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On world oceans day: NGOs call South Africa to reiterate its commitment to whale protection

Just a few weeks before the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission that will take place in early July in Panama, dozens of civil organizations called the South African government to reiterate its sponsorship to the most important whale conservation initiative in 2012: the creation of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary.

Commemorating World Oceans Day, more than 56 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from 13 countries made a strong call to the South African government to support, as sponsor, the proposal for the creation of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. It will be the most important whale conservation initiative that will be address during the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that will be conducted during the first week of July in Panama.

The proposal, that requires at least 75 per cent of the votes of the Commission, has not been approved in more than a decade due to the pressure of countries with whaling interests, through an aggressive “vote buying” policy of the government of Japan that has successfully block the adoption of the proposal and in the last years, the efforts made by United States to impose consensus as the only decision-making mechanism of the IWC has restricted the l possibilities to adopt any whale conservation measure, including whale sanctuaries.

After being sponsored for several years by Brazil, Argentina and South Africa, in 2011 this last country decided to lift its sponsorship to the proposal even though it had expressed in several opportunities that the non-lethal use of whales is the best form of utilizing these marine mammals and that the nation is no longer a whaling country.

Recently Uruguay announced that it would sponsor this key initiative in Panama, which also has the support of all Latin American and Caribbean countries that are members of the Buenos Aires Group. In order to have once again the important support of South Africa, a letter sent to the Minister of Foreign Relations and to the Minister of Tourism by the signatory organizations says that the South African government “has been a supporter and a co-sponsor of this highly important proposal since its inception, so it came as an unfortunate surprise its announcement a few years later that it would no longer co-sponsored it”.

The letter adds that the African nation “has proudly highlighted its policy committed to conservation and non lethal use of cetaceans through whale watching, an activity described as having contributed significantly to the social and economic needs of its impoverished coastal communities”. In 2007 the government of South Africa affirmed, “that it has an obligation to ensure the protection of the whales and therefore supported creation of the sanctuary”.

Since 1991, whale watchers in South Africa have increased from six thousand to more than half a million people, generating over 61 million dollars in 2008. The creation of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary will guarantee the long-term protection of key species for whale watching such as southern right, humpback and Bryde’s whale as well as the sustainability of the industry in worldwide renowned destinations such as Hermanus, Cape Town and Mosselbay, among many others” affirmed the NGOs.

However they alerted that “the increasing pressure from some nations to revitalize large-scale commercial whaling in international waters – specially in the Southern Hemisphere – seriously threatens endangered and vulnerable whale species during their migration and permanence outside national jurisdiction waters of coastal States”. In this respect the organizations added, “We sincerely believe that the creation of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary is essential to close this gap and completely in line with South Africa’s view to assert its right to non-consumptive use and its right to have a stake, through the IWC in the management and conservation of whales on the high seas”.

For these reasons the NGOs called the South African government to “reconsidered its decision in full at the highest level of the Government, so that the common interests of our States and people regarding whale conservation in both sides of the Atlantic prevail, and we can have the privilege of once again counting on South Africa as a co-sponsor of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary proposal”.

Jose Truda Palazzo, former Brazilian commissioner to the IWC and one of the authors of the whale sanctuary proposal stated, “Its leadership in marine conservation makes South Africa a key country. It is essential that its government, at the highest level, makes the decision to sponsor once again the proposal for the creation of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary that is critical for the long-term conservation of these marine mammals in the southern hemisphere”.

Source: Centro de Conservación Cetacea