Public to air views on whale policy

Monday November 02, 2015 Written by Published in Local
Whale-watching has long been an exciting part of the winter season, with humpback whales like this arriving to breed and calve around July to October. 15103016 Whale-watching has long been an exciting part of the winter season, with humpback whales like this arriving to breed and calve around July to October. 15103016

The public has the chance to make their opinions known on the Draft Whale Sanctuary Policy this week at a consultation meeting.

 

A public meeting on the policy is being held on Thursday from 5-7pm at the New Hope Church Hall in Parekura.

The proposed legislation will cover whale-watching operations and manage the Whale Sanctuary.

The Cook Islands government declared its exclusive economic zone a whale sanctuary 14 years ago but never provided any legal framework to support it.

Prime Minister Henry Puna therefore tasked Ministry of Marine Resources (MMR) secretary Ben Ponia with the job of developing the policy and administering its legislation.

So far, the policy framework is that whale watching should not be banned, but that it should be properly controlled and managed so whales are not harmed or harassed.

But the policy also wants to allow “value-added marine ecotourism opportunities,” such as commercial whale-watching operations, to prosper.

Local whale researcher Nan Hauser and her team at Cook Islands Whale Research provided the MMR with technical input to help in formulating the policy.

A draft version was circulated among government agencies such as the Office of the Prime Minister, Tourism Corporation, National Environment Service, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Seabed Minerals Authority and stakeholders such as the Aronga Mana and Marae Moana taskforce.

The final draft policy and Draft Whale Encounters Guidelines was then put to the public to respectfully ask for feedback and support going forward.

 “We have now developed a draft policy. Regulations will be developed from that policy under the Marine Resources Act 2005,”  says MMR Legal and Policy Division Director Mathilda Miria-Tairea.

“It is an important step in cementing our commitment to our whale sanctuary, whales in the Cook Islands are a precious resource.

“Not only do they contribute to a healthy and diverse ecosystem, but they have been a historical part of our culture and traditions.”

There are 26 known species of whales that live in and migrate through Cook Islands waters.

The most widely recognized of these is the humpback whales that arrive to breed and calve during winter, around July to October.

The regulations will benefit watercraft operators, aircraft operators, fishermen and others which may come into proximity or contact with whales, as the guidelines and future regulations will provide them with a clear understanding of permissible and prohibited behaviour.

Following the public consultation process, the draft documents will proceed to cabinet for approval before regulations are introduced.

Enquiries can be directed to Miria-Tairea on 28721 and copies of the draft policy and related documents can be found at the web address http://1drv.ms/1VVj1xH.

All are welcome to attend the meeting on Thursday.  

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