Tonga to host major international whale conservation conference

Whales in a Changing Ocean, Nuku'alofa, Tonga, 4 - 6 April 2017
Whales in a Changing Ocean is a new approach to whale conservation. The three-day event will focus on emerging threats to Pacific whales and will bring together political decision-makers, scientists, community, industry and development partners to investigate future legislative and research needs as well as designing innovative ways of cooperating and collaborating effectively.

The conference is a highlight of the two-year campaign to protect Pacific whales led by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). Although these whales have recovered from the brink of extinction, they are now at significant risk from a range of emerging threats, such as entanglement, noise pollution, marine debris and climate change. Recognising and managing these dangers is critical as they will ultimately affect everyone living in the Pacific.

Whales 1Photo courtest of Niue Tourism

"As a country that welcomes these 'giants of the deep' that breed in our waters, Tonga is proud to be hosting this milestone event. Whales are living sentinels of the ocean," said Hon. Sialosi Sovaleni, the Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tonga, also the Minister of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC).

"Ultimately, what happens to the whales will happen to people in years to come."

The conference will focus on updating the status and population trends of whales and trends in the Pacific islands region, in particular their ecosystem, economic and cultural values. Learnings from the conference will also feed into the regional perspective informing the United Nations Ocean Conference in June this year
SPREP Director General Kosi Latu says the conference is the first such event to be hosted by the agency:

"We're looking forward to bringing together our Pacific island governments, the private sector and community representatives to discuss future collaborations to conserve whales in the region. It's very timely as the information will flow into the five-yearly review of our marine species programme.

"We have set some exciting goals for this conference to ensure this milestone event is well commemorated. We'll be investigating best practice for whale watching, already a multi-million dollar industry in our region, as well as finding out about innovative programmes operating around the world.

"We warmly welcome the participation of all interested organisations and individuals to help shape the future of whale conservation in the Pacific islands."

The Government of Tonga, the Government of New Zealand, the Auckland Institute of Studies, the Okeanos Foundation, the European Union (through SPC and the INTEGRE project), the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Animal Welfare Institute, Humane Society International and the Vava'u Environment Protection Association (VEPA) are partnering with SPREP in hosting this event.

For more information on Whales in a Changing Ocean please visit: https://www.sprep.org/whales-in-a-changing-ocean-conference-2017/home
Registration form: https://www.sprep.org/attachments/WhaleConf_RegistrationForm_Final.pdf

Background information
The SPREP region covers more than 10% of the planet's oceans, most of which (approximately 98%) is within its members' EEZs. More than 12 million sq km of this area is already designated under various domestic legislations as whale sanctuaries, reflecting the strong commitment of many SPREP members towards the conservation of whales.
However, building on this foundation needs a greater effort; for example, abundance estimates in the region are available for only one species of great whale (humpback) and sharing information about the growing evidence of the widespread effects on whales of climate change or the potentially adverse impacts of industrial activities, such as seismic exploration and abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear, is limited.
Go to www.sprep.org/biodiversity-ecosystems-management/protect-pacific-whales-ocean-voyagers for more information.

Media contact:
Mr Iliesa Tora
MEIDECC
Email: iliesatora2016@gmail.com
Phone: +676 25050, +676 8467762

Ms Nanette Woonton
SPREP
Email: nanettew@sprep.org
Phone: +685 21929 Ext 305
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