Island nation announces Mongolia-sized sanctuary for whales and dolphins

25 Oct

Dolphins, whales, and dugongs will be safe from hunting in the waters surrounding the Pacific nation of Palau. At the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, Palau’s Minister of the Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism, Harry Fritz, announced the establishment of a marine mammal sanctuary covering over 230,000 square miles (60,000 square kilometers) of the nation’s waters, an area the size of Mongolia.


The dugong is listed as Vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN Red List. Photo by: Julien Willem.

“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. This sanctuary will promote sustainable whale-watching tourism, already a growing multi-million dollar global industry, as an economic opportunity for the people of Palau,” Fritz said in Nagoya.

Already, last year Palau declared its waters a sanctuary for sharks. Sharks have been decimated worldwide, with some species’ population plunging by 99 percent, due to bycatch, overconsumption, and the shark-fin trade, whereby caught sharks’ fins are cut off and the animals are thrown back into the water to die.

Although many populations of whales are rebounding after centuries of commercial whaling, some are still threatened by whaling by Iceland, Japan, and Norway, as well as pollution. Dolphins are often killed as bycatch and suffer from widespread marine pollution.

“Palau, which once supported the Japanese position on commercial whaling, now supports conserving marine mammals, along with sharks and other species. By aiding economic development through ecotourism, Palau recognizes the importance of keeping these species alive and thriving,” Dr. Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, said in a statement, adding that “we call on other countries large and small to follow Palau’s example.”

Palau made its announcement on the Convention’s Ocean Day where protective measures for the ocean were discussed by representatives. Under the convention nations have pledged to protect 10 percent of ocean waters by 2012, but according to a recent report by the Nature Conservancy only 1.17 percent of marine waters are protected.

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