The proposed marine park is not an entirely foreign concept, says Conservation International marine programme director Sue Taei.
The raui is a local concept, and in terms of the near-shore areas (the marine park) would be a raui-type mechanism, Taei said. There are areas you can and cannot fish. If its done right and based on good knowledge, protected areas seed and support areas that are fished.
SPREP marine and coastal adviser Tim Carruthers says that data collected from Australias Great Barrier Reef reveals that in no-take zones, or fully protected areas, fish grow bigger and produce more eggs. (There is, he says, an incredible correlation between the size of a fish and the number of eggs it produces.)
Now, were seeing that fishermen catch more fish around the outsides of the no-take zones, he noted.
The government has invited Taei and Carruthers to Rarotonga to share with the local community their expert advice, gleaned from working closely with other marine-protected areas in the Pacific.
Taei and Carruthers met with government earlier this week and will meet with environment groups tomorrow. They are attending a series of public consultations in the evenings, which aim to determine how Cook Islanders view the marine park concept.
Taei says the Cook Islands will reap many benefits if it goes ahead with establishing a marine park.
A marine park will allow comprehensive management of the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone. It will require agreement and compromise between fishermen, government, tourism operators and shippers along with other interest groups. Thats a discussion Taei says is a positive step in the right direction, toward a shared effort to protect the Cook Islands slice of the Pacific Ocean.
Usually countries manage their EEZ in a sectorial, isolated fashion marine does its thing, transport does its thing, tourism does its thing and the fishermen do their thing. Theyre not operating within a vision of what the country wants for its area of ocean. The marine park gives you a chance to articulate a vision of what you really believe the ocean should be doing as part of your domain.
If you leave it up to single-sector interests the experience is you end up degrading other values.
The marine park is based on the goal of sustainable use its not about preventing fishermen from fishing, for example, but about sustaining fish stocks for the future.
Its almost like an insurance policy or bank account the areas you dont take from help seed other areas. But its not about shutting the door and throwing away the key, she said.
Naturally, though, ensuring the survival and sustainability of marine resources does require protective measures.
Its not a free for all there would be areas within it that are no-take, where youre not allowed to fish or mine, but that plan for zonation would need to be developed over time, Taei said. PIPA started with a base line of 12,000 square kilometres around core islands, and protection will be phased in as resources for management start to grow.
She adds that a claim to the largest marine park in the world is likely to attract the attention of eco-friendly tourists.
PIPA (Phoenix Islands Protected Area) put Kiribati on the map in terms of international interest, the Great Barrier Reef put Australia on the map and maybe the Cook Islands marine park will help increase tourism, she said.
The Great Barrier Reef generates $1.2 billion per annum in terms of tourism (AU$700 million) and commercial and recreational fishing.
Carruthers was clear that establishing a marine park will be a gradual process, not something the country or government will rush into creating. In 1975, when legislation was passed to create the Great Barrier Reef, just 4.5 percent of the area was fully protected. Now, at least 30 percent of the area is a no-take zone.
Its not something that happens overnight Ive been working on PIPA since 2004 and its not fully operational, Taei said. You need time to design the management plan, do public consultations, make sure that uses and goals are clear and that all stakeholders buy into it or it wont work.
Taei was also clear that the marine park and the Cook Islands whale sanctuary would be perfectly compatible the marine park is simply an extension of the sanctuary concept, as it protects not just mammals but all marine resources.
The first public discussion of the marine park was held last night, and another starts at 6pm at Ngatangiia meeting house today. Puaikuras session will start at 6pm tomorrow at Calgary Hall.