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Parrots and Marine Debris

Report from the WDCS Team at IWC 64. Tuesday afternoon

After a short visit to the world of daylight out on the road where the tovi or orange-chinned parakeets live we are returned to the vast gloomy meeting hall.

The tovis, by the way, live in a flock of some 30 individuals and they range along the road to the south of the El Panama and beyond. Most are paired up. Indeed within this flock are seemingly many happy couples. They typically sit side by side on the telegraph lines and ledges provided by the apartment blocks and casinos that line the busy roads. The pairs often gently preen each other and when they are feeling particularly romantic they gently exchange small offerings of food; mainly fruit but occasionally a crunchy beetle or a refreshing ant, or even something they have found on the streets, especially after the local human partying of Friday and Saturday nights.   

Anyway, back to the meeting. The Australian minister (Tony Burke – an old hand at these meetings) has arrived and he now reminds us that at the 2010 meeting when we last discussed the Greenland quota, a consensus was arrived at only with great difficulty. This new proposal from Denmark is not in accord with this previous agreement he emphasises clearly. We were told by Greenland that there would be an opportunity to lower the number of whales taken. Now, two years later, we are being asked to increase it and various undertakings made in 2010 have not been met.

India notes that various NGOs are providing reports on this issue and he does not support the proposal.

New Zealand will not support an increase in quota, especially given the difficult discussions of two years ago.

Heavy rain hammers on the roof and thunder shakes the hall.

Japan struggles to be heard against the noise of the deluge. He prefers consensus and notes the report of the scientific committee.

Chile reiterates concerns and is surprised that Denmark asks for a quota that lasts until 2017, meaning that we might not be able to review it before 2018.

Mexico has a long stream of concerns, including why no information is provided about protein sources from the flourishing fisheries of Greenland.

St V and G thanks those who supported their application during the ‘bruising’ they received earlier. They support all aboriginal whaling.

The Chairman asks Greenland what they would like to do.

The Danish Commissioner says that this is just a machine that goes on and on. There are no rules on the humanity of the activity in the IWC. If you could catch a whale with a baseball bat you would … but that is not acceptable, we have asked the whalers to buy canons. Each costs $2000. If you want to dehumanise the hunt then continue, Mexico, with your request. It is an excuse. I know Mexico well enough to know he will go in with a decent hunt. The quota duration is not a problem and with respect to the comment from Australia we have fulfilled your expectations we paid at the last meeting by exchanging fins for humpbacks. I like the brevity and clarity of New Zealand which just says they accept. They do not debase themselves with coming up with [spurious] arguments. I will not ask for a vote. Let us keep it open and I will tell you when there is a possibility to take it up again.

His Greenlandic colleague also wishes to speak and she talks about licensing and the Greenlandic white paper recently submitted here. [94 pages]

The Chairman takes us on the report of the Conservation Committee – agenda 8, 9 and 10.

Dr. Lorenzo Rojas Bracho, the distinguished commissioner for Mexico and Chairman of the Conservation Committee, now tells us about ‘stinky’ gray whales and that this famous phenomenon may relate to ingestion of hydrocarbons. He passes the baton then to Debi Palka (SC Chair) who outlines the Scientific Committee’s report on ship-strike related issues which includes the maintenance of an officer to work on entanglement and ship-strikes.

He also notes the Panama marine traffic separation scheme which is intended to help reduce ship-strikes on cetaceans.

He tells us about the rest of the Ship Strikes agenda item noting that Frederic Chemay the new commissioner for Belgium has taken on the role of the ship strikes chairman.

Cyprus comes to the microphone. On the behalf of the EU she rapidly lists a range of threats including marine debris, now recognised as a threat through entanglement and ingestion. She notes that ship strikes are a problem and, more concretely, when a whale gets entangled it may be more susceptible to a ship strike…  and a whale wounded by a strike may become infected. The IWC can play a significant role in coordination and investigation [of such issues] – the IWC Scientific Committee has done some work on small cetaceans – we are convinced that this work is most important in the future.

Panama speaks to their work in trying to safeguard for whales the entry areas for the Panama Canal and would welcome advice from others too.

France notes that ship strikes are important to them and also the relevance of the Pelagos sanctuary [in the Mediterranean] to this. France will also continue to work on disentanglement and likes data collection and sharing information with ASCOBANS and ACCOBAMS [the two European cetacean agreements].

Argentina thanks Mexico for this work and supports the work of the committee on ship strikes.  Could Panama give a presentation to the Scientific Committee on their efforts?

The Netherlands welcomes the initiatives for workshops in the Caribbean looking at entanglement and the Netherlands will be contributing financially to their organisation. Australia celebrates Lorenzo and stresses the importance of the ship-strikes data coordinator.

The US thanks Panama for the wonderful reception and Mexico for leading this committee which helps to confirm this work in the IWC. They call for all to take part in this group. The US is also working on the ship-strikes issue and they too support the Caribbean workshops and thank the Netherlands for financial support.

Belgium echoes Cyprus and thanks Mexico for his excellent chairmanship and looks forward to more of the same.

Bruno now notes NGOs will shortly be called on to speak on items 8 and 9 [the catapult is presumable being prepared somewhere].

We move on through the Conservation Committee’s report [incidentally all reports are now on the IWC website for those that wish to read them].

Southern Right Whales now swim in and Chile and Peru are keen to protect them.

The national reports on cetacean conservation are noted and we suddenly move perhaps a little confusingly to whale watching too. Scientific Committee chair Debi Palka takes us through the whale watching part of her report, noting a call for training workshops. The Scientific Committee has recommended to itself to keep this matter on its agenda. Her committee also looked at the five year plan for whale watching. A recent workshop was held in Panama bringing together people interested in these matters.

The Chairman notes that as we are now talking whale watching and therefore an NGO should be alerted to the opportunity to make an intervention on this. [The catapult and stopwatch are primed.]

The Chairman of the Conservation Committee now completes his report on whale watching too.

The US reports on whale watching activities in his country and that they use the Dolphin Smart and Whale Sense Programmes – which are voluntary and we can find out more about them at the booths somewhere outside (in the rain).

India supports whale watching and eco-tourism but it should be safe for the whales and whale watchers.

Argentina supports work on whale watching. This is an activity ongoing since the 1970s and supports all the recommendations from the committee. 

Panama highlights whale watching as a wonderful non-lethal use of resources. Panama can be promoted as a first class place for whale watching. We mean to carry out this activity sustainably in Panama. We are training our tour operators.

Cyprus, on the behalf of the member nations of the EU, notes benefits to many coastal communities an this can be driving force for ecotourism. Whale watching can also make a valuable contribution to research. In the past few years we have an increased dialogue between the SC and the CC and this helps to develop science-based options for whale watching.

Others speak similarly and this includes Korea which has whale watching in the Ulsan area.

The first of this afternoon’s NGO speakers now comes to the microphone: Augusto Gonzalez of CEBSE notes $7 million indirect income from whale watching in his country. This is significant. They often see the same whales each year and the whales already face many threats – all of us here share the whales as a single resource. The whales always come back to the country where they are born. Our whales are important and valuable.

A tricky coffee break follows when many delegates seem to struggle with all the marine debris circulating in the halls.

We resume and, in fact, marine debris now surfaces very swiftly and Debi tells us briefly about her report. The relations between cetaceans and marine debris is poorly understood she says. A workshop has been recommended and amongst other things it would looks at the issue of standardised criteria for debris and a centralised database.

Australia suggested that this workshop should be held jointly between the Scientific and Conservation Committees. Australia shares the growing concern about pollution and debris and welcomes the work by the scientific committee in this respect. This is a global concern and they welcome the joint workshop – another excellent example of the work that the two committees can do together. We note that a large number of other international organisations are also looking at this and she reiterates that she welcomes the JOINT workshop.

Cyprus is now speaking (as you know on the EU members of the IWC behalf) and is delighted at the successful work of the conservation committee and looking at the many issues from the SC and we commend them for their work on the growing and important problem of marine debris and in particular plastics. This threat is not fully understood we can help to fully investigate it – we note many bodies have recognised the need for coordinated action.

The US notes the global partnership on marine litter. They also have a domestic initiative which is ‘Fishing for energy’ (he would like to send us to the Expo booth outside again to learn more about this). In the Fishing for Energy initiative fishermen collect old gear and use it as a source of clean renewable energy and any metals are separated and recycled.

The UK, in support of Cyprus notes the valuable work being doine by a number of countries including Panama on this issue. The UK fully supports the joint workshop and we strongly support this joint initiative.

Austria in support of the EU statement adds that he would like to fully support any and all IWC endeavors in the field of marine debris. The IWC has recognized 7 environmental concerns, and marine debris spans across at least 3 of these, namely habitat degradation, chemical pollution, and fishery interactions, and involves important aspects of IWC scientific and technical work, for example entanglement , but also including ingestion of plastic. Marine debris, as one of the most visible and perhaps controllable  forms of pollution, ranging from microplastics to giant nets, is a threat to cetaceans, and we therefore support and are looking forward to the results of the proposed IWC marine debris workshop to be held in 2013.

Argentina likes the marine debris initiative too and mentions various examples of where the problem can be seen and in Argentina they expect to do more on this.

Redoubtable Claire Bass of WSPA and today’s next NGO to be briefly allowed near a microphone  has only one minute to speak – as the five generous minutes awarded under this agenda item has been split between her and a colleague.

She says:

Thank you Mr. Chair. On behalf of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, I would like to thank the government of Panama for the extremely warm welcome it has extended to NGOs at this meeting, and also for the wonderful reception last night. [12 seconds used]

WSPA wishes to congratulate the Conservation Committee on the excellent breadth and quality of its work. We believe that the IWC should seek to divert a greater proportion of its time and financial resources to its growing conservation agenda, and in particular that the Commission should undertake a review of the work of its Scientific Committee with an aim to afford more time and budget to its conservation work. {33 seconds gone – hurry up Claire]   I speak on behalf of many NGOs in welcoming the addition of the issue of marine debris to the Scientific Committee and Conservation Committee’s agendas, via a joint workshop. As noted by several member nations, this is an issue which already has the attention and concern of many other intergovernmental bodies, including the UN, and welcome the suggestion by Australia, the European Union and other speakers that the IWC should seek to co-operate with such bodies in order to contribute to multi-agency solutions on this global problem. [one minute plus gone – bad Claire]

Finally, Mr. Chair, I am pleased to tell you that the Environmental Investigation Agency, OceanCare, ProWildlife and WSPA will collectively be contributing £17,000 in funds towards this workshop. Thank you Mr. Chair. [30 seconds over]

The chair says that was quick but a also bit too long – so the colleague following will have less time but the extra £17,000 was worth the thirty extra seconds. There is (for the first time) widespread laughter.

Lorenzo moves to resume his report which now looks at the voluntary fund for research in small cetaceans. But first he thanks Claire Bass for her donation.

He notes a variety of concerns about various small cetaceans – and appears to congratulate Mexico (i.e. himself) for his work on the vaquita and then apologise for doing so.

Nick Gales, the lead scientist from Australia, notes how important this work is that many of the moist endangered cetaceans are small ones.

The Netherlands aligns itself with the statement by Cyprus and donates some money to the ‘smalls’ fund.

Germany takes the floor for the first time extends compliments to the host and is concerned about the noise coming from pile driving. He announces some new survey work on porpoises that may help to understand and mitigate this issue.

Italy now donates 15,000 Euro to the Small Cetaceans Fund and the UK provides a donation of £10,000. It is clear from the level of support for this work says Nigel Gooding the UK Commissioner that it can only go from strength to strength.

Argentina says that small cetaceans are integral to the IWC.

France will make a contribution too (but does not say how much).

The Chair moves to close but Monaco waves and apologises for being half asleep. He is very concerned about the declining levels of many small cetaceans but here it is a misnomer. We need to look to all cetaceans.

We seem to move to some local wildlife when a sloth is then called forward…

No sorry it is Birgit Sloth, a Danish conservation NGO and the chairman reminds her she has less time than she should because of Claire Bass.

Many threats are worse for small cetaceans than big she says. Our activities affect not only the giants of the sea but also their small relatives. The small cetacean fund is a good example of cooperation between NGOs and governments and also involves local communities. Our Danish Whale coalition will collect and make available some funding for this. [2 minutes and 54 seconds]

The Chairman thanks her (and the NGO catapult is put away for the day).

Finally, Lorenzo tells us that the new Vice Chair of the Conservation Committee is the UK’s alternate Commissioner, Mr Jim Gray. There is some gentle back slapping in the UK delegation and polite and slightly reserved cheering as befits the UK delegation. 

Lorenzo now tells us about the conservation plans which the scientific committee also seems to be pleased with. The scribe now refers you to the rest of the Conservation Committee report as published on the IWC website as a comfort break is required.

Link to IWC documents: https://iwcoffice.org/_documents/commission/IWC64docs/iwc64docs.htm

We move to close for the day and Bruno Chair tells us Australia is doing a side event at the Crown Plaza at 6pm and there will be reception tomorrow by the conservation and welfare NGOs – invitations will be provided in the morning.

Has the rain stopped yet? Will we be washed away? What do the small parrots do in the afternoon when it pours?

We rush unwashed and hot to the reception hosted by Australia but more of this tomorrow. Here ends the report from Tuesday.


Tales from the pool side – episode one (and perhaps only)

As a small respite to readers from the horrors of the IWC meeting we bring you a short romance: a story of inappropriate and unrequited love, inspired by the locality and its avian denizens.

Fernando, the leader of the tovi parrakeets, has a secret. His secret, from the perspectives of his people, is an inappropriate love. He has fallen for a beautiful young female, which in itself would be of no concern to his flock-mates but what is awkward about this particular romance is that the object of his desire is a bird of another species; a species known by the unlikely and somewhat undistinguished name of ‘variable seedeater’.

Now the variable seedeaters tend to malinger around the space vegetation that fringes the swimming pool of the El Panama Hotel in Panama City (in Panama). Here a handful of trees and shrubs and large blue pool form something of an oasis in the middle of the hotel and indeed the surrounding business district. This is a relatively peaceful zone away from the busy road and the major construction site to the west of the hotel. Quite a few birds use this area. Not just the long-tailed grackles that seem to permeate throughout the urban sprawl and but also some more exotic birds, even the occasional brilliantly coloured tanger and exotic woodpecker.

Some of the delegates to the IWC meetings emerging blinking into the daylight from the vast cavernous meeting halls devoid (as is traditional for the IWC meeting place) of windows, have been delighted to spot the occasional flash of plumage around the pool and this has also helped to explain (or perhaps excuse) the occasional IWC delegate seen surveying the swimming pool’s periphery with his binoculars. 

Anyway, amongst all the avifauna disporting itself around the pool, the variable seedeaters are probably the dowdiest. They are small robust birds with black conical bills and, as their name implies, they are variable in plumage, mainly black with a variety of other markings that vary across the various races seen across the Central American region. At least that relates to the males. The females are in fact – at least to the human observer – even a little duller: olive-brown above, paler below, and with white wing linings, but for some reason that we may never know Fernando, the bright green tovi parrakeet, finds one of these little brown birds very lovely, He has been leaving his flock, gliding down to the pool-side and presenting her with small offerings of fruit. She has been somewhat alarmed by the sudden appearance of this larger green bird by her side and she has of course entirely missed the point of the fruit because she is, of course, a variable seed-eater and her variability does not extend to fruit. Fernando is equally perplexed.

We will strive to bring you occasional updates on this seemingly misplaced love affair as the IWC develops. Perhaps we shall draw some strength and inspiration from this pool-side romance.

Über Laura Zahn

Laura Zahn arbeitet bei WDC Deutschland im Bereich Kommunikation. Sie ist zuständig für die Erstellung von News und Blogs sowie unsere Newsletter. Außerdem arbeitet Laura bei der Entwicklung und Koordination von Kampagnen mit.