The special event, staged last Tuesday, gave an account of the journeys undertaken by the Cook Islands, Kiribati, New Caledonia and Palau, as they worked to establish large scale marine protected areas.
Home of Te Marae Moana, a marine park covering just under 2 million square kilometres, the Cook Islands showed how this country was displaying global leadership by committing its full ocean domain. It was announced the Marae Moana Bill will be tabled in Parliament next week, followed by the establishment of a Marae Moana coordination office.
The legislation and policy for the marine park were established after nationwide consultation consisting of five workshops and over 30 meetings.
A Marae Moana Action Plan is under development and will include contributions from all relevant government agencies, traditional leaders and non-government agencies.
These will be reviewed and evaluated by a technical advisory group and a new Marae Moana Council.
Agencies will also be required to align their policies and legislation with the overall principles of Marae Moana.
“As ocean voyagers, we have always treated the ocean with respect from time immemorial. This is an integral part of our culture: to have the deepest respect and regard for nature which would in turn ensure it continues to provide for the needs of the generations to come,” said Prime Minister, Henry Puna.
“Our commitment is the largest in history by a single country for integrated ocean conservation and management from ridge to reef and from reef to ocean.”
Also shared during the event were the stories of other Pacific islands in establishing large scale Marine Protected Areas, including Kiribati, New Caledonia, and Palau.
Kiribati established its Phoenix Islands Protected Area at a time when there no other island country in the Pacific to learn from. The first phase took 10 years, aided by considerable political will.
“It (the protected area) is now listed as a World Heritage Site and is globally important for seabirds,” said Alexander Teabo, the Kiribati Minister of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development.
“We are proud to be making a global contribution to our planet in this area. Our ocean defines who we are and is part of our DNA.”
New Caledonia’s experience was also highlighted. The New Caledonian Coral Sea MPA encompasses the country’s entire 1.4 million hectare Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is more than twice the size of France and includes the world’s largest lagoon.
The UNESCO World Heritage site was established in 2008.
This MPA is the first contribution to the Pacific Oceanscape by a Melanesian country or a French overseas territory.
“We have found that it is not the creation of this protected area which is the most important, it is more the way the governance has evolved around this area,” said Anne-Claire Goarant of New Caledonia.
“This has been a great journey,” she said.
The government of New Caledonia signed a sister-site agreement with the Cook Islands on their large-scale marine protected areas.
Palau also spoke of their experiences in establishing the Palau National Marine Sanctuary which follows a history of conservation actions.
In 1994 Palau passed the Marine Protection Act which identified and protected marine species such as the hawksbill turtle. In 2001 the harvesting of dugong was prohibited, then in 2002 the Protected Area Network was created.
This was followed by the 2004 Declaration of the Micronesia Challenge committing Palau, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia to effectively conserve at least 30% of the near-shore marine and 20% of their forests.
This then led to the establishment of a Shark Sanctuary in 2012, and now the Palau National Marine Sanctuary.
“The success of the Micronesia Challenge initiated discussions of a large MPA, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, it was created after two years of preliminary work at both the international and domestic level,” said Kyota Hersey, Palau’s ambassador to the US.
“The MPA will be expensive and local resources are not sufficient to cover the bill. We are still working to find partners who are willing to believe in our plan and to put their money where the benefit is,”
The event ended with comments on Marine Protected Areas from the Marquesas Islands, Tokelau, Easter Islands and Hawaii. - OPM/SO