Samoa steps up to protect whales

By Deidre Fanene 16 April 2016, 12:00AM

Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, has called on the Pacific region and the world to improve efforts to protect whales.

Fiame, who is also the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (M.N.R.E), made the call during the launch of the Protect Pacific Whales – Ocean Voyagers Campaign at Vailima on Thursday evening.

Like many Pacific countries, the Deputy Prime Minister said whales are a prominent feature in Samoa’s culture and legends. For this reason, Samoa is prepared to do its part to help with efforts to raise awareness about the conservation of such species.

 “Samoa was one of the first Pacific Islands to declare its waters a whale sanctuary in 2003,” she said, adding that the Pacific community must do all they can to prevent the extinction of these special mammals.

 “While this was largely symbolic it places Samoa firmly in the ranks of those countries which favour conservation over exploitation and this has been our strongly held position for many years.

“I am very proud that Samoa’s waters provide a sanctuary for whales and I look forward to an ongoing collaboration between my ministry, M.N.R.E and S.P.R.E.P not only for whales but also other threatened species such as turtles, sharks and rays.”

Pointing to the migratory nature of whales, Fiame said “we need both international and regional approach to support national action.”

 “We welcome the involvement and assistance of S.P.R.E.P to provide guidance and taking the lead role to develop practical regional approaches in the protection of these special creatures,” she said.

“If we wish to see the population of whales continue to recover then we must all take action to protect the ocean in which they live in because their future is in their hands.

“[And] by securing the future for whales we need to protect their environment because in doing that we also secure a better future for ourselves.

“Whales are indicators of ocean health and as Pacific Islanders and guardians of whales, we are equally depending on a healthy ocean; I therefore urge all of you to get behind S.P.R.E.P’s campaign over the next two years.”

The programme of work envisaged for the Protect Pacific Whales Campaign is an ambitious mixture of scientific research, training and capacity-building, exchange of information, and cultural and artistic celebration.  

Director General of S.P.R.E.P, Leota Kosi Latu, said the campaign is an important part of S.P.R.E.P’s work.

 “Tonight we come to celebrate these magnificent creatures and to strengthen our efforts conserving whales,” he said.

“Whales have their own culture … and they sing too.

“They are not only iconic species but they are so critical to us in terms of cultures, communities and in the past, many of us used to depend on whales.”

The Oceania region is home to over half the world's species of cetaceans, whales and dolphins, including some of the least known and as such 2016 and 2017 have been endorsed by S.P.R.E.P members as the Year of the Whale in the Pacific islands.  

For centuries, whales have played a central role in many Pacific Island cultures. 

Tere Tohora, Tere Tangata - Where whales go, people follow reflects the strong bond between Pacific peoples and these leviathans, whose annual migrations mirror the voyages of our ancestors in their ocean-going canoes.  

After decades of over-exploitation in the past two centuries, many whale species are now recovering from the brink of extinction, only to be confronted with a suite of new problems associated with a changing ocean. 

By Deidre Fanene 16 April 2016, 12:00AM

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