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New Zealand Welcomes Cook Islands Whale Sanctuary

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and Conservation Minister Sandra Lee today welcomed the decision by the Cook Islands to give legal protection to whales within the Cook's Exclusive Economic Zone.

The Cook Islands Cabinet has approved a declaration that the country's EEZ will now serve as a "sanctuary for all whales". The huge sanctuary will provide opportunities for non-lethal scientific research and collaboration, information exchange, education and awareness initiatives.

"New Zealand sees this action by the Cook Islands as being in the best spirit of marine conservation and a valuable means for further development of eco-tourism which will be an increasingly important factor in the economic well-being of the South Pacific," said Miss Clark and Ms Lee.

"The two million square kilometres covered by the Cook Islands whale sanctuary will help ensure the great whales remain a living part of South Pacific marine ecosystems. It is a win-win situation for both the Cook Islands and the great whales," they said.

"New Zealand encourages other Pacific Island countries to consider the benefits of declaring their exclusive economic zones whale sanctuaries. Both New Zealand and Australia already have a similar status for their EEZs through domestic initiatives; in New Zealand's case, through the Marine Mammals Protection Act.

"As Pacific Island countries, we need to look at the alternatives open to us to ensure the protection of the whales that come into the South Pacific to breed from their Antarctic feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary."

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Conservation Minister Sandra Lee said she was very grateful for the strong support from the Cook Islands for a joint New Zealand-Australia bid to have the International Whaling Commission create a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary.

"The Cook Islands made an important and influential contribution to the regional meeting to promote whale conservation that was held in Apia, Samoa, in April. That meeting gave New Zealand and Australia a mandate to advance the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary at the IWC meeting held in London in July," Ms Lee said.

"It is clear that the affection New Zealanders have for living whales is also shared by the people of the Cook Islands.

"The future of the South Pacific lies not in the killing of marine mammals but in protecting them as a living part of the natural inheritance we pass on to our children. By protecting the great whales and by ensuring the health of our marine ecosystems generally, we will reap benefits through nature tourism.

"In a world that is increasingly degraded and polluted, we can create a haven for nature and people in the South Pacific by putting conservation and environmental protection top of our agenda," said Ms Lee. "By working together we can extend the protection of whales across much of the South Pacific through our Exclusive Economic Zones."


September 2001

RECOGNIZING that whaling in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries has dramatically reduced whale populations especially in the Southern Hemisphere;

APPRECIATING FURTHER that the International Whaling Commission recognizes that there is clear scientific evidence that in the South Pacific region many of the great whale species remain severely depleted in numbers;

ACKNOWLEDGING that it is a well-established scientific principle that, to protect migratory species, it is necessary to protect them not only in their feeding areas and migratory routes but also in their breeding grounds;

REAFFIRMING Principle 2 of the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment adopted at Stockholm in 1972 that “the natural resources of the earth, including the air, water, land, flora and fauna and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, must be safeguarded for the benefit of present and future generations through careful planning or management, as appropriate”;

RECOGNIZING the right of a coastal State under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to strictly prohibit, limit or regulate the exploitation of marine mammals;

NOTING that the Forum Leaders at the 32nd Pacific Islands Forum Meeting held in August 2001 recalled their decision at their 2000 meeting calling for the progressing of a proposal on a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary and noted the outcome of the meeting convened by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme in April 2001 in Apia to advance the proposal;

RECALLING that at the 32nd Pacific Islands Forum Meeting the Leaders in noting the decision of the International Whaling Commission and the outcomes of the Apia meeting, endorsed the Apia Statement and agreed to pursue the objectives of the proposed South Pacific Whale Sanctuary through national, regional and international actions;

BEARING IN MIND that Forum Leaders also noted that some Forum members have taken steps to effect protection of whales within their national Exclusive Economic Zones and that other member countries might wish to consider similar action, in which case appropriate technical support could be made available;

NOTING also the Regional Marine Mammals Conservation Programme being currently undertaken by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme and, in particular, the benefits in the sharing of information across the region; and

REAFFIRMING the Government of the Cook Islands’ long standing position against whaling and in recognition of the fact that sanctuaries are the most effective conservation, research and management measure for whales;


1. The exclusive economic zone of the Cook Islands a Sanctuary for all whales.
2. The purpose of the Sanctuary is to contribute towards the protection of whales by prohibiting the deliberate take of whales.
3. Any accidental capture of or injury to a whale during fishing operations and the utilization of stranded whale carcasses in the exclusive economic zone will require to be reported to the Ministry of Marine Resources.
4. The creation of a whale sanctuary in the Cook Islands is a proactive management measure that will support the following activities:

i. Non-lethal scientific research;
ii. Collaboration for information exchange, education and awareness initiatives;
iii. Monitoring of whales;
iv. Identification of future threats to whales and appropriate action to counter those threats; and
v. Development of mechanisms for the regular evaluation of management programmes in terms of appropriate objectives.

SIGNED BY the Minister of Marine Resources and Foreign Affairs and Immigration on behalf of the Government of the Cook Islands.

____________________ September 2001

Hon. Dr Robert Woonton Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of Marine Resources


From PACNEWS, Fri 21 Sept 2001

Cook Islands formally declares whale sanctuary

21 SEPTEMBER 2001 RAROTONGA (Pacnews) ---- The Cook Islands government has formally declared a whale sanctuary covering the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The sanctuary covers two million square kilometres of the central South Pacific Ocean and is believed to be the largest whale sanctuary yet declared by an individual government in waters under its jurisdiction.

Deputy Prime Minister Dr Robert Woonton said yesterday the declaration was in line with the 1989’s Marine Resource Act, which did not allow fishing for marine mammals.

“The new whale sanctuary is within the spirit of that act,” he said.

Dr Woonton said the declaration of the sanctuary was a reflection of the high esteem in which Polynesian peoples hold whales.

“We have lived peacefully alongside whales for many centuries,” he said. “But the devastation wrought by the commercial whaling fleets of the last century has left us with only a few animals now returning to their traditional South Pacific breeding grounds each winter.

“For the past two years, Pacific Island nations have appealed to the International Whaling Commission to establish a whale sanctuary for our region, to secure the future for these leviathans, but we have been thwarted by the opposition of the whaling countries and their supporters.

“If the nations of the South Pacific wish to protect the breeding grounds, which are so critical to the recovery of our depleted whale populations, then clearly we shall have to take matters into our own hands.

“In establishing the Cook Islands Whale Sanctuary, we hope to encourage our friends and neighbours in the South Pacific to take similar actions.”

The news was greeted with delight by whale researcher Nan Hauser yesterday.

“That’s just great news,” she said. “It was my birthday on Tuesday – this couldn’t have come at a better time.”…PACNEWS (ENDS)

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