04th April, 2017 The Acting Prime Minister and Minister for MEIDECC and Foreign Affairs Hon. Siaosi Sovaleni officially opened the first regional conference on whales this morning at Tanoa International Dateline Hotel.
The three-day event is based on the theme‘Whales in a Changing Ocean’ brings together political decision-makers, community, scientists to discuss emerging threats to Pacific whales and find new ways of collaborating and investigate future research and legislative needs.
Speaking to more than 140 guests Hon Sovaleni in his keynote address stated that the Tongan government in the past 40 years has been in the front line to protect and conserve whales in the South Pacific.
Hon Sovaleni told the gathering that after nearly 80 years of whale hunting in Tonga, it was evident that whales in our islands were close to extinction.
“Since the Royal decree of 1978 by His Majesty King Tupou IV, which banned the hunting of whales in Tongan waters (four years before the global moratorium on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission as DG of SPREP) the Tongan breeding populations have recovered from less than 50 to more than 2,000 whales – it is said this is one of the world’s great conservation success stories.”
He stated that the Royal decree was further supported by the introduction of the Fisheries Act 1989 which called for the ban of killing cetacean animals that included whales and dolphins and the enactment of the Whale Watching and Swimming Act in 2009.
He explained that Tonga has been collaborating with SPREP, SPC and international partners to provide scientific research and advisory capacity towards the conservation of the cetaceans’ mammals and their habitats in the region. Whale watching workshops were also conducted and one of the recommendations in a workshop held in 2008 was for the Government of Tonga to consider the declaration of a whale sanctuary.
Hon Sovaleni also reaffirmed Tonga’s commitment to protecting and conserving whales in Tongan waters.
“I wish to reaffirm that all Tongan waters is declared a sanctuary for whales. The ban against the hunting and killing of whales in Tongan waters remains in force. The Kingdom of Tonga will persevere with its commitment to providing this sanctuary for the protection of whales.”
Minister for Fisheries Hon. Semisi Fakahau said that the conference “is a new approach to whale conservation, and calls for a change, not only in how we treat the ocean that sustain us, but also in our thinking of how we value and conserve the marine organisms that live in it.”
“The time is right for countries of the region to come together to hear from local and global experts about the status and population trends of whales in the Pacific Islands region, in particular their ecosystem, economic and cultural values. As we are all aware although the whale population has recovered from the brink of extinction in the 60s and 70’s; the whales are now at significant risk from a range of emerging threats.”
SPREP’s Director-General Mr. Kosi Latu said, “This is the Year of the Whale in the SPREP region and we have good reasons to celebrate whales. Whales are awe-inspiring creatures that have had a central place in Pacific Island cultures for centuries and our region is home to over half the species of whales and dolphins on Planet Earth.”
Mr. Latu stated that whales face new threats such as climate change, marine debris and pollution, noise, entanglement and by-catch in fishing gear.
He stressed the need for Pacific people to look after their oceans and to protect whales.
“By looking after our oceans to protect our whales, we also look after ourselves and future generations of both whales and people.”
Mr. Latu said that SPREP attempts to provide guidance on the conservation of whales for all members through the organization Whale and Dolphin Action Plan to cover the period 2018-2023 and the conference will be the foundation of SPREP’s new plan.
Australian High Commissioner H.E Mr. Andrew Ford told the gathering that the conference offers opportunity for relevant stakeholders to discuss a range of issues of mutual interest including threats to whales, the economic benefits of sustainable whale watching and regional cooperation on whale conservation.
Mr. Ford added that the ocean is significant to Tonga like all the Pacific Island nations.
He said Pacific countries rely on the ocean being healthy and whales are a fundamental contributor to healthy oceans.
New Zealand High Commissioner H.E Ms. Sarah Walsh said, “Whale watching in particular, presents a unique opportunity for tourism and revenue generation for the Pacific region, but it must be managed in a way that does not compromise their long-term sustainability.”
“Our futures are collectively connected to those of these whales, and this ocean, and our abilities to conserve and protect them. Healthy whales and a healthy ocean are clearly in all our interests.”
She also stated that New Zealand is proud to have cooperated closely with many of the participating organizations across a range of projects in the Pacific waters.
Present in the ceremony were the Deputy Prime Minister of Samoa, Ministers of the Crown, Participants from the region, Government CEO’s and guests.
Issued by the: Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications