Just days after announcing all water within 50 nautical miles of the island nation is now under protection from commercial fishing, the Cook Islands has now moved to reduce interaction between the commercial fishing sector and whales within its waters.
This decision aligns with an existing commitment from the Cook Islands to exclude any possible future seabed mineral activities from within 50 nautical miles of any islands.
“The Cook Islands has also declared its entire Exclusive Economic Zone as a Marae Moana – Marine Park,” said the Cook Islands Environment minister, Kiriau Turepu during ministerial talks at the Whales in a Changing Ocean Conference.
“We recognise the value and importance that these majestic creatures play in our oceans, environment, economy and more importantly, our culture. We have recorded calving occurring in our waters, which makes these individuals even more special to Cook Islands people.”
Humpback whales visit the Cook Islands from June to October each year, using the islands as a corridor to migrate to theirbreeding ground in Tonga.
A unique characteristic of the Cook Island humpback population is the observation of “zero fidelity”. In seven years of research, only two whales have returned to the Cook Islands, with all other whales recorded in Cook Islands waters being new visitors. This is extremely unusual as humpbacks tend to return to the same area during their lifetime.
“We continue to strengthen our commitment to recognising the value of whales in the Cook Islands, having declared our entire EEZ, an area of almost 2 million square kilometres as a sanctuary for whales in 2001,” said Turepu. It was through this declaration 16 years ago that the Cook Islands committed to promoting non-lethal scientific research on whales, collaboration for information exchange, education and awareness initiatives as well as best practice management for the interactions with whales in its waters.
Since the declaration, civil society and government have worked together to establish rules that were published and enforced through consent and co-operation. Now wanting to ramp up these efforts, Turepu announced the Cook Islands is looking to formalise the Whale Sanctuary Declaration through a consultative legislative process that will maintain the spirit and intentions of the 2001 declaration.
“The Cook Islands is currently on a pathway to develop the necessary legislative framework that will also focus on managing interactions from unlawful taking, fisheries and strandings to name a few issues.
“It is my hope that the Cook Islands will demonstrate once again its innovation and leadership by making the waters of the Cooks Islands a true sanctuary, a unique place in the South Pacific where whales can thrive in harmony with human
activity.” - Release