Indigenous Leadership in Ocean Conservation: Māori and Pacific Tribes Grant Legal Personhood to Whales

15 April, 2024

Dr. Carlos Duarte, the founder of Blue Carbon and lead technician collaborating with indigenous leaders of the Hinemoana Halo ocean initiative, hails the historic signing of He Whakaputanga Moana (Declaration for the Ocean), granting legal personhood to whales.

"This moment is historic for two significant reasons. Firstly, the declaration grants legal personhood to whales, paving the way for their protection and conservation across the Pacific. Secondly, it marks a paradigm shift in conservation, with indigenous communities taking the lead in safeguarding our oceans and restoring biodiversity for future generations," says Professor Duarte.

Financial economist and Blue Green Future co-founder Ralph Chami underscores that while whales have always held cultural significance for indigenous peoples, they have been undervalued in conventional markets. "It's time for the world to pause and acknowledge this monumental step. It's a game-changer on multiple fronts," says Chami.

Dr. Duarte and Chami were among the signatories of the declaration at Atupare Marae in Rarotonga, led by Kīngi Tūheitia and Kaumaiti Nui, Travel Tou Ariki, of the Cook Islands.

Mere Takoko, vice-president of Conservation International Aotearoa and a descendant of Paikea, stresses the cultural significance of the declaration. "This declaration embodies our cultural worldview, acknowledging Paikea as our ancestor. As Pacific Islanders, we bring our cultural practices and traditional knowledge to ensure a holistic approach to whale protection," says Takoko.

He Whakaputanga Moana represents a comprehensive framework, according to Takoko. "It embodies the mana moana of our tribal leaders and indigenous communities, while also acknowledging the intrinsic value of the tohorā (whale)," she explains.

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