Launch of the 'Protect Pacific Whales - Ocean Voyages' campaign. Dr. Josie Tamate, Director General, Ministry of Natural Resources of Niue
We as Pacific people have strong linkages with whales. They are entwined in our ocean voyaging history and our culture and we are grateful to SPREP and our sister islands across the region - for endorsing the SPREP Year of the Whale campaign that will focus attention on the need to protect and conserve these iconic animals for the next two years.
Niue is a significant breeding ground for one of the greatest and most Endangered marine species: the Oceania humpback whale.
Each year from July to October we welcome humpback whales back to our waters after a 10,000km return swim to their feeding grounds in Antarctica. Several whales identified in Niue have been seen in other Pacific Islands such as Cook Islands, Tonga and recently the Kermadec Islands highlighting that these animals are highly migratory and are our shared responsibility.
Over a decade ago in 2003, Niue was only the second country in the region after Cook Islands in 2001, to declare a National Whale Sanctuary fully protecting all species of whales and dolphins in our whole marine domain. Sadly, while threatened by whaling in the past, they now face new threats such as the impact of pollution, climate change, unregulated tourism and fishing practices. We believe this campaign provides the opportunity to build management capacities in the Pacific islands to protect whales from these threats.
Pivotal to our understanding of the conservation status and management of these animals has been a long term whale research program conducted by Niuean NGO Oma Tafua (which means to Treasure the whales), in partnership with the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium. The annual research which inspires and engages our communities and tourists is funded by donations and relies on skilled volunteers. One of our aspirations for the Protect Pacific Whales Campaign is to attract better resourcing for the long term research which ensures sustainability of our main tourism industry – whale watching.
With help from these sentient creatures we have strengthened the revenue-earning potential for our communities. Developing a responsible whale-watching industry has provided Niue a great opportunity for sustainable development of our communities. There has however, been challenges and lessons learned. The whale watching regulations in Niue were first developed at a National workshop in 2003 and despite a lot of good work by stakeholders, another 3 National meetings, and several rounds of consultation, they remain unlegislated. We recognise our neighbours in Tonga have gone through a similarly long process to get their regulations finalised. I urge other Pacific Islands to note the lessons learned in Niue and Tonga with regard for the need to regulate interactions with our Endangered whales to minimise our impacts and refer you to the SPREP/ IFAW 2008 Pacific Regional Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching. This document is one of the legacies pioneered by the late Lui Bell. We honor Lui by implementing it. Our role is to help ensure that we continue to respect whales as we enhance this industry in Niue and across the SPREP region.
Niue is also a signatory to the CMS MoU on the Conservation of Cetaceans and their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region and fully supports the conservation of whales. Therefore we whole-heartedly commend SPREP and it's partners for developing and promoting best practices to minimise impacts on the animals and ensure the durability and sustainability of whale-watching.
We know from experience that there are great synergies between whale conservation and tourism activities. Whales and people are living in harmony in our Pacific corner of the globe, and this campaign will reinforce the image of the Pacific islands as a region where whales are appreciated and protected. But we can do more to protect these animals on which many of our livelihoods now depend.
As whales migrate throughout our island region, we all have a role to play in conserving these beautiful creatures. Niue stands proud in declaring our support and willingness to collaborate with all our SPREP Member countries to do what we can to Protect our Pacific whales, including investigating ways in which we can resource and build capacity to implement SPREP's Whale and Dolphin Action Plan, the CMS MoU and the Oceania Humpback Whale Recovery Plan Our future generations of humans and whales rely on us implementing these measures.
As host of the next SPREP meeting this year, we are having the event in September during the whale season and we are hopeful as you voyage to us that these iconic ocean voyagers will also be with us to welcome you to Niue.
It's such an amazing gift to be able to view them from our shores We look forward to working together to Protect and Celebrate our Pacific Whales.