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Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
19 July 2001
Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill today welcomed an announcement by French Polynesia to create a whale sanctuary in its waters.
"We welcome French Polynesia's plan to protect whales, dolphins and other marine mammals within its five million square kilometres of territorial waters," Senator Hill said.
"The Commonwealth Government sees this as an important step forward in ensuring the protection of these magnificent but vulnerable creatures."
Senator Hill said French Polynesia had also pledged welcome support to Australia's bid for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary. The proposal will be considered at this month's meeting of the International Whaling Commission.
"French Polynesia joins Australia and New Zealand in offering a haven for migrating whales to protect their recovery and to encourage eco-tourism. Since abandoning whale hunting, many South Pacific countries have benefited economically from the whale watching industry, worth more than $US1 billion worldwide every year," Senator Hill said.
"French Polynesia also joins other South Pacific countries which recognise that national zones of protection alone cannot adequately protect migrating whales - they must also be secure on the high seas. Great whales can only be truly protected if a sanctuary in the South Pacific protects them when migrating between feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean and breeding grounds in the South Pacific."
Australia will make the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary a priority at the IWC meeting in London from 23-27 July, 2001. Two issues are likely to determine the fate of the proposal: its scientific basis and evidence of support from South Pacific countries.
"Rampant whaling devastated whale populations in the South Pacific during the 19th and 20th centuries," Senator Hill said.
"Since the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, some whale species have begun to recover. However, research indicates this recovery is happening very slowly - even the humpbacks seen migrating up the eastern coast of Australia in larger numbers this season are only approaching a fraction of their pre-exploitation population.
"Although French Polynesia is not a member of the IWC, its recent statement of support is further evidence of strong backing for the proposal within the region a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary would cover. Should IWC members choose to vote against the proposal later this month, they will be denying the wishes of the people of the South Pacific."
July 19, 2001
Media contact: Belinda Huppatz (Senator Hill's office): (08) 82377920 or 0419 258 364