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Message from the Prime Minister, Rt Hon Sir Mekere Morauta, Kt MP,
to the Participants at the Workshop on Marine Mammals to be held on Thursday 2nd May, 2002

I would like to extend a message of welcome on behalf of the Government to both the international and local participants attending the workshop on marine mammals being organised by the National Museum and Art Gallery and the World Wildlife Fund, and generously supported by the US Embassy.

I have followed with great interest the reports of PNG's waters being host to a wide diversity of marine mammals, including whales, and probably including breeding grounds of global importance for certain species of great whale. My Government certainly appreciates the valuable research work being undertaken by the National Museum, together with various international and home-based research and conservation organisations, such as Ocean Alliance. The knowledge being gained is extremely valuable for Papua New Guinea, and the world community.

Papua New Guinea and our South Pacific neighbours are extremely fortunate to have some of cleanest and richest tropical marine environments in the world, including our magnificent coral reefs, coastal seagrass beds and mangroves, ocean deeps and shallower archipelagic waters. We have major commercial marine resources, particularly tuna, which can provide a valuable and sustainable food, income and employment source for the country's development.

Yet even here there are threats to our marine resources and coastal and island communities from unsustainable practices, pollution as well as from sea level rise, largely the result of practices and discharges occurring far away from our own shores.

We share our oceans with people thousands of miles apart, and our actions affect each other. Concerted action must be taken to better protect our marine environment, and the creatures that live in it.

We must all appreciate the finite nature of our resources and the impact of our actions. Keeping our seas healthy is not simply of government, or the business sector, but of the whole community. As our population grows and more inorganic products are used we cannot simply continue to discharge waste as we did before. We must appreciate the immense damage to marine life from the widespread use and dumping of plastic bags, which kill thousands of turtles and are consumed by many marine creatures, including whales.

We must research and apply better methods to avoid unnecessary by-catches of birds and other marine creatures when long-lining or seining. We must halt destructive practices, such as dynamite fishing or the use of cyanide, which also cause wider damage to whole reef systems. We must better control the use of inorganic fertilisers and toxic chemicals, particularly those that are cumulative. We must refine our knowledge and better apply sustainable techniques and levels for harvesting fish and other marine creatures, whether used traditionally or commercially. This includes the use of protected zones on reefs, protected beeches for turtles and the use of closed seasons.

There are enough examples of the exhaustion of some of the world's major marine resources to clearly show the need to manage our resources much better than others have done before, to ensure that our marine environment remains rich, productive and pristine for our long term benefit.

Some of our marine mammal populations have already declined locally, notably dugong in parts of the country where they have been traditionally hunted. Their rate of reproduction is very low, and they cannot sustain heavy rates of predation.

Overseas whalers hunted our whales back in the 18th and 19th centuries, off Bougainville and New Ireland. Happily in recent years our resident whale population, has not been subject to such slaughter.

My Government fully supports the regional initiative of the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary, and I am pleased to inform this workshop that we intend in the immediate future to designate Papua New Guinea's entire Exclusive Economic Zone as a whale sanctuary, where whales (including dolphins) will be formally protected from any intentional hunting. It is hoped that, with the cooperation of our neighbours, this will extend beyond our waters and ensure the protection of these extraordinary marine mammals throughout their migratory routes.

I should clarify that this important conservation initiative will be designed and applied in a manner to avoid any impact upon the development of sustainable fisheries operations in our waters, where some unintentional by-catch of marine mammals and other species is unfortunately inevitable.

The world's great whales suffered from massive levels of commercial whaling through much of the past two hundred years, to the point where some of largest, most intelligent and unknown species on this planet were on the point of extinction. Some species have now stepped back from the brink of extinction, whilst others remain critically at risk, not only from any hunting, but also from other hazards such as toxic waste. Major local or wider man-made or natural calamities, such as pollution or from global warming, particularly in breeding areas or feeding grounds of the Antarctic, could push fragile populations back over the brink.

Whales are part of the ocean food chain. You lose them from the ocean and part of the cycle is removed, affecting all creatures, which in turn depend upon them. As we examine our marine environment we are learning how different species interact, and how dependent they are upon each other. This includes the natural predators, such as sharks and many marine mammals, which are now recognised as playing a critical role in sustaining healthy populations of other species.

Tourism is now reputed to be the world's largest industry. PNG has barely explored the industry's potential. Our industry has been restrained by various factors, but despite the relatively small tourism numbers it has been estimated that the dive component alone brings the country K50 million a year in foreign exchange earnings.

PNG's tourism industry and its prospective growth is based upon eco-tourism and niche markets. People come here for our magnificent and relatively pristine natural environment and to experience our rich and diverse culture. They come for diving, bird-watching, fishing, bushwalking, caving and cultural events.

In many countries whale-watching has become an important tourist activity. In Papua New Guinea, where the whales, including the young, remain for extended periods, whale-watching could provide sound prospects for existing and new tourism operators and local communities. Where better than watch these magnificent creatures than in the warmth of our tropical conditions with our normally calm seas?

However, whale-watching would need to apply a sound code of practice, to ensure that both whales and visitors are properly safeguarded. As with our dive industry the highest standards would need to be maintained to ensure that the activity is sustainable and concentrates particularly upon protecting its resource and the natural habitat.

Let me wish all participants a productive marine mammal workshop, and that you come up with practical mechanisms to conserve our marine habitat and its inhabitants, for the continued benefit of all Papua New Guineans and the world community.

On our part, the Ministers for Fisheries and Marine Resources, Environment and Conservation, Culture and Tourism and I look forward to receiving a report on the workshop and its recommendations, and we will actively support practical approaches to marine conservation in PNG and regional waters, in dialogue with our Pacific neighbours


Rt Hon Sir Mekere Morauta, Kt, MP
Prime Minister, Papua New Guinea

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