International Whaling Conference Underway In Tonga

All waters in Tonga have been whale sanctuary since 1978: Deputy PM

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, April 4, 2017) – “All Tongan waters are declared a sanctuary for whales,” Tonga's Acting Prime Minister, Hon Siaosi Sovaleni said at the opening of an international "Whales in a Changing Ocean" conference today in Nuku’alofa.

“The ban against the hunting and killing of whales in Tongan waters remains in force,” he said. Tonga was declared a sanctuary for whales by King Tupou IV in 1978.

The high level three-day conference is focusing on the importance of conserving whales, with scientists and academics from around the world, speaking about the emergence of new threats to whales such as climate change, marine debris and pollution, noise, entanglement and by-catch in fishing gear.

Attending the conference are Samoa’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Hon Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Cook Islands Minister for Environment, Hon Kirian Turepu, Tonga’s Minister for Fisheries, Semisi Fakahau and Minister for Tourism, Hon Semisi Sika as well as other government officials and community, industry and development partners.

The meeting is part of a two-year campaign to protect Pacific whales led by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

SPREP Director General, Kosi Latu said at the opening that whales have a central place in Pacific Island culture with over half of the whales species found in the Pacific region.

“[Whales] are custodians of the ocean and are living indicators of the health of the ocean...What happens to whales  living in a polluted ocean will surely also happen to Pacific Islanders,” he said.

In Tonga and elsewhere in the Pacific, whales are ecologically, culturally and economically important playing a huge role in the tourism industry.

Whale watching

Whale watching and swimming injects millions into the Tongan economy every year and protecting them and practicing sustainable tourism is critical for the conservation of whales and their ecosystems.

Dr Nick Gales, Australia’s Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, a keynote presenter at the conference today said that whales play a crucial role in the ocean.

“Whales are important to marine ecosystems. They sustain marine ecosystems.”

He added that if they were to be extinct, the order of the cycle of marine life not only in the ocean but also to people would change.

‘Whales in a Changing Ocean’ conference is a precursor to the United Nations Ocean conference in New York in June where the ocean will be on the global stage. It will support the UN's Sustainable Development Goal 14 - to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Mr Latu said the outcome of the conference would be "taken to the UN meeting in various ways, most importantly through a declaration”. He expects governments at the meeting will consider and sign a joint declaration

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