Skip links


Marae Moana extends over 1.976 million square kilometres of ocean. This is the entire Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone which lies from 6 degrees south to 25 degrees south and 155 degrees west to 169 degrees west. The park is comprised of fifteen tropical islands with fringing coral reefs. These islands include seven atolls, four upraised coral reef islands (“makatea”), two sand cays, one almost atoll and one volcanic island. The open ocean dominates the park, with the islands making up only 237 square kilometres or 0.02% of the total area. 

Name of IslandType of IslandLand Area (km2)Human Population (2011)
MangaiaUpraised limestone51.8572
AtiuUpraised limestone26.9480
MaukeUpraised limestone18.4307
MitiaroUpraised limestone22.3189
TakuteaSand Cay1.00
NassauSand Cay1.373

 Table 1 Islands within Marae Moana, their land area and human populationMarae Moana comprises several tropical ecosystems typical of tropical island environments. Coral reefs encircle all fifteen islands and these are separated by the pelagic ecosystem. Although there is no biological data, bathymetric data indicates there are possibly seamount ecosystems within the park. A variety of tropical forest ecosystems exist on the islands. These include littoral forests, the Rarotonga montane rainforest, Rarotonga cloud forest and makatea forest on the upraised limestone islands. Wetland ecosystems include streams, swamps and lakes. Unlike most tropical island environments, there are no mangrove or seagrass ecosystems in the Cook Islands, although there is archaeological evidence that the mangrove Rhizophora sp. previously existed in Mangaia. There are 136 identified coral species and some 650 species of fish in coral reefs of Marae Moana. Twenty two cetacean species have been observed in the open ocean. 

SpeciesCommon Name
Megaptera novaeangliaeHumpback whale
Balaenoptera borealisSei whale
Balaenoptera musculusBlue whale
Balaenoptera bonaerensis orBalaenoptera acutorostrata spAntarctic minke whale or Dwarf common minke whale
Physeter macrocephalusSperm whale
Orcinus orcaKiller whale
Globicephala macrorhynchusShort-finned pilot whale
Ziphius cavirostrisCuvier’s beaked whale
Mesoplodon densirostrisBlainville’s beaked whale
Peponocephala electraMelon-headed whale
Balaenoptera edeniBryde’s Whale
Pseudorca crassidensFalse Killer Whale
Delphinus delphis/frontalisCommon dolphin
Lagenorhynchus australisPeale’s dolphin
Stenella longirostrisSpinner dolphin
Stenella attenuateStriped/Spotted dolphin
Lagenodelphis hoseiFraser’s dolphin
Grampus griseusRisso’s dolphin
Steno bredanensisRough Toothed dolphin
Tursiops truncatesBottle-nosed dolphin

Table 2 Cetaceans found within Marae Moana (Source: Cook Islands Whale Research and Cook Islands Natural Heritage Project)

Three globally threatened marine turtle species have been identified in Marae Moana – the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas), the Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta). The Green and Loggerhead Turtles are endangered and the Hawksbill critically endangered.

Tuna species typically identified in Marae Moana include Skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), Albacore (Thunnus alalunga), Yellowfin (Thunnus albacares), Bigeye (Thunnus obesus). Mackeral Tuna (Euthynnus affinis) and the Frigate Tuna (Auxis thazard). Big Eye Tuna (Thunnus obsesus) is identified as a globally threatened species with vulnerable status.

There are six reef shark species and eleven pelagic shark species found in Marae Moana.

Species Common Name
Nebrius ferrugineus Nurse Shark
Carcharhinus albimarginatus Silvertip Shark
Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos Grey Reef Shark
Carcharhinus melanopterus Blacktip Reef Shark
Triaenodon obesus Whitetip Reef Shark
Hexanchus griseus Bluntnose Sixgill Shark
Rhincodon typus Whale Shark
Carcharhinus falciformis Silky Shark
Carcharhinus galapagensis Galapagos Shark
Carcharhinus longimanus Oceanic Whitetip Shark
Galeocerdo cuvier Tiger Shark
Prionace glauca Blue Shark
Sphyrna lewini Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
Alopias pelagicus Pelagic Thresher Shark
Isurus oxyrinchus Shortfin Mako Shark
Isistius brasiliensis Cookiecutter Shark
Echinorhinus cookie Prickly Shark

Table 3 Shark species found within Marae Moana 

Globally Threatened Species

With the support of Birdlife International, the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund, and help from the Cook Islands Natural Heritage Database, an analysis of Cook Islands Key Biodiversity Areas and Important Bird Areas was performed in 2012. The southern group islands are the most studied and therefore have the most comprehensive and reliable information. Marae Moana is home to 61 globally threatened species as well as many endemic species that are threatened. There are 25 threatened coral species, 8 threatened fish species, 3 marine turtle species and 3 threatened whale species. There are also 8 threatened land bird species, 11 threatened plants, one tree snail, one skink and one threatened seabird. Threatened species in the Marine Park are listed in Table 4. 

Threatened Coral Species
Acropora anthocercisStaghorn coralLeptoseris incrustansEncrusting coral
Acropora globicepsStaghorn coralMontipora angulataMontipora coral
Acropora horridStaghorn coralMontipora australiensisMontipora coral
Acropora microcladosStaghorn coralMontipora calcareaMontipora coral
Acropora palmeraeStaghorn coralMontipora caliculataMontipora coral
Acropora paniculataStaghorn coralMontipora lobulataMontipora coral
Acropora polystomaStaghorn coralPavona bipartitePavona coral
Acropora retusaStaghorn coralPavona cactusPavona coral
Acropora speciosaStaghorn coralPavona decussataCactus coral
Acropora striataStaghorn coralPocillopora elegansPocillopora coral
Acropora vaughaniStaghorn coralTurbinaria mesenterinaPagoda coral
Alveopora allingiAlveopora coralTurbinaria reniformisYellow scroll coral
Alveopora verrillianaAlveopora coral
Threatened Fish, Turtle & Whale Species
Alopias pelagicusPelagic Thresher SharkCheilinus undulatesHumphead Wrasse
Carcharhinus longimanusOceanic Whitetip SharkThunnus obesusBig-eye Tuna
Taeniura meyeniGiant reef rayEretmochelys imbricateHawksbill Turtle
Isurus oxyrinchusShortfin MakoChelonia mydasGreen Turtle
Rhincodon typusWhale sharkCaretta carettaLoggerhead Turtle
Epinephelus lanceolatusGiant GrouperBalaenoptera musculusBlue Whale
Plectropomus laevisBlack Saddled Coral GrouperBalaenoptera borealisSei Whale
Physeter macrocephalusSperm Whale
Threatened Bird Species
Pomarea dimidiateRarotonga FlycatcherTodiramphus ruficollarisMangaia Kingfisher
Vini kuhliiRimatara LorikeetVini peruvianaBlue Lorikeet
Collocalia sawtelliAtiu SwiftletAplonis cinerascensRarotonga Starling
Ptilinopus rarotongensisCook Islands Fruit DoveNumenius tahitiensisBristle-thighed Curlew
Pterodroma leucopteraGould’s Petrel
Other fauna
Partula hyalinePolynesian Tree SnailEmoia adspersaMicronesian Skink
Threatened Plant Species
Acrophorus raiatensisRarotonga AcrophorusCyrtandra rarotongensisRarotonga Cyrtandra
Asplenium schizotrichumPolynesian AspleniumGarnotia cheesemaniiRarotonga Garnotia grass
Coprosma laevigataRarotonga CoprosmaHaloragis stokesiiRarotonga Haloragis
Cyrtandra lilianaeTe Manga CyrtandraPsychotria whistleriRarotonga Psychotria
Radiogrammitis cheesemaniiCloud grass fernSclerotheca viridifoliaRarotonga Sclerotheca
Nesoluma polynesicumPolynesian Nesoluma

 Table 4: Threatened Species in Marae Moana

Seabird Populations

The uninhabited islands of Takutea and Suwarrow are home to globally significant numbers of seabirds within Marae Moana. Suwarrow supports over 100,000 seabirds and nine resident species. The atoll supports globally significant proportions of the world’s Sooty Tern (Sterna fuscata), Lesser Frigatebird (Fregata ariel), and Red-Tailed Tropic Bird (Phaethon rubricauda) On Takutea, there is the Red-Tailed Tropic Bird, Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster), Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra), Red-Footed Booby (Sula sula), Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor), Brown Noddy (Anous stolidus), Black Noddy (Anous minutus) and White Tern (Gygis alba). Takutea also has globally significant populations of Red-tailed Tropic bird. 

Key Biodiversity Areas and Important Bird Areas

Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) and Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are places that contain significant populations of globally threatened species. There are sixteen Key Biodiversity Areas within Marae Moana, seven of these are also Important Bird Areas.

Protected Areas

Marae Moana encompasses forty-one protected areas. These protected areas include twenty-six marine areas, seven marine-terrestrial areas, five terrestrial areas, two freshwater lakes and one saltwater marsh. The Cook Islands Whale Sanctuary encompasses the entire area of Marae Moana and still requires legal designation. Marae Moana is also a Shark Sanctuary, established through the Marine Resources (Shark Conservation) Regulations 2012. It is intended to assist communities with either the formal establishment or improved management of protected areas throughout Marae Moana.