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PM Speaks at Eye on Earth Summit

Announcing the Government’s commitment of a one million sq km Marine Park in the Southern Cook Islands at a major international meeting in Abu Dhabi 

Prime Minister Henry Puna issued a challenge to the international community to provide support to developing countries such as the Cook Islands who have expressed a commitment to protecting the oceans.

The Prime Minister was the day’s keynote speaker at the third day of the Eye on Earth summit, occupying a slot that had been filled the previous day by former US President Bill Clinton. The gathering, which has attracted over a thousand delegates from around the world, is focused on information gathering and sharing to provide for a sustainable future.

His challenge had an immediate response.  Jack Dangermond, founder and President of the Environmental Systems Research Institute, (Esri), pledged the support of his company to build a database for the Cook Islands Marine Park that will utilise Seasketch – the world’s newest Geographic Information System (GIS) tool for marine spatial planning. Esri is one of the world’s most successful GIS companies, with more than 350,000 organisations using its products globally.

In a meeting following the PM’s address, Esri, in partnership with University College Santa Barbara, agreed to assign two senior scientists to bring together all the available information on the marine park into a single digital platform, and to train Cook Islands people to operate it.  The project will begin in early 2012, with a stakeholder meeting in Rarotonga, and is anticipated to take eight months to complete.

“I came to the Eye on the Earth Summit to be able to see at first hand the cutting edge initiatives for the collection of environmental data and how to improve access to such information in the Pacific Islands. To work with Esri in the development of initiatives that will aid in better management of our ocean and a more secure future for all Cook Islands people is a very exciting development that underlines the global significance of our marine park declaration,” said the Prime Minister.

“An important mission of the Eye on Earth summit is to develop recommendations about using data sharing as an important step along the path towards sustainability, so we are very pleased to be able to offer our support to the Cook Islands Marine Park initiative,” Jack Dangermond said. “Esri is proud to be able to make a commitment to the protection of a very special part of the planet, and to provide the technical support through our most recent innovation, ArcGIS Online,  that will help to make the Cook Island Government’s vision a reality.”

During the summit, the Prime Minister has also held meetings with Monique Barbut, CEO of the Global Environment Facility; Dr Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme; renowned oceans explorer, Dr Sylvia Earle of National Geographic; and Dr Rolph Poyet,  Office of the President of the Seychelles.  He has been accompanied by Repeta Puna of the Office of the Prime Minister and Kevin Iro of the Cook Islands Marine Park Steering Committee.

“The range of expertise and technological innovation that was on display at the summit was remarkable, and I was very encouraged at the support that was offered from so many quarters.  It has become even clearer to me that not only is the Cook Islands on the right track in developing our marine park for the benefit of our own future generations, but also as a significant contribution to the future of the global oceans,” Mr Iro said.

“There is much work to be done to fulfil the promise of the marine park, but we now have some innovative partners in our endeavour, and the Cook Islands is now clearly positioned as a global leader in marine conservation and a champion of island states,” Mr Puna concluded.