It is a great pleasure to join with you today in the signing by the Government of Samoa of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks
This is a fitting way to celebrate the closing of Samoa’s Environment Week.
At the outset I would like to congratulate you, Associate Minister, and all the staff at MNRE on a very successful week which has significantly raised the awareness of environmental issues in Samoa.
The Environment Week and the signing of this MoU underline the key environmental leadership role of Samoa in the Pacific region
Samoa’s environmental programmes, such as the one million tree programme, improved management of waste and water, and practical steps to address invasive species – are seen as models of best practice for our region.
SPREP congratulates the Government of Samoa on these programmes and achievements.
This work reflects the fact that a well managed and healthy environment is a cornerstone of sustainable development and the livelihoods of the people of Samoa.
As an example, by protecting Samoa’s coastal mangrove forests and coral reefs you will protect your fish stocks and ensure a natural buffer against climate change and natural disasters.
We can see the practical benefits of this through practical projects in Safata District dealing with mangrove management.
SPREP has been very happy and honoured to support and work with the Government of Samoa – in particular MNRE – over many years to ensure a better managed environment for the people of Samoa.
The signing of the MoU on sharks today is an important milestone.
The landmark SIDS Conference in September – congratulations also on this wonderful achievement – highlighted the importance of the Pacific Ocean for the peoples of the Pacific and the peoples of Samoa.
As the leaders of Pacific countries, including the Prime Minister of Samoa, have said – the Pacific Ocean is our lifeblood.
The Pacific Ocean is vast – in fact covering an area larger than the surface area of the moon – and it is mostly ocean – comprising 98% water and 2% land.
The Pacific Ocean is vast – but it is also under threat from challenges such as ocean acidification, marine pollution and overfishing.
Sadly, many of the Pacific’s most iconic and emblematic species – whales, turtles, dugong and sharks – are severely depleted. Many are assessed as Endangered or Critically Endangered.
46% – nearly half – of all migratory sharks globally have been assessed as threatened due largely to the impacts of unsustainable target fisheries, frequently referred to as by-catch.
Several shark species in the Pacific Islands region have undergone catastrophic population declines in the past 2 decades, largely driven by the lucrative market for dried shark fins, with some species estimated to have now crashed to less than 20% of their abundance in the 1980s.
Humans are often very scared of sharks but – in fact – it is the sharks that should be more afraid of us humans.
But, why is this important – why should we bother about sharks?
Migratory sharks play a critical role in the marine ecosystems as the top predators thereby maintaining a balance in relation to other fish populations and associated habitats – in fact – like a good policeman – they are keeping the oceans in order.
Sharks are referred to as ‘keystone species’ indicating that their removal will have devastating impacts on the marine environment.
Sharks are increasingly becoming an important sustainable income generating option for certain communities around the Pacific who are operating shark based ecotourism.
I can speak from experience on this having gone shark diving in Fiji – an incredible experience – although I must admit my heart was beating very quickly.
The delegate of Palau at the recent Biodiversity Convention meeting in Korea noted that the value of a live shark to the Government of Palau is 2 million US dollars through revenue from ecotourism.
Finally, many Pacific island communities have strong traditional and cultural links to sharks and their loss would be a major loss for our cultural heritage.
Action thus needs to be taken and it needs to be taken now. This is why the signing of the Shark MoU by Samoa today is so important.
The Migratory Sharks MOU comes under the Convention on Migratory Species – CMS – to which Samoa has been a very active Party since 2005, and is the first global agreement for the conservation of migratory sharks.
This MOU recognizes the critical role sharks play in marine ecosystems and local economies while also making an allowance for their long term sustainable use, where appropriate.
It currently protects 7 species of migratory sharks, but with a possibility that this number will grow. We watch with interest the outcomes of the current CMS Meeting – COP 11 – which has been dubbed the ‘Shark COP’ due to the historic number of shark and ray proposals submitted for inclusion under the CMS Appendices.
Samoa’s signing of this MoU today is also complemented by your action to protect sharks in Samoan waters through the establishment of a national sanctuary that protects sharks and other species such as marine turtles, whales and dolphins.
Associate Minister – Samoa’s regional leadership on this issue was also on display at this years’ SPREP Meeting in the Marshall Islands – where your Government was a strong supporter of the decision for SPREP to develop an Action Plan for Sharks in the Pacific region.
I note the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission – WCPFC – will be meeting in Apia in a few weeks, and that the Forum Fisheries Agency will be submitting a Conservation Management Measure for the protection of sharks in commercial fisheries.
SPREP’s view is that the management of sharks needs to be considered as a major biodiversity issue for our region. We will be pleased to work in close collaboration with Samoa and other SPREP members of WCPFC for the introduction of this Measure and for the better protection of sharks in our region.
In closing. SPREP would like to again congratulate Samoa for their regional leadership on the protection of sharks and for the conclusion of a very successful Environment Week.
Fa’afetai Tele Lava and Soifua.