The ocean's ambassador whales at the UN: the Maori proposal

The appeal of the indigenous peoples of New Zealand at COP28: why cetaceans deserve a place of honor at the United Nations table

Maori: whales deserve legal personality
The appeal of the indigenous peoples of New Zealand at COP28: whales deserve a place at the United Nations table (Photo: Envato)

I maori and the leaders of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific have proposed a radical change of perspective: guaranteeing the whale a seat at the UN table, recognizing the authority and ecological value of these majestic ocean creatures.

The meaning of the campaign, which is called “Give the Whale a Seat at UN Table”, is summarized in a short video presented at COP28 in Dubai.

Supported by the Maori King, the truly indigenous peoples of the Pacific are demanding that world leaders grant the cetacean legal status of "person", so that we can change our perspective on its role in protecting the oceans.

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New Zealand's Maori and indigenous peoples of the South Pacific call for embracing a new nature-based economic model (Photo: Envato)

A paradigm shift for the protection of the oceans

A large representation of iwi leaders, the big ones Maori community of New Zealand, presented itself at COP28, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, with a very ambitious project: to build a global network of ocean defenders based on a new economic model managed by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific.

The proposal that emerges from the evocative video projected at the Climate Conference is to embrace an economic system based on nature, a paradigm shift signed by the Maori King and supported by some very concrete reasons.

"There is a need for a new perspective to protect and restore the balance of a vital nature, a paradigm that considers the economy and society as an integral part of nature”, we read in the project analysis document Hinemoana Halo, presented by the NGO Conservation International Aotearoa and representatives of the Māori iwi.

"We must finally recognize that nature is our home, and that our societies and economies can only grow when nature is healthy and thriving".

As he claims Mere Takoko, vice president of Conservation International Aotearoa, the launch of the initiative “it is an opportunity to reverse the course of an economy that has performed highly destructive for people and the planet, and realign our actions to value systems that are much more sustainable".

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The initiative presented at COP28 is called Hinemoana Halo: the aim is to protect the migratory corridors of whales in the world's oceans (Photo: Envato)

Hinemoana Halo: the voice of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific

The one sponsored by the indigenous peoples of the South Pacific is an initiative that aims to protect whale migratory corridors in the oceans around the world, connecting the acquisitions of Western science and the deep knowledge of indigenous peoples.

Hinemoana is the mystical female figure linked to the ocean (moana, in the Maori language), and never before has the world needed new sources of knowledge to find solutions in matters of climate mitigation and adaptation.

The indigenous peoples of the Pacific, who have a ancestral connection with the ocean, understood as a creative force of nature, have therefore decided to finally speak.

"We are actively participating together with global leaders in discussions on issues that are crucial to us", explains Aperahama Edwards, co-president of Hinemoana Halo. “The Māori voice must be heard at international summits,” explains Edwards, “not only representing the Maori people of New Zealand, but also of all indigenous peoples of the Pacific".

The indigenous peoples, upon closer inspection, are the true custodians of the planet: Although their settlements occupy just 20 percent of the land, these human societies are responsible for safeguarding and protecting 80 percent of the cultural heritage and biodiversity the world.

As was not forgotten at COP28, indigenous peoples arethe guardians of harmony, wisdom and resilience who know how to cultivate the delicate balance between humanity and the natural world".

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Maori: Whales deserve a place at the UN
The statue “The Lady on the Rock”, symbol of Whakatane Bay in New Zealand, commemorates the courage of Wairaka, daughter of the navigator Toroa (Photo: Envato)

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When it will be too late for the whales, say the promoters of Hinemoana Halo, it will be too late for humans too. When the industrial whalers began to hunt large whales, at the end of the 18th century, the immense populations of New Zealand ocean waters were shocked. In the mid-20th century, the whales had almost disappeared.

Today, the world population of whales is approx 1,3 million specimens: before the advent of industrial hunting, it is estimated that there were 4 or 5 million. Whales have been decimated because of their economic value, and it is from this very practical assumption that the Hinemoana Halo action plan develops.

First of all, we need to study the economic value of a whale in detail, and see if a dead whale is really worth more than a live one.

Ralph Chami, Assistant Director at the International Monetary Fund's Institute for Capacity Development, decided to quantify: "Over the course of its life, a large whale sequesters approximately 33 tons of CO2", explains, "the equivalent of 30.000 trees".

"It is estimated that if the ocean's former abundance of whales were to return, they could capture around 1,7 billion tonnes of CO2 each year, a service carbon sequestration worth $13 a year for every living person on the planet".

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Maori: recognize legal person status for whales
The Maori people of the South Pacific demand that world leaders grant legal personality to whales (Photo: Envato)

Recognize legal personality for whales

The Hinemoana Halo project is complex: it includes the establishment of a Fund managed by New Zealand iwi leaders which deals with financing research and the protection of natural assets by the indigenous populations of the South Pacific.

Among the objectives of the initiative, the establishment of protected natural areas, the restoration of “bearing species” (taonga), of krill and marine algae and support for the development of sustainable industries in fishing, aquaculture and tourism.

The presentation at COP28, however, focused on a specific request: world leaders must recognize the authority, sacredness and ecological weight of whales by granting them the status of legal entities.

"Whales: a seat at the United Nations table” is the title of the video screened during the Conference: the giant of the seas is so vital to our effort to restore ocean habitats that it must have a place at the United Nations table.

"We ask that whales be granted legal personality, first of all to guarantee them greater protection”, explains Aperahama Edwards.

The people of the Pacific have chosen their ambassador.

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