Following a week of public discussions and meetings Prime Minister Henry Puna announced that the Cook Islands marine park has garnered sufficient support to move forward to full design and establishment.
The support from the House of Ariki, and the Koutu Nui, the Opposition Democratic Party, non government organisations and the public in Rarotonga gives us, the government of the Cook Islands, the confidence to launch this new initiative to establish the largest marine park in the world, said Puna.
This is a positive and very significant step in establishing the Cook Islands as the cleanest and the greenest nation in the world. We want to maintain our healthy ecosystems and restore where depleted our ecological sustainability for the present and generations to come, he added.
The Cook Islands proposal for a marine park was the brainchild of Kevin Iro, who, in a little over two years, has garnered support from both political parties and the community for a marine park covering approximately half of the Cook Islands sovereign domain with an area of one million square kilometres of the exclusive economic zone.
This marine park is about Cook Islanders protecting what we own, said Iro. I am excited about the support from the government and the opposition and honoured by the support from our traditional leaders.
Experts from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and Conservation Internationals Pacific Islands Programme were invited to Rarotonga this week to share experience and lessons learnt on the establishment of large-scale marine parks.
Dr Tim Caruthers, SPREPs coast and marine adviser, shared the story of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia and Sue Miller-Taei outlined the development of Kiribatis Phoenix Islands Protected Area and other large sites in the Pacific Ocean.
Whilst noting that some important lessons can be learnt from marine parks established in other countries, they emphasised the importance of developing a Cook Islands recipe for this marine park.
A common feature of sites that have successfully established marine parks is to ensure continued opportunity for input and comment from all community members and interest groups said Carruthers.
We congratulate the government and people of the Cook Islands in this bold initiative and support the development of the Cook Islands marine park as the time of large scale ocean conservation has come, Miller-Taei.