Takitumu embraced the marine park proposal at a public meeting on Wednesday evening.
Any hesitation to support the project stemmed from a belief that the marine park should encompass the entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ), rather than just the proposed one million square kilometres of it. Most also agreed that the boundary should be moved to include Suwarrow, which is already a national park and owned and administered by the Crown.
One mama stood up and said: You say to protect what we own, but to me we own the whole lot! We should protect the whole lot.
The proposed area includes all of the southern group islands, but ends just north of Palmerston.
Tupe Short again pledged his support for the project, but said the marine park limit should be shifted further up to Suwarrow, the beautiful flower of the ocean.
Mii Kauvai of Muri Environment Care group said she came to the public meeting undecided about whether to back the marine park proposal.
After listening to the presentation and looking at what youve got there, she said, pointing to a slide reading Protecting what we own, I embrace this project.
Presenters Sue Taei of Conservation International who was instrumental in setting up Kiribatis Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) and Tim Carruthers of SPREP then fielded a range of questions from meeting attendees, including the following.
Does it mean that fishermen will not be able to fish?
Taei says the marine park is about balance and establishing different levels of protection for different areas.
In that way, its a lot like a raui. Im sure your chiefs would not put a raui all the way around Rarotonga and in the same way youd not make a marine park that denied the people access to resources, she said.
How does Kiribati monitor or police its park?
Taei explained that Kiribati fisheries officers are linked into a satellite monitoring system which allows them to monitor legally-registered vessels. As far as pirates are concerned, thats a problem all nations wrestle with anyway.
Anywhere in the world today we cant guarantee complete absence of illegal fishing.
Regional organisations lend boats and manpower to Kiribati fisheries officers. For example, Taei said, her organisation pays for fuel for the countrys patrol vessels to do what they were doing anyway before PIPA was established.
Hefty fines deter boats from breaking the rules.
A few years ago, Kiribati fisheries officers caught a Chinese vessel breaching PIPA regulations, confiscated the boat and extracted a $4.8 million fine from the company. For entering PIPA without a proper permit, even tourist operators are fined $AU100,000. Is it enough to completely guarantee the security of PIPA? No, its not, but its building and as technology builds I have great confidence that it will in the not so distant future be more effective than without the protected area, Taei said.
What are the disadvantages of setting up a marine park? Taei explained that protection does cost money there are costs to print maps, pay staff and draft plans but the benefits far outweigh the price.
When you protect, say under a raui, there is a cost because the chiefs have said you cant fish in that raui anymore but the idea I believe is the same, that eventually in the future there will be better fishing, she said.
She used the analogy of a savings account.
You invest and earn interest and extra resources off that investment and that is the essence of a marine park. Think of a marine park as your bank account you use the resources you need to save other resources for future generations.
Taei explained that creating a marine park will boost tourism and research opportunities, both of which generate money. To join the first scientific expedition to PIPA, tourists paid $10,000 per berth.
Design it, brand it, package it, make sure its what you want and I think youll find a large range of innovative ways to market it - just make sure its not people like me from outside telling you what to do, she said. And you raise money from a range of sources, she explained, noting that an overseas foundation offered millions of dollars to protect seabirds, and Intel invested $2.5 million in PIPA.
How long will it take?
Taei says it depends on how long it takes the community to work out what it wants in terms of zonation and levels of protection.
It takes time and I would encourage you to take time to understand this area, get the information, build support and work out what uses youre comfortable with, she said. These things take time and you should take time to develop it.
Does the government realise its got to completely reconsider the Environment Act?
Director of National Environment Service Vaitoti Tupa confirmed that the government is prepared to review the Environment Act.
What are some things the Cook Islands might want to think about?
Taei said the focus should be on building partnerships within and outside of the Cook Islands.
She said its important to build leadership and ownership at every level people from the government to traditional leaders to fishermen and everyone in between should get involved.
Establishing a clear vision striking the right balance between conservation and sustainable use areas is integral to ensuring the success of a marine park.
Taei noted that PIPA garnered world attention on account of its size because it was big, the world paid attention.
She told the congregation to heed lessons learned elsewhere, but to design a Cook Islands-specific marine park, suited for the needs of the Cook Islands people.