Florianópolis, Brazil — : Environmental groups around the world expressed their deep concern as a proposal to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic under the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was once again blocked by a minority of countries supporting Japan's pro-whaling agenda.
The proposal, presented to the 67th meeting of the IWC taking place this week in Brazil, was sponsored by Brazil, Argentina, Gabon, South Africa and Uruguay.
Benin, Cote d'Ivoire, Republic of Guinea, Liberia and Sao Tome & Principe – a range state to the sanctuary – all voted against the sanctuary proposal. Senegal also spoke strongly against the proposal but was unable to vote due to unpaid fees.
The countries strongly support Japan at the IWC, in accordance with positions coordinated by Japan through the Ministerial Conference on Fisheries Cooperation Among African States Bordering the Atlantic (ATLAFCO, also known by its French acronym COMHAFAT).
Gautier Amoussou and Josea Dossou Bodjrenou, of Eco-Benin and Nature Tropicale, in a joint statement voiced frustration at the position taken by the fisheries representative from Benin: "Unexpectedly, Benin voted 'no' to the sanctuary's adoption, in contradiction with our Government's Program of Actions which places special emphasis on seaside tourism.
"Under the guise of the COMHAFAT, West Africa's coastal states have simply accompanied Japan in its whaling policy. This is a very bad image for Benin."
Bastien Loloum, a representative of São Tome and Principe NGO OIKOS, stated: "OIKOS - Cooperação e Desenvolvimento is particularly disappointed that São Tome and Principe voted against the sanctuary's adoption in light of the benefits the country could have gained as a range state. We consider this decision to be contradictory to the Government's recent engagement in developing its Blue Economy, based on sustainable use of natural resources. In the past four years, the country has seen a tremendous increase in tourism visitation, mostly due to mid- to high-end ecotourism investments, attracted by STP's exceptional natural comparative advantages. Among those, easily observable marine life – and particularly cetaceans – constitute a significant asset to ecotourism, yet to be properly explored.
"The existence of a sanctuary for whales partially overlapping STP's EEZ would certainly have contributed to increase the potential for new whale watching initiatives. Therefore, it's a sad day for whales in the South Atlantic but we will continue our work to promote strong marine conservation measures at local and international levels."
Concern was echoed by Fundação Príncipe Trust (FPT), another São Tomé & Príncipe-based NGO. Spokeswoman Estrela Matilde stated: FPT is extremely disappointed with the position of the São Tomé & Príncipe National Government against the creation of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary.
"This position goes in a different and worrisome direction of all work that FPT have been doing on Príncipe Island, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The sustainable and responsible use of the natural resources, using the tourism as a tool, is the only strategy that will allow the social and economic development of the communities and the preservation of the unique biodiversity of our islands. This vote and position is a concern for all the organisations in the country that are working for a different strategy. We hope that this position can be rethought and that in the future these decisions are discussed between all the stakeholders and represent the position of both islands on the national biodiversity protection and not an unconsidered vote without public consultation. We will keep our work and partnership with the regional and national Government to support the strategies that are in agreement with the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve commitments."
The proposed sanctuary would stretch from the Equator to Antarctic waters, giving complete protection from commercial whaling, and contains a management plan to coordinate regional conservation initiatives, scientific research and responsible whale-watching.
Clare Perry, Ocean Campaigns Leader of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), stated: "Conservation groups on both sides of the Atlantic have voiced their support for the sanctuary, which makes the result particularly frustrating.
"The South Atlantic whale sanctuary is being denied on the basis of political support for commercial whaling and not judged on its own merits. This outcome raises questions as to why countries who support pro-conservation measures in other international fora and have domestic policies to promote marine biodiversity would oppose a measure that could bring so many benefits to their own waters."
The plenary session of IWC67 is currently taking place in Florianopolis, Brazil, where discussions and votes will continue to take place throughout the week on a range of issues including the ban on commercial whaling, aboriginal subsistence whaling and conservation issues such as ghost gear and noise pollution.