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  ENN 14 Sep 06
South Pacific States To Sign Whale, Dolphin Conservation Agreement
By Ray Lilley, Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand A group of South Pacific nations will sign an agreement to help protect and conserve whale and dolphin species, New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter said Thursday.

The memorandum, developed under the international Convention on Migratory Species, is due to be adopted Friday at a ministerial meeting of the South Pacific Regional Environment Program in the New Caledonian capital, Noumea, he said.

Up to 11 South Pacific nations were likely to sign the regional agreement, with a minimum of four signatories needed to bring it into force, Carter said. Among South Pacific states likely to take part are Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Cook Islands, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu, but a spokesman for the minister, Nick Maling, declined to confirm those expected to sign.

Vanuatu was the latest to join several South Pacific states in declaring a whale sanctuary in its exclusive economic zone, stretching up to 320 kilometers (200 miles) from its shoreline.

The memorandum commits signatory states to a range of voluntarily initiatives to protect and preserve whales and dolphins, including unspecified threat reduction measures and habitat protection.

It calls on participants to:
--recognize that their survival depends on their conservation over a wide area and in a range of marine and coastal habitats;
--conduct socially and economically important activities like fishing and tourism in an ecologically sustainable manner;
--review, enact or update laws to conserve cetaceans;
--implement conservation measures where they do not already exist for vulnerable cetacean populations, and
--implement an action plan to reduce threats to the mammals, protect habitats and migratory ocean corridors and respond to strandings and entanglement of the mammals.

Carter said there is a high level of support among Pacific people for conserving whales and dolphins.

"It doesn't stop Japanese whaling, but ... it enhances the protection particularly of dolphin species, which aren't so migratory," he told National Radio. "Until now the primary international forum for discussing whale conservation has been the International Whaling Commission, which is widely regarded in the Pacific as outdated, deadlocked and expensive for poorer countries to join and attend," he said in a statement.

The memorandum, under the Convention on Migratory Species, "provides a new, more attractive and affordable alternative to the IWC for Pacific countries interested (in) pursuing whale conservation," he added.

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