Pacific Island Countries Sign New Agreement
Pacific Island Countries Sign New Agreement to Conserve Whales and Dolphins and their Habitats
Noumea, 15 September - A new international framework to conserve Pacific Island whales and dolphins (cetaceans) and their habitats came into effect today. Nine Pacific Island Countries (PICs) signed the agreement in Noumea, New Caledonia. The signing ceremony took place during the SPREP Environment Ministers Meeting.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the Conservation of Cetaceans and their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region now provides an institutional umbrella for PICs to work more closely together on cetacean issues throughout the region. It was negotiated under the auspices of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), in close collaboration with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) based in Apia, Samoa.
The following countries and territories signed the MoU: Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa and Vanuatu. Contracting parties to CMS are: Australia, Cook Islands, France, New Zealand and Samoa.
The MoU will remain open for signature indefinitely and other Pacific Island Countries are expected to sign it in the near future. Three additional PICs had earlier announced their intention to sign the MoU shortly after their internal processes were completed.
By signing the MoU, the PICs agreed to cooperate and reinforce efforts to protect and conserve all cetaceans that occur in the Pacific Islands Region, including the coastal and high seas habitats of these magnificent marine mammals. The accompanying Action Plan asks signatories to reduce threats; respond to strandings and entanglements; and to protect habitat, including migratory corridors. Cooperation, information exchange, education and public awareness activities are also significant components of the Action Plan. In addition, signatories need to undertake more training, research and monitoring. Working towards sustainable and responsible cetacean-based tourism is another objective.
Robert Hepworth, the CMS Executive Secretary said: “With this new MoU and Action Plan, the region has confirmed its leading role in conserving whales and dolphins. The MoU will provide a lasting basis for collaboration in the vital Pacific region. It is also a model for similar agreements which CMS is encouraging between other states to fill in the gaps in marine mammal protection right around the world.”
Asterio Takesy, the SPREP Executive Director said: “Healthy marine environments are fundamental to the Pacific Islands’ culture, heritage and livelihoods. This MoU is a strong recognition of the region’s leadership and long-standing efforts to work together to conserve the diversity of marine life, of which whales and dolphins are a significant part. The MoU’s entry into effect is very timely and coincides with SPREP’s review of its Whale and Dolphin Action Plan. The Action Plan will form an integral part of the MoU.”
Lyle Glowka, CMS Agreements Officer, added: “The MoU is CMS’s first initiative in the Pacific Islands Region. We have been particularly pleased with the very close working relationship that has developed with SPREP over the last three years since work on the MoU was launched. We will build on this experience for future collaborative activities involving other migratory species important to the region, including marine turtles and dugongs.”
Whales and dolphins have immense cultural significance to communities throughout the Pacific. They have also developed into aesthetic icons particularly within eco-tourism circles. Like dugongs, whales and dolphins have evolved over the course of 50 million years, but whale populations have crashed dramatically and historical data attributes it to the growth of whaling in the Pacific in the last century to fulfil commercial and traditional purposes.
Notions to develop the MoU were first sounded in 2004 at the joint workshop on CMS and Marine Mammal Conservation, held in Apia, Samoa. At that meeting, Samoa agreed to lead a drafting group that went on to elaborate the MoU. The group met in Nadi, Fiji, in 2005. The collaborative effort between SPREP and the CMS Secretariat to mutually work on the framework was endorsed in 2005 by the 16th SPREP Meeting. Today’s SPREP Meeting of Environment Ministers took note of the MoU’s entry into effect and encouraged the remaining PICs to sign the MoU in the near future.