Island Nation Establishes Marine Mammal Sanctuary

The pacific island nation of Palau has declared all of its ocean territory a sanctuary for marine mammals. 

The Sanctuary, which covers all of Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (more than 600,000 square kilometers) is home to at least 11 species of cetaceans, including a breeding population of sperm whales. The sanctuary also covers an endangered population of dugongs, which are similar to Florida’s manatees.

Harry Fritz, Palau’s Minister of the Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism of the Republic of Palau, announced the establishment of the sanctuary during Ocean’s Day, at the UN’s Biological Diversity conference in Nagoya, Japan.

"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."

Palau was already one of the first countries in the world to declare and legislate its waters as a shark sanctuary in 2009.

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

"The hunting of marine mammals, largely by foreign countries, in the 19th and particularly the 20th centuries has dramatically reduced populations in the Pacific Islands Region. The International Whaling Commission has recognized that there is clear scientific evidence that in the Pacific Islands region many of the great whale species remain severely depleted in numbers, due to the impacts of past whaling. It is a well-established scientific principle that to protect migratory species it is necessary to protect them not only in their feeding areas and migratory routes but also in their breeding grounds."

Dr. Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group applauded Palau’s action. "We call on other countries large and small to follow Palau’s example," she said. "When whales, dolphins, sharks and other species are depleted, the entire ocean ecosystem suffers from the resulting gaps in the natural food chain. Sanctuaries such as this can play a significant role in stemming the drastic decline in ocean biodiversity."

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