Category: Marine Park News

Marae Moana Marine Park becomes "a real thing"

Thursday December 20, 2018 Recently Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce president Tangata Fletcher Melvin, had a conversation with Marae Moana director Jacqui Evans that changed the way he understands the marine park. It was not, he realised, a marketing ploy, but a solid legal framework that allows for coordination of conservation and more responsible economic development. “I started to realise how much legislation is already in place,” he says. “I think a lot of people think (Marae Moana) is just in the concept stage. … I came away feeling like it’s quite concerning that there’s no funding stream in place.” He points out that only a small minority of people attends public meetings so there are still many who are largely uninformed. This view is supported by surveys commissioned by the Marae Moana Coordination Office, which reveal most people do not understand what Marae Moana is, what it is intended to be, and why it matters. Perhaps this is because Marae Moana has been leveraged as a marketing tool in speeches and publications with international reach, though the work of zoning the park has yet to begin. While the exclusion zones are supported by the law, marine spatial planning—the process of using science and consultation to figure out what should be permitted in which zones—has yet to take place. “Cook Islands Tourism constantly markets the Cook Islands as being a clean, green, happy place, and while we don’t want to disagree with that, we also take that with a pinch of salt, knowing that we have our problems too,” Melvin says. “We spend a lot of time when there is a problem keeping it out of the media and dealing with it in the background. That’s the marketing of tourism. People have this idea that (Marae Moana) is another form of marketing.” As a business owner who believes in sustainable economic development and responsible tourism, he believes Marae Moana is, in fact, a key marketing tool. What he’s saying, though, is that responsible marine management is integral to life, culture, and a healthy resource base capable of sustaining industry, so it’s important that Marae Moana is more than just talk. “You have the PM getting really positive feedback around what the Cook Islands is doing, and on the flipside you’ve got the seabed mining project taking place, though there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that it will be good or bad. I just think we’ve got to be really careful on what happens next.” What happens next will be shaped by an informed, educated, and involved public, he says. “Whether it be the Te Mato Vai project or the Manatua cable project, there are so many things taking place now that are seen to be more important. “When Jacqui talks about Marae Moana, you start thinking okay, I can sort of see where this is going. “More people need to know about all this.”

Reference: Marae Moana Central to NES Work

Category: Marine Park News

Marae Moana Central to NES Work

Monday December 10, 2018 Some people accuse Marae Moana, the Cook Islands’ marine park, of being spineless. Others suspect it’s a marketing ploy to procure aid money. Most of these people will admit they don’t know a lot about what is arguably the country’s most ambitious commitment to the international community. But if you ask Joseph Brider, director of the National Environment Service—an agency tasked with protecting the health of the Cook Islands’ environment—he’ll tell you Marae Moana is the vaka that will deliver the Cook Islands into a prosperous future. “From what I can see, at this point in time, it’s the only vehicle that will carry us all together toward our national goal,” he says. The goal he’s talking about is sustainable development—an approach to progress that considers economic growth, environmental stewardship, and social welfare in equal measure. It’s a philosophy that acknowledges imbalance can only last for so long—that eventually, a leaning tower falls over. “Right now we’re focused on one pillar,” Brider says. “We’ve built the country up economically but the environmental pillar still requires a lot more attention. You could say the same for the social pillar… If we are to continue this isolated approach to development, we will continue to miss our target of sustainable development.” Brider believes Marae Moana—a law that prioritises conservation in the Cook Islands, closing 16 per cent of the country’s ocean territory to large-scale commercial activity, laying the groundwork for further management, and coordinating all environmental work—buttresses a neglected pillar. “Marae Moana is central to our work. It puts in place a framework for all of us to start working together,” he says. “By working together—that’s how we’ll start to balance out these pillars of society.” One result of this imbalanced approach to development, Brider believes, is a “heavily under-resourced” National Environment Service. While most agencies will claim to be under-funded, he’s referring more to capacity than money. He sees Marae Moana as a tool that can fix the problems stemming from a fragmentation of work such as the duplication of roles or inefficient use of funds. “The idea is that the Coordination Office will be thinly resourced and the bulk of funding will be going to agencies or NGOs or traditional leaders —those who are contributing toward the Marae Moana objectives,” says Jacqui Evans, director of Marae Moana. “Our role in the Marae Moana Coordination Office is coordination but for Marae Moana to be effective we need to work with the Public Service Commission to identify capacity gaps in government agencies as well as identify capacity gaps within traditional leader and non-government organisations and help get them filled.” The task of sustainable development is ambitious, but Brider believes Marae Moana is a bold first step in the right direction because it gets to the heart of what makes the Cook Islands special: the ocean, the thing that connects and resonates with us all. “The ocean brought us here,” Brider says. “The ocean is our history, is our heritage, is our culture, is our livelihood, and is our future, and so I think it’s quite fortuitous that a concept such as Marae Moana preserving a resource such as the ocean is the vehicle to bring us together. The oceans brought our ancestors to the islands we call home today—it carried us in the past, and it will carry us forward into the future.” Brider is hopeful that Marae Moana, an initiative centred on protecting the ocean, will impel people to care and get involved in balancing the pillars of sustainable development. This is work that extends beyond boardrooms and policy. It is work that begins in the home. “If we can work together to plant a seed in a young person to value the ocean, to value our country and our natural resources, and we continue to nurture that seed, then one day that seed turns into a tree that bears the fruits of wisdom and intelligence,” he says. “This is not just the task of the government. The country belongs to all of us.”

Category: Marine Park News

Clarifying the Confusion over MPAs

Saturday December 08, 2018 - Prime minister Henry Puna speaks often at conferences and in the pages of international magazines about how the Cook Islands possesses the world’s largest marine-protected area. He’s not wrong; Marae Moana, the marine park legislated last year, covers nearly two million square kilometres of ocean space. But a Google search for the world’s largest marine-protected area (MPA) produces headlines referring to area in Antarctica’s Ross Sea that measures 1.55 million sqkm. The explanation for this discrepancy is rooted in a complex and worldwide conversation about how to define and evaluate an MPA. When the United Nations began calling for ocean protection, the number of MPAs grew and so did the application of the term. Some countries were using it to describe a fully closed ocean, others to denote an area that permitted mining. Countries were being asked to report on their own MPAs; it was like asking students to give themselves grades. A paper published in the journal Conservation Letters in 2011 noted that even some of the world’s largest countries were mis-classifying their MPAs, indicating this was “occurring at a wider scale”. The confusion prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global authority on the state of the natural world, to this year publish some standards for defining and evaluating MPAs. Drafted with input from governments and stakeholders around the world, the standards are based on the idea that you get an A not for turning in an assignment but for doing it well. The primary focus of an MPA must be conservation. It must have defined goals that reflect this emphasis, as well as a management plan and the resources to implement it. Beyond this general clarification there are seven varying levels of protection. Categories Ia, Ib, II, and III are the strictest. Ia denotes a strict nature reserve, where no resource extraction is permitted, not by anyone. Ib is the wilderness, a largely intact environment where indigenous people can harvest and collect in traditional manner. Category II is a national park, an area protecting “large-scale ecological processes”. The point here is to preserve entire and fully functioning ecosystems. Within these, indigenous people are able to harvest and collect traditionally. An MPA with a designation of Category III is typically small and centred on a specific feature such as a cave or seamount. Studies have shown that Categories I through III, which close parts of the ocean to activities like large-scale fishing and drilling, are most effective at restoring the health of the oceans. A scientific paper published in May in the ICES Journal of Marine Science suggests that “the biomass of whole fish assemblages in marine reserves is, on average, 670 per cent greater than in adjacent unprotected areas, and 343 per cent greater than in partially-protected MPAs”. What this means is that fully protected areas are much likelier to allow for the regrowth of fish stocks. They have also been shown to, “enhance local fisheries and create jobs and new incomes through ecotourism”, according to the same paper. Category IV protects particular species and/or habitats -what the IUCN’s website calls “fragments of an ecosystem”. It allows for sustainable resource extraction, relies on regular intervention, and can be relatively expensive to maintain. A protected landscape or seascape ( Category V), covers a large space. It’s governed by a conservation plan but also accommodates for-profit activities. The last designation, Category VI, permits industrial activities in some areas and “low-level non industrial use of natural resources compatible with nature conservation” elsewhere. This is the most permissive level of protection. According to the IUCN, regardless of its categorisation, an MPA should fairly represent and address the interests of everyone in a society. Decisions about its management should be transparent. It should regulate fisheries activities to the highest standards. It should also contain no “environmentally damaging industrial activities or infrastructural developments located in, adjacent to, or otherwise negatively affecting it”. Currently, the exclusion zones extending 50 nautical miles from the shore of every island in the Cook Islands may be classified as Category V. The rest of Marae Moana is protected under the Marae Moana Act but allows industrial activities in some areas and so is Category VI, although heavy industrial fishing adjacent to Marae Moana could affect this status. Environmentally damaging industrial activities are not permitted within Marae Moana so any seabed minerals activity must be shown to have the smallest of environmental impacts. Further zoning of Marae Moana, which will involve much public consultation and a lot of science, is forthcoming.
Category: Marine Park News

Renewing PM's pledge to oceans

Wednesday October 31, 2018 This week, Kevin Iro is representing the Cook Islands at the Our Ocean Conference in Indonesia, a meeting of prominent leaders, ocean advocates, scientists, businesspeople, funders, scientists, non-profit organisations, and advocates from all over the world. Recognisable names include Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s former prime minister; John Kerry, America’s former secretary of state; and Sylvia Earle, a longtime ocean explorer who has visited the Cook Islands before. Traditional and government leaders from Asia, Africa, North America, Europe, South America, and Oceania will be attending also. Iro, an ambassador for Marae Moana, the Cook Islands’ marine park, is going primarily to create and maintain relationships with countries and organisations that can support the Cook Islands with advice and ideas and technical expertise and money. “If there’s new funding available, we want to be able to put our hand up and say we’re trying our best to do the right thing,” Iro said before departing Rarotonga for Bali on Friday. “When new initiatives are announced it makes sense to be there. You can’t close yourself off from these meetings just because you’ve legislated something.” The legislation of Marae Moana was announced to the world at last year’s Our Ocean Conference in Malta. It’s a meeting known for the commitments it facilitates; in the last four years, world leaders have committed at Our Ocean to protecting a total of 12.4 million square kilometres of ocean. The conference’s official website proudly lists the Cook Islands’ achievement of closing 324,000 square kilometres—the total area of exclusion zones surrounding each island—to big boats and companies searching for minerals. Prime Minister Henry Puna will not be attending alongside Iro this year, but in Malta last year he delivered a rousing speech in which he spoke about how Marae Moana Act was “one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever put together by our country” and local support for it was “overwhelming”. “Without sounding boastful, our government is one of the most environmentally progressive governments there is,” he said, addressing the conference. “And this is the way it should be, particularly for [a] small island developing state, uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation.” Puna spoke about the breadth of Marae Moana, an initiative he said makes a major contribution to “the whole of mankind”. He talked about how the Cook Islands and other Pacific nations are “carrying too much of the burden of caring for our ocean, while bigger countries seem to be adopting a ‘business as usual’ attitude”. He explained that this is because the ocean is integral to the history and lived experience of the Cook Islands people. “We are the ocean,” he said. “We live it, we breathe it, and it is the very essence of life for our people.” Puna then spoke about how unlike countries adopting this kind of nonchalant attitude, his government understands its responsibility to his people and to the future of the planet they will continue to inhabit. “We have a duty to future generations,” he told the room full of ocean advocates, “to be courageous with renewed vigour and commitment towards ocean governance, environmental conservation, and mitigating the effects of climate change.” He spoke of ocean conservation as something that upholds “the long held values of our ocean voyaging ancestors”. “Provided we as a people care for our oceans and mother earth, our ocean and mother earth [will] in turn care for us and continue to provide sustenance and prosperity for our people for generations to come,” he said. This week, Iro is following through on these commitments by showing up. The government’s commitment to the oceans begins with words, but becomes real through time, energy, partnerships, passion, and the people who do the work. “Just because something’s legislated,” Iro said before departing last Friday, “doesn’t mean it’s over the line.”
Category: Marine Park News

Understanding Marae Moana

Wednesday October 24, 2018 Surveys commissioned by the team managing Marae Moana reveal that little is known within the Cook Islands community about the marine park covering our whole ocean - what it is, what it means, and why it matters. Respondents under the age of 17 were more aware than all other age groups, reflecting the success of school visits and sessions at Lagoon Day. But though Marae Moana made international headlines last year as the world’s largest marine protected area, at home it seems an ambiguous idea. Some people surveyed hadn’t heard of it; others made inaccurate comments about how Asian countries are solely responsible for the degradation of the ocean or how Marae Moana bans fishing. This lack of understanding is the impetus for a Marae Moana communications strategy, now under revision, which seeks to raise public awareness about our marine park, the people working to make it happen, and why their journey doesn’t always feel like smooth sailing. Below is a list of basic questions, and some answers. Q: What is Marae Moana? Marae Moana is the name of a multiple-use marine park covering the Cook Islands’ entire ocean. Last year, our Parliament passed an Act that laid the foundation for the park, which is the world’s largest and which represents a more coordinated and intentional approach to marine conservation. Marine protection is more important now than it has ever been. Overfishing, industrial pollution, and climate change have seriously threatened the sea and all life in it. Q: Why is it called a marine park? In the conservation world, protected areas go by several names depending on how they’re managed. A marine park is partially protected, which means fishing and mining and other industrial activities are allowed in certain zones. A park often gets confused with a marine reserve - a place where you can swim and snorkel but you can’t remove fish, minerals, or anything else. “Sanctuary” is another term that gets used a lot; often it refers to protection of a certain species. The Cook Islands is a sanctuary for sharks, meaning fishing boats are not legally allowed to keep them. Q: What does multiple-use mean? In a multiple-use park, a range of activities is permitted. There are zones where commercial activity is allowed and zones where it isn’t. So far, under the law, we have a ring extending 50 nautical miles from the coast of each island, inside which no large-scale fishing - no big boats and no mining are allowed. These are called exclusion zones and communities on all islands supported their creation. The locations and uses of other zones are yet to be determined. Q: Why haven’t they been determined already? The Marae Moana Act sets up a legal framework for mapping out zones and what will be allowed inside them. The mapping out - a process called marine spatial planning - requires a lot of time, consideration, and science. It also requires a lot of meetings involving a lot of people representing, for example, government, industry, community, and conservation. This process is separate from the process of writing a law and getting it passed. Q: Is Marae Moana just a big ra’ui? Not exactly. The concept is similar; both Marae Moana and a ra’ui are intended to protect areas of ocean in order to allow the things living there some time and space to recover. But the ra’ui is different in a few ways. It’s a traditional practice overseen by chiefs. Years ago, it didn’t have to account for modern activities like commercial fishing, tourism, and seabed mining. It was also imposed for a specified period of time, sometimes forever but often for months or a few years, according to centuries-old custom. A ra’ui is applied to an area or species on land or near the coast. Marae Moana, though supported by traditional leaders and the community, is established by parliament. It’s permanent. It covers the whole ocean, including the offshore parts. Its boundaries are defined by the Exclusive Economic Zone—ocean space allocated by laws only decades old. Q: How does an area get labelled “protected”? This is where the conversation gets complicated. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world’s oldest conservation organisation, a protected area is “a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”. Many scientists argue the definition is too broad because it could refer to an area marked off-limits for humans, or it could refer to an area being mined. There is science to support the idea that marine reserves—completely protected areas—are most effective. A paper published in Marine Policy this year argues “(s)trongly or fully protected areas are the only ones achieving the goal of protecting biodiversity”. But the research also suggests something is better than nothing. Given the revenue generated by marine resources in today’s global economy, full protection is often not a feasible option. Marae Moana balances protection and sustainable resource management. Q: How does Marae Moana intersect with the seabed mining discussions happening now? The Marae Moana Act permits sustainable seabed mining outside the exclusion zones, provided the potential impact has been thoroughly studied and caution has been faithfully exercised. This means a company has to prove a project isn’t going to cause the extinction of species or affect the way an ecosystem functions. Mining inside Marae Moana must also be approved through a process of public consultation. Q: Who’s in charge of Marae Moana? The community owns Marae Moana. Though the conversation around Marae Moana can sometimes seem exclusive, as if it belongs only to policymakers and bureaucrats, the reality is that everyone in the Cook Islands is a rightful owner of the park. The line between management and ownership gets blurred here and elsewhere in the world. An article in the journal Marine Policy makes this point about marine conservation in three Australian states: that decision-making gets left to “the politically savvy, articulate and often well educated sections of the community and marginalises sectors of the community [with] lower levels of literacy, confidence in speaking at public forums, or understanding of the intricacies of the political or bureaucratic system they are attempting to influence”. The paper later continues: “Equitable consideration of all points of view… is essential in ensuring a socially fair and just approach to MPA [marine-protected area] declaration and management”. The managers of Marae Moana are committed to including the community in their process. Dozens of public consultations paved the way for the Marae Moana Act and more will be necessary in the process of marine spatial planning. Two groups - the Marae Moana Council and a Technical Advisory Group, manage the Marae Moana policy. Each of these includes people from both sides of government and all islands, as well as from non-government organisations, the private and religious sectors, and the aronga mana. There is also a Marae Moana Coordination Office within the Office of the Prime Minister which facilitates communication between these groups and provides secretarial support. Q: Since Marae Moana became law, how has it benefited the Cook Islands? Regarding the biological impact, it’s hard to say. Scientific assessments require time, technology, and money. It also hasn’t been very long since the law went into effect: an ecosystem needs time to balance itself. Marae Moana is predicated on what’s called the precautionary principle, which is basically the idea that it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s also a response to a lot of research that proves marine protection works. Marae Moana also has long-term economic benefits also. For example, it has launched the Cook Islands into international headlines and has interested development partners and tourists—the drivers of the Cook Islands economy. For more information, visit If you have other questions, leave a comment on the Marae Moana Facebook page. The people working to make Marae Moana a reality are committed to transparency and openness so that the people of the Cook Islands feel a sense of both pride in, and ownership of, their marine protected area. - Release
Category: Marine Park News

Watershed moment’ for Marae Moana

6 February 2018- Cook Islands News

The meeting was followed by a meeting of the council on the same Friday and Puna says he’s pleased that after passing “this momentous piece of legislation (the Marae Moana Act). The government is now getting on with the important task of rolling it out.

The advisory group discussed its rules and procedures, some of which will be developed into regulations. Marae Moana director Jacqui Evans led that meeting at the Muri Beach Club in Ngatangiia. Group members also familiarised themselves with their terms of reference and the principles of the Marae Moana legislation.

The technical advisory group comprises representatives from relevant government agencies, non-government organisations, the House of Ariki and the Koutu Nui. They are responsible for producing policies, reports, work plans and marine spatial plans for council approval.

The Marae Moana Council also held its second and first full-membership meeting where they confirmed Puna as their chairman, adopted various rules and procedures, and requested a copy of the Marine Resources Bill, tabled in Parliament last December, for the advisory group and council members to comment.

“I am humbled to lead this Marae Moana Council and to have the support of members right across our community and different sectors, to deliver the Marae Moana action plan to the people of the Cook Islands.”

The council decided to ask the advisory group to perform several tasks including developing a schedule of marine-based activities that require management measures, a National Marae Moana spatial plan and a marine spatial plan for Suwarrow.

“Marine spatial planning is a key aspect of the Marae Moana legislation because it results in a map of marine protected areas as well as zones where certain activities may be permitted in the Cook Islands EEZ and around islands,” said Evans. “These activities may include fishing, seabed mining and exploration, and certain tourism activities.”

Already, marine protected areas extend 50 nautical miles around islands where large scale commercial fishing and seabed minerals activities are not permitted.

Evans said the primary purpose of the Marae Moana policy was the conservation of the biodiversity and natural assets in the oceans, reefs and islands of the Cook Islands, while ensuring the sustainable development of “economic growth interests.”



Photo caption: 

Marae Moana council members meet at the Offi ce of the Prime Minister. Back row: Government and state owned enterprises representative Tamarii Tutangata, Aitutaki mayor Tekura Bishop (southern group rep), parliamentary Opposition leader Smiley Heather, private sector representative Stephen Lyon, Religious Advisory Council representative Piltz Napa and House of Ariki president Kaumaiti Nui Tou Ariki. Front (from left) NGO representative Teina Mackenzie, prime minister Henry Puna (chairman) and Manihiki mayor Ngamata Napara (northern group representative).

Category: Marine Park News

Noted scientist applauds Marae Moana

Thursday November 08, 2018 Alan Friedlander is currently chief scientist for National Geographic’s Pristine Seas Project, an initiative that focusses on marine protection and raising awareness about why it’s necessary. The project is National Geographic’s largest initiative dedicated to environmental preservation. Friedlander has produced more than 100 scientific publications, 25 book chapters, 10 documentaries, and numerous articles that have been influential in his field. He currently heads the Fisheries Ecology Research Lab at the University of Hawaii. The accomplished scientist, who has visited the Cook Islands before, kindly answered some questions about Marae Moana via email. His answers have been lightly edited. Q: On a global scale, why does Marae Moana matter? A: Owing to the failures of conventional ocean management, there is a growing interest in exploring new and innovative approaches to conserving marine ecosystems and the benefits they will provide to current and future generations. Nowhere is this more critical than in the islands of Oceania, where the ocean has provided important cultural connections and life sustaining services for millennia. A key strategy to arrest these declines in ocean health and conserve some of the last remaining relatively undisturbed marine areas on the globe relies on the creation of large-scale marine protected areas (LSMPAs, > 100,000 km2). These large marine protected areas (MPAs) constitute over two-thirds of the approximately 7 per cent of the ocean currently under marine protected areas and are essential if we are to achieve our international commitments to ocean protection. Many of the existing large MPAs are remote areas in the Pacific that share common natural history, threats, culture, as well as scientific and management needs. The Cook Islands’ commitment is the largest by a single country to integrate ocean conservation and management. The area includes remote atolls, high volcanic islands and seamounts that host rich marine biodiversity, including rare seabirds, whales, manta rays, and several shark species. This unprecedented plan to manage the entire Exclusive Economic Zone of the Cook Islands represents a holistic and precautionary approach that is consistent with the traditional values and customs of Cook Islanders. This represents a model for achieving integrated ocean management and conservation through inclusive processes of consultation and spatial planning. Q: Marae Moana currently provides partial protection for areas surrounding islands but zoning in the remainder of its space has yet to be completed. Does the total size of a protected area matter? A: Large MPAs offer many advantages over their smaller counterparts. They protect entire ecosystems, particularly habitats that are not typically part of nearshore MPAs, such as the deep sea, seamounts and open ocean. Large MPAs protect highly mobile species such as tunas, billfish, sharks, and other targeted fisheries species, as well as sea turtles, marine mammals, seabirds and other pelagic species, which are taken as by-catch in pelagic fisheries. Protection of seamounts is critical as they provide habitat and spawning grounds for numerous species and represent important biodiversity hotspots. Deep-sea communities have extremely slow recovery rates and fragile habitat structures, leaving them vulnerable to physical disturbances such as deep-sea mining, which is now becoming both technologically feasible and economically viable. Large MPAs like Marae Moana also provide the opportunity for adopting a precautionary approach to management, which is particularly important given the uncertainty associated with climate change. Q: The legislation has been passed; now what? What can people do to support the policy-level work required to make Marae Moana a reality? Why should people care? A: The people of Oceania have long relied on the ocean for sustenance, commerce, and cultural identity, which promulgated a sophisticated understanding of the marine environment and its conservation. The resurgence of local stewardship, which incorporates customary practices and governance, has shown promise in many locations throughout the Pacific, although a complete return to past practices is not fully implementable owing to the loss of traditional knowledge, centralised governmental structures, economic development, and globalization. Hybrid systems that incorporate elements of customary and contemporary management can overcome some of these limitations. Q: You said when you last visited the Cook Islands that visiting the last wild places in the ocean is enough to inspire someone to change their behaviour. How would you describe the impact that visiting “the last wild places” has had on you? A: I have been fortunate enough to have visited some of the last wild places in the ocean and they literally take your breath away. Realizing that you might be one of the first people to jump in the water in a place offers a real sense of exploration that is rare in our modern world. Whether you’re being surrounded by 100-plus sharks in the Southern Line Islands or being chased out of the water by a polar bear in the Russian Arctic, these places are awe-inspiring and remind us that we were not always at the top of food chain. There is an urgent need to preserve the last ocean wildernesses before they vanish. They offer an unparalleled glimpse into our past and an inspiring vision for the future. These places harbor the remaining pristine ecosystems in the ocean and are the only baselines we have to understand what we have lost and provide resilience to large-scale disturbances and the potential effects of climate change.
Category: Marine Park News

Chance to Have a Say on Marae Moana

Monday October 29, 2018 The tiny team working to give Marae Moana life is, until next week, inviting feedback from the public about what ocean-based activities need managing and how much. Comments will inform a process called marine spatial planning, which determines what’s allowed where within the Cook Islands’ oceans. While Marae Moana legislates exclusion zones around each island - rings extending 50 nautical miles from all shores, more work remains. For some time, there has been a debate about whether most protected areas are just publicity stunts, rather than real tools for chipping away at the unsustainable exploitation of marine environments. There’s even a term for national and marine parks that have websites and press but little else: paper parks. Years ago, columnist George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian: “A marine-protected area in the United Kingdom is an area inside a line drawn on a map - and that’s about it. In most cases, the fishing industry can continue to rip up the seabed, overharvest the fish and shellfish, and cause all the other kinds of damage it is permitted to inflict in the rest of this country’s territorial waters. With three tiny exceptions, our marine reserves are nothing but paper parks.” The Marae Moana coordination office based at the Office of the Prime Minister is in the process of making sure Marae Moana doesn’t become a “paper park”. The first step is marine spatial planning, a process that involves consulting people on every island in the Cook Islands, as well as scientists and experts, about which zones should be protected from which activities and to what extent. A schedule is being advertised and circulated to people who ask for it. The 10-page schedule identifies marine-based activities, their impacts or potential impacts, and the laws (or lack thereof) pertaining to them. The list is long. It includes maritime transport, oil and waste cleanups, ship scuttling, wreck retrieval, ocean dumping, aquaculture, collecting aquarium fish, subsistence fishing, artisanal commercial fishing, large-scale commercial fishing, whaling, disposal of sewage, seabed mining, research, renewable energy generation, marine-based tourism, construction and maintenance of coastal infrastructure, and sand mining/dredging. The impacts of these activities range from pollution to ciguatera to the extinction of species. Marine spatial planning will, ultimately, shape a management plan for Marae Moana. The plan will feature zones for general use, a restricted commercial fishing zone, a buffer zone where no seabed mining is allowed, and protection zones in which seabed mining and large-scale commercial fishing are prohibited. Inside these zones, marine-based activities will be either prohibited, prohibited without a licence or permit, or permitted. The team making Marae Moana happen is committed to keeping the process of marine management open and accessible to every person in the Cook Islands. According to a study of 45 marine-protected areas in the Philippines, a high level of community participation in decision-making is one of five critical factors for success—for becoming more than a paper park. For a copy of the schedule, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or find Marae Moana on Facebook. Comments are being accepted until next Friday, November 2. - Release/Marae Moana
Category: Marine Park News

Marae Moana Still A Step Ahead


At the UN General Assembly meeting recently the United Kingdom’s government challenged the world to protect 30 per cent of all oceans before 2030. “It took my breath away,” said Lewis Pugh, a British maritime lawyer who once swam for 49 days to protest the way the world is treating the oceans. The call to action was significant because currently, according to the Atlas of Marine Protection, less than four per cent of the world’s oceans are conserved. The UN offers different data—seven per cent, because it publishes what it receives from countries. There are disputes, however, about how much of this area is actually and effectively protected. Whichever figure is accurate, still it represents a speck on the larger canvas. The ocean covers roughly 70 per cent of the planet. About 60 per cent of it belongs, officially, to no-one. This area is known as the high seas, and according to the World Database on Protected Areas, just one per cent of it is protected. The United Nations has set a target of conserving 10 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2020. People who have attended regional or international meetings, who know the difficulty of reaching consensus in a room full of political and commercial interests, call this goal ambitious. They know that opposition to marine conservation is rife. Marine data scientists from National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project found this year that more than half the world’s oceans are being industrially fished, and new technologies are increasing demand for minerals on the seafloor. Calling for 30 per cent protection, then, is fraught. University of York scientists recently concluded, after reviewing more than 100 studies, that it’s also necessary. “There’s been huge interest and controversy over how much of the sea we really need to protect in order to safeguard life there and the benefits it provides to humanity,” Professor Callum Roberts was quoted as saying. “The science says we should raise our ambitions and protect something of the range of 30 to 40 per cent of the oceans from exploitation and harm.” The Cook Islands has already raised its ambitions; Marae Moana remains the world’s largest marine protected area. Kevin Iro, who conceived of the idea years ago, has hopes it will create a ripple effect throughout the region. “From my perspective and from the prime minister’s perspective, what we’re trying to establish is a complete paradigm shift in how we, as Pacific peoples, view the ocean,” he said. “We’re all using this western construct that says let’s save 10 per cent by 2020 or 30% by 2030. We’re thinking the opposite.” What he means by this is he’s thinking about pockets of industry in a patchwork of protection, not the other way around. This perspective informed the name of the Cook Islands’ marine protected area—Marae Moana, the sacred ocean, because the ocean is not just a site for doing business. In other words, protection is the rule, not the exception. “We go out to these international meetings and express this and people have this stunned-mullet look on their faces,” Iro said. “We’ve been brainwashed into thinking we have to just put aside these little areas and that’s obviously not working.” As the Cook Islands government expedites discussions with mining companies, Marae Moana assumes new significance. For Iro, it remains a message to the region, and world, that marine protection is possible and necessary. “We have the ability to actually make a stand together,” he said of Oceania. In the Pacific, there are more Exclusive Economic Zones, or EEZs—ocean spaces extending 370 kilometres or less from a country’s coastlines—than in any other ocean. The marine area over which Pacific nations have jurisdiction is vast. “Year after year, fish stocks decline and pollution gets worse because we haven’t really, as a Pacific people, taken ownership of our oceans,” Iro said. “Our ancestors revered the ocean. They thought if they didn’t do well by their lagoon, the god of the sea would punish them. I’m not saying we revert back to that. “I’m saying that spirit—that holistic view of the ocean—comes when Pacific people take ownership of the ocean beyond what they can see. That’s the movement I think we are creating.”

Category: Marine Park News

Marae Moana Becomes Reality

13 July 2017 The Cook Islands is now the largest multi-use marine park in the world. Marae Moana – spanning a total ocean area of nearly two million square kilometres – became a reality on Tuesday. A massive feat for a country with only a tiny 237 square kilometre land area. The entire Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone – an area similar in size to the landmass of Mexico – is now officially designated as the Cook Islands Marine Park. Possibly the most significant piece of legislation since Independence, the monumental bill was passed in parliament with resounding bipartisan support. What started out as one man’s vision has been passed into ocean saving legislation. After five years in the making, local environmentalist Kevin Iro’s concept to protect the ocean surrounding the Cook Islands has finally come to fruition. Iro, co-chair of the Cook Islands Marine Park Steering Committee, said the bill signifies “the sacredness of how Cook Islanders view our ocean space. It links us to our ancestors – it’s more than just the ocean”. Iro said that he is very excited, especially with the bipartisan support Marae Moana received by all factions of parliament for a bill that truly reflects what the people wanted. Prime minister Henry Puna praised Iro for his vision, personally acknowledging him in the public gallery of parliament. Puna explained cabinet had been approached by Iro, “one of our pioneers”, who had conceived the idea as a board member of the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation. “Together we had a vision to turn our little country into the cleanest and greenest tourism destination in the whole wide world. “And our commitment is the largest in the history by a single country for integrating ocean conservation management from ridge to reef – and reef to ocean,” Puna said. The Prime Minister delivered a stirring speech in support of Marae Moana that Speaker of the House Nikki Rattle described as a “beautiful encounter of the journey of the people of the Cook Islands”. Puna said: “Our people loved the idea. In fact, they loved the idea so much that they wanted the Marine Park to be extended over the entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – an area spanning nearly two million square kilometres. “Our Government wanted to bring reality to the voice of our people.” The bill establishes Marae Moana over the entire EEZ – and gives the Cook Islands marine protected areas around every island where no commercial fishing or mining are permitted. Exclusion zones, recently approved by cabinet in May, extending 50 nautical miles from each and every island – this area is reserved specifically for the enjoyment of the local people of each island. “Socially, economically and spiritually we must all take care of it – and it is imperative that all those that live and exist both within and beyond its boundaries do recognise and respect its sanctity,” the Prime Minister said. “We do not only recognise that the ocean brings us revenue in terms of fishery and tourism and potentially sea bed minerals – it also provides us with clean air, clean water, and clean food to nourish and sustain us.” “So this bill aims to sustain our livelihoods by protecting species and ecosystems as well as our cultural heritage that we inherit and pass on to future generations.” He said the Marine Park will provide the framework to promote sustainable development by balancing economic growth interests with conserving core biodiversity and natural assets in the ocean, reefs and islands" The name Marae Moana was conceived by a student of Tereora College, Bouchard Solomona, during competitions to develop a name and a logo in 2014. Puna said the name perfectly encapsulated the way Cook Islanders regard and respect the ocean. “We borrowed this idea from our forefathers who considered the entire ocean as sacred and specially recognised it as one ecosystem,” he said.