In defense of whales: Uruguay consolidates regional bloc of conservationist countries

Friday, April 27, 2007
La Pedrera, Uruguay
Sixty representatives of government, civil and whale watching organizations from 13 countries participated in the IFAW Second International Whale Watching Workshop. The workshop was held from April 18th to 21st in the Uruguayan locale of La Pedrera, Uruguay.
The workshop was jointly organized by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, the Ministry of Housing, Territorial Planning and the Environment, the Rocha Administration as well as non-government organizations: IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - www.ifaw.org), the Cethus Foundation, the Institute for Whale Conservation and the Cetacean Conservation Organization (OCC).

The participants from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela and Uruguay met for three days to evaluate the progress made on the recommendations of the 1st Workshop, held in Chubut, Argentina, in 2005. The group also produced new recommendations to continue to strengthen strategies for issues of regional interest, such as cetacean watching, non-lethal research and regional conservation strategies.

Activities began on April 19 with a panel of representatives from the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Peru and Uruguay. The latter was represented by the Director of Environment for Uruguay’s Ministry of Foreign Relations. During the meeting, the future of whale conservation in international forums was analyzed from a Latin American perspective. The panelists noted the great step taken in the area with the creation of the Buenos Aires Group and its two declarations, which confirm the non-lethal use of cetaceans as a permanent commitment of the countries of the Latin American region; stress the importance of keeping the moratorium on whaling in effect, and the urgent need for the International Whaling Commission to approve the South Atlantic and South Pacific Sanctuaries, in order to guarantee the existence of areas free from hunting for the non-lethal management of cetacean populations in the Southern Hemisphere.

The presentations made and cases analyzed showed the important advances achieved in the region in terms of the management and non-lethal use of cetaceans. Cetacean watching tourism was one of the key elements of the workshop, due to the growth of this industry in the region, and the threat it faces from the pressure for a possible resumption of commercial whaling. Observational tourism has become a sustainable alternative to whale hunting, bringing important ecological, cultural, educational, social and economic benefits. It generates income of over $1,500,000,000 US dollars a year in more than 100 countries and territories, and contributes to improving the standard of living in coastal communities where it is practiced. In Uruguay, observational tourism has been practiced since the year 2000, with uninterrupted growth, and it promotes the “route of the whales” through the construction of interpretive platforms.

Outstanding among the recommendations put forth in relation to cetacean watching, was the need to promote the active commitment and participation of local communities and observation users in the conservation of cetaceans and their habitat, through activities to raise awareness, and education, among others. As for non-lethal cetacean research, the recommendations centered on making all of the cetacean research projects in the countries within the region non- lethal, and a declaration to that effect was drafted condemning scientific whaling. Signatures will continue to be collected, and will be presented to the appropriate governments and international forums. Finally, the recommendations for regional conservation strategies focused on reinforcing the declaration made by the Latin American Meeting on Cetacean Conservation held in December 2006 in Buenos Aires. They included the recommendation that States continue to adopt measures at a national and international level to conserve cetaceans and follow up on the work done by the Buenos Aires Group.

The Interim Minister of the Environment of Uruguay, Jaime Ingorra, was present at the closing and said that, although Uruguay is not currently participating in the IWC, that does not mean the country does not support it, but is rather the result of the very difficult financial situation the country has gone through. He also stated that in the future it may be able to participate in this type of forum again, and that the oceans of Uruguay are a place for whales to live and they will only be used in non-lethal ways.

Silvia Altmark, advisor to the Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Uruguay, who was also present at the closing ceremony, called on all of the government agencies in Uruguay to cooperate in the dissemination of the results of the gathering.

Rodrigo García, President of the Cetacean Conservation Organization, concluded, “This workshop will have an enormous impact on our country, and I hope it contributes to our nation reinforcing the responsible tourism program of cetacean watching begun some years ago, and will bring its important policy of coastal-marine conservation before international forums.”

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (www.ifaw.org) played a key role in this workshop by supporting regional organizations to give continuity to the process begun in the First Workshop, held in 2005, in the province of Chubut, Argentina. Beatriz Bugeda, Regional Director for Latin America, said: “It is a privilege for IFAW to support the cetacean conservation efforts of Latin American non government organizations. The commitment in favor of conservation undertaken by the countries making up the Buenos Aires Group represents significant progress toward the conservation of cetaceans in our region and the world.”

The Whale Conservation Institute (ICB) accepted the challenge of holding this Workshop, together with the rest of the agencies and organizations making up the organizing committee, since it is essential to be able to continue to articulate the efforts made by all of the sectors involved in the management and non lethal use of cetaceans. Diego Taboada, President of ICB, stated, “No doubt one of the keys to the success of this meeting was the synergy between the representatives of governments, companies and NGOs from the countries in the region, confirming that the bloc is already formed, and we need to keep on working together to continue to advance toward a Latin America that says “no to hunting whales”.

As the finishing touch to the gathering, the representative of the government of Panama, Anna Núñez, publicly announced that her government, through a note to the International Whaling Commission dated April 19th, ratified its position in favor of maintaining the policy of cetacean conservation and protection. This announcement was seconded by the representative of Ecuador, who declared that his country already has a State proposal to rejoin the IWC. This brought applause from the people present, and other expressions of encouragement for Nicaragua’s joining the conservationist block and the readmission of Costa Rica to the IWC. Latin America is showing that the regional conservationist bloc is moving ahead and actively defending conservation and the right to the non-lethal use of cetaceans.

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