, September 11, 2008 (ENS) - The Chilean Congress today unanimously approved a bill declaring Chilean jurisdictional waters to be a whale sanctuary. Now, the bill heads to the desk of President Michelle Bachelet who originally submitted the measure to Congress. She is expected to announce the bill as a Law of the Republic shortly.
Chilean conservation and fishermen's groups praised the legislators for supporting the will of the Chilean people regarding cetacean conservation in the waters off Chile's 3,400 mile (5,500 km) long coast.
They said the final approval of the law will allow Chile to attend the intersessional meeting of the International Whaling Commission next week in Florida with a strong message of conservation and non-lethal use of cetaceans.
Centro de Conservación Cetacea, CCC; Centro Ecoceanos; and the National Federation of Artisan Fishers of Chile, known by its Spanish acronym CONAPACH, are the organizations behind the campaign "Chile 2008, A Whale Sanctuary." They participated in the entire legislative process.
For Barbara Galletti, president of CCC, approval of this measure represents "great progress for the country."
"We are extremely happy with the consensus obtained in support of the law, including the national and international community, the legislative and executive branch and the Chilean Navy," said Galletti.
"We are certain that this is the most important marine conservation legacy achieved for future generations and the foundation to construct new agreements oriented to the protection of the marine biodiversity," she said.
Referring to an action alert made last Thursday to collect signatures in support of the sanctuary that were handed to the president of the Chamber of Senators yesterday, Galletti said, "We would like to thank the thousands of people that responded to our final call to have the project approved. Their signatures were fundamental to have a whale sanctuary in Chile today."
Juan Carlos Cardenas, executive director of Centro Ecoceanos, said, "This is the first historical landmark of the 21st century in marine environmental conservation in Chile and demonstrates that the informed participation of the civil society can achieve changes towards a new relation with nature, which is what the majority of the people wants."
Cosme Caracciolo, secretary of CONAPACH, said, "This is the response of the political world to the position and demands of the civil society. With the national survey conducted by CCC to Adminark-GfK last April, it became clear that 99 percent of the Chilean people demand the protection of cetacean species."
"This is a project of the Chilean people and the Chilean organizations to defend life," Caracciolo said. "We are extremely happy since this law will help us as a country to protect the marine biodiversity. It is our duty and obligation to do so."
During the debate in the Senate on Wednesday, Senators Antonio Horvath and Juan Pablo Letelier underlined the conservation provisions in the new law such as avoidance of vessel collisions with whales in Chilean jurisdictional waters.
Senator Letelier said, "The initiative presented by the executive branch was improved and will allow us to make an act of sovereignty over our maritime territory."
"It has been a historical inflection where we say no to those nations that challenge international agreements related to the whale conservation," he said, referring to the pro-whaling nations such as Japan, Norway and Iceland.
Senator Letelier highlighted the role of civil society and nongovernmental organizations, particularly CCC and Ecoceanos, in generating public awareness and support for cetacean conservation, non-lethal research and the need to create whale sanctuaries.
He thanked President Bachelet for taking the demands of civil society and sending the projected law to Congress.
In the Chamber of Deputies this morning, Deputies Guido Girardi, Pablo Galilea and Fernando Meza stressed the importance of this project for the country. The deputies approved the whale sanctuary unanimously with 53 votes in favor and no negative votes or abstentions.
Environment Minister Ana Lya Uriarte, who attended both sessions, highlighted the consensus achieved in support of the law and the work conducted by the civil society organizations that were present in the session, CCC and CONAPACH.
Minister Uriarte said approval of the project was "an emblematic agreement between the executive and legislative branches. This is an example for the protection of our environment in a very special day for our country."
For previous ENS coverage of this issue see: Chilean President Proposes Whaling Ban, Whale Sanctuary
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.
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