By Roosevelt Skerrit
RUSEAU, Nov 21 2023 (IPS)
In Dominica, we are privileged to have over 50 Sperm Whale families living in the calm waters off our western coast as fellow citizens. Living in matrilineal societies led by grandmothers and mothers, these enormous creatures spend time in our waters diving deep for squid, giving birth and raising their young.
Unfortunately, from the busy US West Coast to a remote island in Western Australia, the world’s largest mammals are showing signs of distress. Mass die-offs, mysterious illnesses, ship strikes and puzzling changes in behavior make it clear that whales need a lifeline.
As a small developing state we are proud of our resident sperm whale population and inspired to put nature first in all that we do – as frontiers of the global impacts of climate change brought on from extra-regional activities that threaten the natural environment on an international scale.
In 2009, we ended support for the commercial whaling industry at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) after a long history of supporting this economic activity, a tradition for some of our international partners and benefactors in the fisheries sub-sector and we proudly announced at the United Nations our vision of becoming the first climate resilient nation in September 2017.
In recent years, however, our resident sperm whales haven’t been treated with the respect they deserve. With increasing maritime activities they are often hit by ships, tangled in plastic garbage and imperiled by other human threats that negatively impact their habitat.
With rising ocean temperatures within the region, the increased intensity and the incidence of potential catastrophic climate-induced events can further reduce their numbers or result in their migration to the cooler ocean up in the North. It must be noted therefore that since 2008, our sperm whale families have been declining steadily
It is for this reason that I present on behalf of the Government and the People of the Commonwealth of Dominica this declaration of our firm commitment to the establishment of a sanctuary for the protection of our resident sperm whale population. This Sperm Whale Reserve shall become the first marine protected area designed specifically to preserve the whales’ marine habitat critical for them to thrive in this pristine environment along the west coast of Dominica and is consistent with our commitment under the Sustainable Development Goals to increase the total marine protected area within our exclusive economic zone.
By creating a safe haven for our whale families, we are not only helping them and the ocean. We are contributing directly to improving and sustaining life below water and protecting the economy–benefits that extend to our local fishers, tour operators and the people around the world–while building resilience to the impacts of climate change.
Marine scientists have shared a surprising yet little known fact that whales are incredibly efficient at sequestering climate pollution. After diving deep in the ocean to hunt for squid found in the deep marine waters of Waitukubuli, they rise to the surface to breathe, rest and defecate. Their defecation infuses the water with minerals from the deep, nitrogen and iron that enable tiny organisms, phytoplankton to grow and, in turn absorb carbon.
As a result of this “whale pump” system, our efforts at protecting Dominica’s whales are equivalent to taking 5,000 cars off the road every year. Simply by hunting, eating and defecating, these whales can help keep climate change at bay–at no cost to us all with great potential to generate new sources of income.
The whale reserve shall bolster one of our most important industries–ecotourism–with Dominica being one of the few places in the world where sperm whales can be reliably spotted on whale-watching or swimming-with-whales adventures tours.
Developing Dominica as a safe haven for sperm whales will enable us to keep our tourism industry buoyant without putting our natural environment or our fisheries at risk.
It is our hope that through the Sperm Whale Reserve we are creating a new model that benefits a wide range of stakeholders particularly in the tourism and fisheries sectors. We recognize that, as a small developing island state with limited resources, we have the opportunity through this humble act of protecting the whales who call Dominica home, to have a profound impact in the region and worldwide, and to be viewed as a large ocean state.
As we launch this programme for the establishment of the first Sperm Whale Reserve in the World, we encourage all nations, everywhere that have the honor and privilege to include whales as bonafide citizens, to join us in our commitment to protect our living marine resources–before it’s too late.
Roosevelt Skerrit is Prime Minister of Dominica