The Marae Moana Act 2017 has the purpose to protect and conserve the ecological, biodiversity, and heritage values of the Cook Islands marine environment. Secondary purposes are to establish an integrated decision-making and management framework, allow other uses (consistently with primary purpose, including economic, public enjoyment, education, recreational, cultural, research), encourage engagement of stakeholders and assist in meeting the Cook Islands’ international responsibilities.
The Act establishes a Marae Moana Council and a Marae Moana Technical Advisory Group (TAG). The Council is responsible for approving the Marae Moana policy, action plan, annual report, outlook report, marine spatial plans and any regulations. The TAG is responsible for developing these policies, plans, reports and regulations. The Council is comprised of representatives of the various sectors in Cook Islands society, that is, parliament through the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, the private sector, traditional leaders, the NGO sector, the religious sector through the Religious Advisory Council, as well as a representative from the Southern Cook Islands and a representative from the Northern Cook Islands. The TAG is comprised of technical experts from various government agencies and NGOs as well as experts in traditional culture. A Coordination Office is established within the Office of the Prime Minister which acts as Secretariat and advisor to the Council and the TAG.
Marine Spatial Planning
The Act establishes a framework for developing a marine spatial plan, called the National Marae Moana Spatial Plan, within the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone. The Act also establishes a framework for marine spatial planning around islands, called Island Marine Spatial Plans, for areas up to 12nm from land. Island Governments must request the development of a marine spatial plan except in the case of Rarotonga, where the request may be made by a community group or traditional leaders. A marine spatial plan may be developed for Suwarrow National Park at the initiative of the Marae Moana Council.
Marine Protected Areas
The Act established marine protected areas around islands up to 50nm from land where no large scale commercial fishing or seabed minerals activities are permitted. These areas may be expanded or new marine protected areas may be established elsewhere in the EEZ.
Marae Moana agencies must produce a Marae Moana Agency Report each year to aid compilation of an annual report. The Act requires the TAG to produce an annual report and a Marae Moana Outlook Report every six years.
Marae Moana Agencies
The Act depends on Marae Moana Agencies to develop and enforce rules within Marae Moana. Therefore the Act depends on agency legislation to establish rules and measures such as the Marine Resources Act 2005, the Seabed Minerals Act 2009, the Environment Act 2003, the Maritime Transport Act 2008 and the Island Government Act 2012-2013. Marae Moana agencies are the Ministry of Marine Resources, Seabed Minerals Authority, National Environment Service and the Ministry of Transport. Additional agencies may become Marae Moana agencies by prescribing regulations under the Act.