With support from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Government of the Cook Islands is set to establish the world’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) – the Cook Islands Marine Park.
A landmark decision
Plans to create the new marine park were announced back in August of this year, with the aim of contributing to the conservation of the region’s rich marine biodiversity as well as to the health of oceans on a global scale, while boosting local economic growth.
Encompassing approximately 1.07 million square kilometres of marine habitat – an area more than twice the size of Papua New Guinea – the Cook Islands Marine Park will become the largest marine park ever declared by a single country for integrated ocean conservation and management, and has been hailed as a great achievement.
“This is a landmark decision and should be treated as an example to follow by countries around the world,” said Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “With just over 2% of the world’s ocean currently protected, this is a major step towards safeguarding our planet’s marine realm and the priceless services it provides us, including oxygen, food and water.”
With support from IUCN, the Cook Islands Marine Park will serve to protect a wide variety of marine habitats, from remote atolls and reefs to high volcanic islands and underwater mountains. These important ecosystems are home to a whole host of marine species, including rare seabirds, blue whales, manta rays and several shark species, many of which are listed as threatened on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Different levels of protection will be applied to a variety of zones within the Cook Islands Marine Park, with the establishment of areas where all fishing will be banned, and buffer areas where tourism and carefully monitored fishing will be allowed. The designation of such zones will depend upon the identification of several key factors, including what natural resources and habitats the marine park hosts and how they are being used, and how such resources can be used sustainably.
“Protecting the Pacific, one of the last pristine marine ecosystems, is the Cooks’ major contribution to the well-being of not only our people but of humanity in general,” said Henry Puna, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands. “The marine park will provide the necessary framework to promote sustainable development by balancing economic growth interests such as tourism, fishing and deep sea mining with conserving biodiversity in the ocean.”
The IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas will be on hand to provide assistance with regards to the rights of local people, ensuring that traditional methods of management and use of natural resources are taken into consideration when developing new, innovative, large-scale conservation initiatives for the region. IUCN believes that this will ‘foster community ownership of marine conservation areas and support scientific and policy research by national and regional institutions’.
A step forward
“Thanks to initiatives like this one, small island nations such as the Cook Islands and Kiribati are beginning to confidently act as ‘large ocean developing states’, leading the way to conserve large areas of national Exclusive Economic Zones in the Pacific Ocean – places where the state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources,” said Jan Steffen, IUCN Oceania Regional Marine Programme Coordinator.
IUCN’s involvement in the establishment of the Cook Islands Marine Park will be financially supported by Global Blue – a traveller service-related company headquartered in Switzerland. Other conservation partners that signed the memorandum of understanding with the Government of the Cook Islands include the Secretariat of the Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Conservation International and the Marine Science Institute of the University of California Santa Barbara.
Read more on this story at IUCN.org – IUCN supports Cook Islands to create the world’s largest marine park.
Find out more about the world’s protected areas.
Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author