Monday, 25 October 2010 9:09 AM

Palau Declares Marine Mammal Sanctuary

Press Release - 23 October Nagoya Japan - Palau joins other nations in declaring its water as sanctuary for marine mammals, covering whales, dolphins and dugongs.

The island nation's Harry Fritz, Minister of the Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism, announced the establishment of a sanctuary for marine mammals during Ocean's Day, at the meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity here in Nagoya, Japan.

The sanctuary covers all of Palau's Exclusive Economic Zone spanning more than 600,000 square kilometers.

"Therefore, today, during the meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, I am pleased to announce that President Johnson Toribiong of the Republic of Palau has now declared our country's EEZ a sanctuary for all marine mammals, including dugongs and all whales and dolphins. This will prohibit the deliberate hunting and harassment of any marine mammals," Fritz announces.

The nation at the same time urged other countries to join the efforts to protect whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals.

"Biodiversity has always been integral to the Palauan culture. Our traditional identity, values, legends, and practices are intimately linked to our surroundings and to our relationships with living creatures. Conservation of biodiversity is ingrained in our daily approach to life and inherent in the meaning of our words. From ancient times to today we have conserved our biodiversity through the tools of "bul" or moratoria, and protection of critical areas. Global threats and their influence on our values have made us recognize the importance of partnering and engaging internationally, including with the Convention on Biological Diversity. Today, we continue to use our traditional practices of bul and protected areas, but we enhance those practices with new ideas and information, gleaned through our partnerships with others," Fritz states.

In 2009, Palau President Johnson Toribiong the first announced the first ever shark sanctuary for the Planet. Fritz said today that other marine mammals or species are also endangered such as the dugongs and whales.

The country is rich in marine species and has an economy heavily reliant on tourism and fishing. Much of the tourist activity is centered on diving and snorkeling in tropical waters filled with coral reefs, marine life and World War II wrecks.

With only one patrol boat at its disposal and Fritz said that Palau is looking for assistance and urging neighboring countries in patrolling and surveillance of its EEZ from illegal fishing of marine mammals.

At the global scale, we have provided a refuge for critical species, becoming one of the first countries in the world to declare and legislate our waters to become a Shark Sanctuary. Palau's dugongs are the most isolated and endangered population in the world. We also have at least 11 species of cetaceans in our waters, including a breeding population of Sperm Whales and possibly as many as 30 other species of whales and dolphins that utilize our EEZ," Fritz says in the declaration.

Last Wednesday, Palau in partnership with the South Pacific Whales Research Consortium, Whaleology, and the Pew Environmental Group, announced that it is beginning to lay the groundwork for developing a sustainable whale-watching industry this was announced by Bilung Gloria Salli during a presentation Wednesday night on the importance of marine mammals in the region.

Salii said the Pacific nation known for its rich and diverse marine mammals is in the process of completing a whale-watching feasibility study.

Salii says that Palau can benefit from the marine mammal tourism citing whale and dolphin-watching alone already generates approximately $23 million USD each year in direct revenues worldwide.

The Nagoya's Ocean's Day is set aside where representatives from all sectors, including governments, international agencies, NGOs, science, and industry gathered to address the problems and contributing factors to ocean and coastal biodiversity loss.