‘Let’s Face It’: Protecting the World’s Remaining 55 Maui’s Dolphins

Across the globe, people have begun mobilizing to save the remaining 55 Maui’s dolphins—a subspecies of the Hector’s dolphin no larger than a child located off the coast of New Zealand.

Once news spread that the critically endangered species number had fallen so low, Peggy Oki, skateboarding icon, surfer and environmental activist from Carpinteria, Ca., launched the “Let’s Face It” campaign. The campaign seeks to pressure the New Zealand government into protecting these rapidly disappearing dolphins. Inspired by the 2008 Surfers for Cetaceans Visual Petition campaign, the unique approach to advocacy aims to pressure governments into action with photos of faces and people, joined in solidarity, as opposed to the more common and easier-to-ignore signature petitions.

“I thought that to have the ‘Let’s Face It’ campaign with images of the Hector’s or Maui’s dolphin was a visually powerful way to show the New Zealand government that participants globally are aware of the situation,” Oki said in an email.

So far, the “Let’s Face It” campaign has garnered over 2,800 Visual Petitions.

Team LoaTree, from L to R: Jenna, Oisin, Rachelle, Kiyome with their Visual Petition

Dove Joans, self-described Dolphin Diplomat and Santa Barbara, Ca. native living in Byron Bay, Australia, heard about the Maui’s desperate situation less than 8 weeks ago. An artist and dolphin lover, Joans painted her own Visual Petition but felt compelled to do more.

Joans joined the Visual Petition movement with a humble goal called “Byron 500,” which sought 500 Visual Petitions from the Australian coast town. She has far exceeded that goal by collecting more than 1,300 Visual Petitions. She plans to present these petitions to New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key on Monday, June 18, in Nelson, New Zealand at the Annual Plan meeting.

Her strategy is to appeal to the country’s tourism driven economy and illuminate the possibility of setting an example for the rest of the country. Joans explains that in this situation, “conservation is prosperity.”

In her appeal, Joans plans on casting emotions and moral obligation aside. Tourism accounts for nearly $18 billion of the nation’s economy, and protecting the dolphin is both lucrative and pragmatic.

Currently, the main threat to the dolphins’ survival are fishing nets in shallow waters immediately off the shore of New Zealand’s coast.

“The observed population crash coincides with the introduction of nylon filament fishing nets in New Zealand,” Oki wrote in her petition to Prime Minister Key. “Since then, more than 25 years of research as well as the government’s Draft Threat Management Plan, have identified fishing, specifically with gill and trawl nets, as the main cause of mortality for Maui’s dolphins. It is therefore the prime factor obstructing Maui’s dolphins’ recovery.”

Fortunately, because the dolphins’ habitat is finite and easily mapped it can easily be avoided.

“Marine parks need to be established in the entire range of the Maui’s habitat, within 100 meters of New Zealand’s coastline, especially the west coast,” Joan said.

Oki is skeptical of the New Zealand government’s innocence of the matter, blaming complacency and short-term thinking over misinformation.

“I strongly believe that it is not ignorance or negligence behind the insufficiency of protective measures of the Maui’s and Hector’s,” Oki said in an email. “Rather, it is my opinion that the current New Zealand government is aiming towards an impression of growing economy, which as a “quick fix” comes from selling out to the industries of fisheries, seabed mining, and deep sea oil extraction.”

Peggi Oki with Ric O’Barry

However as awareness of the issue grows both in New Zealand and abroad, it will become increasingly difficult for the New Zealand government to ignore the Maui’s dolphins’ plight.

In Maori, the Maui’s dolphin is called “Pahu,” which translates into “lifelong friend.” Joans considers the dolphins’ our oceanic counterparts—our friends in the ocean that we have a spiritual and moral obligation to defend.

Submit your own Visual Petition, and like Dove, feel free to proactively collect them as well. Although the visual petitions will continue to be collected as long as the Maui’s dolphins need support, Dove Joans’ deadline to appeal the government in Nelson, New Zealand is quickly approaching. Click here to help sponsor Dove Joans in her endeavors.

Note from Peggy Oki: *Help us reach our goal of 5,000 “Let’s Face It” VPs…the last 55 Maui’s Dolphins need us! If you’ve created a VP, you’ll know how fun & easy it is to do!  Events such as festivals, parties, and gatherings with co-workers and friends are great places for connecting and collecting many more “Let’s Face It” VPs. So bring your camera and an image of Hector’s / Maui’s dolphins along with you. Please visit our official “Let’s Face It” web page to begin! http://www.lets-face-it-dolphins.com.

-Jenna Ryan, LoaTree Team Writer

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