The two areas are the size of marine protected areas around the islands of the Cooks Islands and whether or not the legislation should be over-arching. That means that once in place all other regulations must follow its principles and objectives.
Agreeing on the size of the fishing and seabed mining exclusion zones will not be easy with three choices on the table.
Many outer islanders and traditional leaders favour a 100 nautical mile exclusion zone.
The Ministry of Marine Resources wants 24 nautical miles.
Prime Minister Henry Puna has stated on the international stage – twice – that the government favours a 50 nautical mile buffer throughout the Cook Islands.
The first was at the Small Island Development meeting in Samoa in 2014 and then at last year’s Our Ocean summit in Washington, DC, in the United States.
Marine Park ambassador Kevin Iro says the legislation has been five to six years in the making and has been before cabinet for six months.
Iro says while it was being drafted, it included consultations with the outer islands, many stakeholder meetings and Marae Moana workshops to gain input from the many interested parties, both government and non-government.
“Marae Moana is not so much a sanctuary, but more a marine managed area.
“The prime minister has a vision that incorporates the whole two million square kilometres of our country and this has more recently been coined as a ‘whole domain approach’ for managing our ocean space.
“That vision allows for both conservation areas and resource extraction areas.
“Our whole ocean space has been called Marae Moana and in the initial stages, zones will be defined, but that is not to say that in the future these zones could be extended or even reduced.”
Iro says: “The government is considering whether protective measures within Marae Moana will initially be conservative or precautionary.
“The conservative approach to exclusion zones around each island is 24 nautical miles.
“The most popular precautionary approach that came out of past and current consultations is 100 nautical miles.
“I personally think that 50 nautical miles would be a good starting point.
“Firstly, 50nm zones around each of our islands would give Marae Moana 25 per cent total protection, leaving the remaining 75 per cent of Marae Moana for our important extractive industries.”
“There is still a lot of scientific research that needs to be carried out in the ocean and as science and data collection becomes readily available, more informed decisions can be made about the governance of Marae Moana.
“The importance of the ocean to the Pacific region needs to be fully realised and, hopefully, Marae Moana can be the vehicle that engages Cook Islanders to have that conversation.
“Whether we know it or not, the existence of our islands and their economies are derived from the ocean and this will continue if we manage it well.”
Marine Park project manager Jacqui Evans says deciding things of such importance “Do take a lot of time.
“It’s a long process and I don’t feel too uncomfortable about it taking five years. It’s not too bad.”
Evans says: “People take a long time to absorb it and think about it and then adopt it.
“When you have a lot of people involved it takes a long time for people to come on board the same page.”