Describing the idea recently floated by the Cook Islands at the United Nations Oceans conference in New York as a “big step”, English said it was one which New Zealand hadn’t considered promoting on the global stage.
“We need further discussion about the concept that has been floated,” said English during a media conference on Rarotonga.
With the Cook Islands government poised to legislate the Marae Moana Marine Park protected area of 1.1 million square kilometres, English said the country had taken some “fairly significant steps” with respect to marine protected areas, dealing with fishing issues and had made “some admirable progress on what were just some general ideas five or six years ago.”
“So we are fully supportive of the direction that the Cook Islands is going into.”
Although not committing to the question of whether New Zealand would support the Cook Islands ocean initiative to the point of promoting it at United Nations level, English said he believed it was a similar concept to the Whanganui River being given a legal identity equal to that of a human being.
“In the case of Whanganui River, there are very deep seated strongly-held views about that particular river and so we have as part of that (Treaty of Waitangi) settlement created a legal identity for the river itself.
“And I understand what is being advocated by the prime minister (Puna) at the United Nations is something like that idea. We haven’t anticipated the use of it elsewhere in New Zealand and certainly not on the global stage, so it’s a big step.”
English said the New Zealand experience had come from a very particular set of circumstances related to a Treaty of Waitangi settlement over the Whanganui River.
“In each of our settlements are differences because each different tribe has different priorities for what they call cultural redress and that is restoring some of the lost treasures of their culture.”
Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna said he was proud that the country had not just taken a “leadership role” in the protection of the country’s EEZ through legislating the Marae Moana Marine Park, but by also being innovative about the role the Cook Islands can have in helping conserve global oceans.
He said at the Oceans conference it became clear that floating the idea of giving the ocean a legal personality so that it could have rights might be one way of drawing the attention of the whole world to the very urgent need to protect and conserve the ocean and not use it as a dumping ground.
A Marae Moana representative at the Oceans conference said it was pleasing that New Zealand Conservation minister Maggy Barry had responded positively to the Cook Islands call at the United Nations by supporting the concept of according the world’s oceans a legal personality.