in Nuku’alofa this morning.

Over the next three days, the workshop will go through the essential elements of the Convention, with a focus on putting in place CITES requirements to national legislation and on identifying marine specimens in trade.

The workshop has attracted senior officials from the Department of Environment, Department of Fisheries and the Department of Geology (Lands and Survey), Customs, Ministry of Agriculture, with other representatives from Tourism, non government organisations and businesses.

Fisheries Chief Executive Officer Dr. Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi was also a guest at the opening ceremony.

The workshop will close on Wednesday afternoon.

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