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3 April 2009

Rome discussions vital in goal to end whaling

Key discussions on the future of commercial and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) will be held at a three-day meeting in Rome from Monday 9 March 2009.

Environment Minister Peter Garrett said Australia’s proposed plans for modernising the International Whaling Commission into a genuine conservation-focused organisation continued to be advanced through the Commission processes while Australia’s primary objective remains a complete ban on commercial whaling, including an end to so-called ‘scientific’ whaling.

“The Australian Government has invested $32 million over six years in non-lethal research and other initiatives to combat so-called ‘scientific whaling’. This includes $14.5 million for non-lethal whale research in the Southern Ocean and $14.7 million for the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, co-located at Hobart’s Australian Antarctic Division.

“Australia’s delegation to the Rome intersessional of the IWC will advocate our robust conservation agenda, and continue to listen to the views of other countries in order to get a better understanding of all positions within the Commission at this critical time.

Humpback Whale

Humpback whale tail at Hervey Bay. Image courtesy of Mark Farrell.

“While this is not a decision making forum, our Delegation will follow up on intense diplomatic activities undertaken over recent months, including through Australia’s Special Envoy, Mr Sandy Hollway. This is part of our preparations for the upcoming annual meeting of International Whaling Commission in Madeira, in June this year.

“The decade-long status quo within the International Whaling Commission means that progress towards a world free from commercial and so-called scientific whaling has been stalled,” Mr Garrett said.

“The Commission’s gridlock is not acceptable because it is taking the cause of whale conservation backwards. This gridlock has seen the unilateral killing of whales in increased numbers by Japan, Norway and Iceland, either commercially or under the guise of science.”

Mr Garrett said the Chair of the Commission and the Chair of the Commission’s Small Working Group prepared a paper to be discussed in Rome. This paper provides the Chairs’ suggestions on how contentious issues might be addressed, taking into account a range of national opinions and priorities.

Mr Garrett reiterated Australia’s resolute opposition to commercial whaling and so-called scientific whaling.

“In the spirit of finding a way forward, Australia is willing to listen to and discuss all proposals, but the Australian Government remains opposed to commercial whaling and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling. Australia will only support changes within the International Whaling Commission that bring us closer to our goals –to eliminate whaling for good.”

Whaling talks advance reform agenda

At the conclusion of the discussions of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Rome, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said Australia's proposals for modernising the Commission into a genuine conservation-focused organisation continue to receive strong support from around the world.

Minke Whale

Image of Minke Whale courtesy of Matt Curnock

Mr Garrett said discussions at the intersessional meeting of the IWC on the future of commercial and so-called 'scientific' whaling ended on Wednesday with Australia committing to continue to work with other nations ahead of the next meeting of the IWC in Portugal later this year.

"While this was not a forum for decision making or new proposals, it does mark a critical phase of engagement as we look towards the annual meeting of the IWC this June. Discussions in Rome were constructive and I am pleased the Commission agreed to the continuation of negotiations through the Small Working Group, who will report on progress in Portugal.

"Australia will continue to be part of this process in an effort to break the gridlock and modernise the focus of the Commission.

"This intersessional meeting marks 12 months since Australia tabled proposals in the Commission for the modernisation of the organisation and I am very pleased that support for those proposals continues to grow amongst the international community.

"This reform agenda will take a major step forward on 23 March, when Sydney hosts participants in the Australian Government's Southern Ocean Research Partnership planning workshop, launching the largest international whale research project in the world.

"The Commission's history of gridlock is simply not acceptable. It is taking the cause of whale conservation backwards, and in the spirit of finding a way forward, Australia will continue to listen and discuss all views, standing firm in our opposition to commercial and so-called 'scientific' whaling.

"Australia will only support changes within the IWC that bring us closer to our goal to eliminate whaling for good," Mr Garrett said.

Whale workshop to forge science partnership

Environment Minister Peter Garrett today said he was very pleased that Sydney was this week hosting the world's first international workshop on non-lethal whale research.

Humpback tail

Image of humpback tail courtesy of Dave Paton

Mr Garrett said Australia was taking the lead to better manage the whales of the Southern Ocean and in the process, show the world that scientific research on whales could be done without resorting to lethal measures.

"This is about building the world's most comprehensive whale research partnership with countries interested in developing an agreed scientific approach to research - one that doesn't involve killing whales," Mr Garrett said.

"This week, 13 nations with a common interest in the Southern Ocean will work with scientists and specialists on an agreed approach to take us to a future where conservation of whales is the focus of science.

"This is an opportunity for us all to examine current Southern Ocean research efforts, discuss research priorities, identify knowledge gaps, and map out how to build a scientific research program based on non-lethal methods.

"By the end of the week, we hope to have a draft five-year plan to present at the International Whaling Commission when it next meets in Portugal this June.
"Ultimately, we want the IWC to become more science and conservation-focused and we believe the Southern Ocean Research Partnership is the best way to achieve this. This first workshop builds on the comprehensive reform agenda for the Commission that we are continuing to advance and which continues to receive good support from other nations, including most recently at the Rome intersessional."

The Australian Government has committed more than $14 million to create and fund the Southern Ocean Research Partnership from $32 million in funds directed at non-lethal whale and cetacean research.

Countries participating in this week's workshop are Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, South Africa, USA.

The workshop is being held at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour.

Aerial whale surveys a first in the Antarctic pack ice

New data on minke whale distribution in pack ice in the Southern Ocean and new techniques developed by Australian scientists for researching whale abundance further advance Australia's global leadership in non-lethal whale research, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said today.

Reef slope

Image of Minke Whale courtesy of Matt Curnock

Mr Garrett outlined the research conducted by scientists at the Australian Marine Mammal Centre located at the Australian Antarctic Division, and scientists from CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences ahead of the first meeting of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership in Sydney.
"The Southern Ocean Research Partnership represents the biggest international research effort on Southern Ocean whales yet undertaken," Mr Garrett said.

"With scientists and experts from around the world gathering in Sydney today for the first time to discuss the Partnership, this Australian study will help inform the future of whale science and offers a new perspective on the numbers and distribution of minkes in and around the Antarctic sea-ice.

"The data collected and the research techniques involved will make a major contribution to global understanding of whales and will be presented at the next meeting of the International Whaling Commission in June as a further example of the innovative, nonlethal research that Australia is championing as the way forward for whale research in the future," he said.

CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences Research Fellow Dr Natalie Kelly, who ran the survey operations in Antarctica, said the aerial survey program was conducted using CASA 212-400 aircraft with one flight leader and four observers onboard to count whales from the air.

"This data is then combined with information from high-definition video cameras, a high resolution digital stills camera and an infrared camera installed in the base of the aircraft to detect whales hidden from view by the ice, helping provide a really comprehensive analysis of minke whales in the pack ice and their use of various pack-ice habitats." The survey area was based on a 600 nautical mile flying range from a skiway near Casey station and the survey route was systematically designed to capture a wide range of sea ice concentrations.

"Flying was conducted over a three week period, with some down time due to bad weather. The survey officially finished in the evening of 31 December, with a total of 4,448 nautical miles flown over 41 hours' of data were collected over nearly 3,000 nautical miles of the survey route with a number of areas repeated," said Dr Kelly.

Dr Nick Gales, Leader of the Australian Marine Mammal Centre said ship-based surveys in the Southern Ocean over the past two decades had found increasing evidence of a possible decline in minke whale abundance.

"The IWC has been counting whales in the Southern Ocean since 1978 and evidence of a decline was obviously of increasing concern. However it is difficult to know whether the decline is genuine or if it is due to the limitations of the ship-based survey technique.

"Changes in distribution of sea ice each year, and changes in the number of minke whales present within the ice zone, particularly in the pack ice where the survey ships cannot penetrate, could be responsible for some of the changes in the number of whales seen in the open water.

"This new survey technique employing the latest technology will help us overcome those barriers. The results will be presented, along with the latest ship-based estimates of minke whale abundance at this year's IWC meeting in Madeira in June.

"We are currently working on transcribing audio and video files from the flights and so far we're delighted with how the video and photographic equipment functioned to compile this novel data," Dr Gales said.

The Southern Ocean Research Partnership meeting is being held:

Where: Australian National Maritime Museum, Darling Harbour, Sydney
When: 23 - 26 March, 2009
The first morning - 23 March - is open to the media and public.
Media are invited to hear Mr Garrett speak at the event who will be available for interview afterwards.

Further information is available at: www.marinemammals.gov.au/iwc-initiatives/southern-ocean-research-partnershipssorp

Rudd Government helping with Moreton Bay clean-up

The Rudd Government will immediately provide $2 million to help local community groups and natural resource management bodies continue the clean-up of Moreton Bay, following last week's oil spill.

Ocean

Sunset on our beautiful ocean

Environment Minister Peter Garrett and Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Tony Burke said the funds would help with the restoration of the Moreton Bay wetlands and coastal environment.

It will be provided through the Coastcare program, under Caring for our Country. It follows an increase in funding for similar work to protect sensitive environmental sites, productive farming land and water resources in fire-affected areas of Victoria.

Mr Garrett said the oil spill continued to pose serious risks to the region's environment.

"There is significant effort being made right throughout this region to get the clean-up concluded and to ensure that we protect the environment as best we can from significant, long-term damage," Minister Garrett said.

"That will need to continue over the medium-to longer-term and this funding will assist with that effort.

"The environmental significance of the Moreton Bay wetlands is internationally recognised under the Ramsar convention and this funding will assist local community groups, natural resource management organisations and others undertake the really necessary work that will come after the initial clean-up, to restore the health of this special part of the Queensland coastline."

Minister Burke said the Federal Government would continue to assist the Queensland Government through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and other agencies such as the EPA, regional natural resource management groups, Landcare Queensland and councils.

"We share the concern of local fishers about the potential impact on fish stocks and the valuable seafood industry, including the Moreton Bay crab fishery, snapper, whiting, mackerel, flathead and king prawns," Mr Burke said.

"The seafood industry supports regional jobs and contributes to the Queensland economy and we will continue working with the Queensland Government on the clean-up.

"We recognise that the work of volunteer groups like Landcare Queensland is vital to the long-term health of Moreton Bay and its islands and we will continue to support them through Caring for our Country."

Minister heads to PNG for coral triangle talks

Environment Minister Peter Garrett departed on March 10 for Papua New Guinea for international talks on marine biodiversity, fisheries and food security in the Asia Pacific region as part of the Coral Triangle Initiative.

Great Barrier Reef

Image of the Great Barrier Reef

Mr Garrett said the multi-national Initiative is aimed at safeguarding marine and coastal resources for coastal populations in the region and is a critical part of Australia’s engagement in the Asia Pacific.

The Coral Triangle is recognised as an area of global environmental significance, with the greatest marine biological diversity on the planet. Seventy five per cent of the world’s known coral species, one third of the world’s coral reef area, and more than 3,000 species of fish can be found in the region.

“This meeting, hosted by the Papua New Guinea Government, follows discussions in Townville late last year and is a further opportunity for us to build on strong support and growing momentum for this program.

“Amazingly, around 240 million people depend on the health of the Coral Triangle which faces many threats to biodiversity and productivity which we must work collaboratively to address for the sake of the marine environment.

“Coastal communities rely on healthy marine systems for food security and sustainable industries and Australia is very pleased to be supporting the Coral Triangle Initiative, sharing our knowledge and expertise in these areas with the other nations involved -Indonesia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands.

“Australia’s northern coastline is adjacent to the Coral Triangle region, and through our ambitious marine bioregional planning process we will identify priority transboundary issues for collaboration,” Mr Garrett said.

“I am looking forward to these discussions over the coming days.”

The Coral Triangle is a triangular-shaped region around the equator at the confluence of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans, covering all or parts of Indonesia (central and eastern), Timor Leste, the Philippines, Malaysia (Sabah), Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Australia is cooperating with the United States of America, Asian Development Bank, WWF, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and the WorldFish Centre to support the Initiative.

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