June 12, 2017
Island and Ocean Ecosystems
History was made in Fiji last month as 146 Tabua, (Sperm Whale Tooth) were handed to the Government of Fiji from New Zealand in recognition of the cultural significance of Tabua to the local communities of Fiji.

The 146 Tabua had been seized by New Zealand border agencies over the past 15 years under The Trade in Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This year marks Fiji's 20th anniversary of being a Party to CITES.

The Fiji and New Zealand CITES authorities emphasize the need for travellers to obtain the necessary CITES permits before travelling internationally with a Tabua or other CITES-listed wildlife.

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Tabua. Photo: SPREP

"Since 2010, we've instituted a quota on the trade and export of Tabua in Fiji, in line with our commitment under the CITES. In fact, due to our efforts to protect the whale populations in our waters, only Tabua recovered from stranded sperm whales can add to the number of Tabua in circulation in Fiji," said Hon Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of Fiji.

"I am extremely proud of my Government's commitment to limit our trade of Tabua in order to protect the sperm whales – a species currently classified as vulnerable. The reality is, while we clearly place enormous value on the cultural importance of the Tabua, our love and respect for our oceans, seas and marine life will always take precedence."

Mark Ramsden, New Zealand High Commissioner to Fiji, "there is no contradiction in the use of tabua in Fiji for cultural purposes and the survival of the sperm whale in the wild". He expressed his delight about returning "these taonga (treasures) to the rightful home here in Fiji and to their rightful kaitiaki (guardians)".

CITES regional workshop - group photo
Participants who were present at the ceremony. Photo: Wendy Jackson

The special ceremony opened the Oceania Regional Workshop on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) implementation and prevention of illegal wildlife trade, that includes participants from both CITES Parties and Non-Parties and includes the CITES Management Authority, Scientific Authority and the Customs or Biosecurity Agency (Enforcement Officers) of 17 countries.

The overall focus of the workshop was to bring the relevant authorities together to discuss, exchange, communicate and create a network of partners that are able to provide assistance with working together to combat illegal wildlife trade in the Pacific region. The meeting also provides an opportunity to share success stories, challenges and issues that may be common across the Pacific.

"At CITES we are working directly with the transport, travel and tourism sectors to encourage them to join us in the fight against illegal wildlife trade and with encouraging results. But we need to do more, including in this extraordinarily beautiful region with its abundance of marine life," said John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General of CITES.

"Travellers need to be informed and behave responsibly, staff need to be educated, and local people must be actively engaged and involved. The transport, travel and tourism sectors have a central role to play in this regard and today's ceremony allows us to spread this important message far and wide to individual travellers as well as the industry sectors."

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), works with Pacific island countries in the region that are CITES Parties to help them implement the CITES convention and obligations to help protect and conserve our wildlife.

"The repatriation of the Tabua marks a unique event, allowing workshop participants to witness for the first time the exchange of a culturally significant wildlife back to local communities," said Ms. Juney Ward, the Shark and Ray Conservation Officer of SPREP.

"We are pleased to be a part of this special event and are committed to working in partnership with our Pacific countries for the betterment of our environment."

The meeting was held at the Double Tree Resort by the Hilton on Sonaisali island from 29 May – 2 June 2017, funded by the Government of New Zealand and hosted by the Government of Fiji. (Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Guam, Kiribati, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Vanuatu, United States of America and other organization such as the Oceania Customs Organization, The Pew Charitable Trusts, James Cook University, University of the South Pacific and INTERPOL are participating in the workshop.