APIA, Samoa (PINA, Feb. 23) - Fisheries and conservation officers from a dozen Pacific countries are in Apia this week to plan further efforts to protect threatened marine turtles and mammals.

Their five-day meeting is hosted by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

Job Opu, SPREP’s Marine Species Officer, said with turtle numbers now in decline throughout the world’s biggest ocean, the need for firmer measures is more important.

Tag recoveries show that turtle migration reaches the shores of 10 SPREP countries.

But Opu said while some national laws currently allow turtles to be harvested for traditional reasons, many people still kill turtles to sell the meat as a delicacy.

Their shells fetch premium prices and are used to produce all manner of traditional crafts, Opu said.

"Ideally, SPREP really needs the support of its members to set up more reserves for turtles and marine mammals, and to look at ways to eliminate other threats," Opu added.

These include over harvesting, devastation of breeding grounds, and the destruction caused by plastics, pollutants, and by-catches.

The Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga have already declared their exclusive economic zones as marine sanctuaries.

This came after several fruitless attempts at the International Whaling Commission to get the go ahead for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary to be established.

Opu said: "What we expect from these meetings are action strategies for the next three years, targeting priorities for marine species conservation activities in the South Pacific. In particular, an agreed work plan we can implement for both regional and in-country activities down the line."

February 24, 2003

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