The Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna has told the UN climate change conference in Morocco that his country's marine reserve zone will now encompass its entire exclusive economic zone.
This will mean the Marae Moana sanctuary will span 1.8 million square kilometres, after initially being intended for the management of the EEZ's around the southern islands only.
A number of international agencies are offering support for Marae Moana, with Conservation International confirming it will be the Pacific region's flagship project for its Conservation Equity offshoot.
Mr Puna will also be speaking with other prospective sponsors during the COP22 in Morocco to seek help with the project which is expected to cost millions to implement.
After a year of discussion, the Marae Moana Oceans Policy is now with Prime Minister Henry Puna who will present it to Cabinet.
The policy, which guides the management and use of the Cook Islands marine environment, has been formulated in consultation with the public and other stakeholders.
The final version of the policy was agreed at a stakeholder meeting that ended on February 8.
On Tuesday the Prime Minister’s Office acknowledged receiving the policy, adding Puna will put that into action when he returns from a visit to the northern group where he and other CIP MPs are holding fishery discussions.
In a statement, Marae Moana Marine Park project manager Jacqui Evans said a “Legally Designating Marae Moana,” meeting had also been held last month to examine the pros and cons of closed ocean zones.
"In August 2012, Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna announced the establishment of a 1,065,000 square kilometer multiple use marine park that will “provide the necessary framework to promote sustainable development by balancing economic growth interests such as tourism, fishing and deep-sea mining, with conserving core biodiversity and natural assets, in the ocean, reefs and islands.” Previously, he had created a marine park steering committee of traditional leaders, civil society and key government agencies to help design and build support for the park.
Exactly how much of the 1.1 million square kilometers will be no-take and where it will be located has not yet been determined. However, there is widespread support among steering committee members and most government officials to fully protect at least 20% of the park. It is likely that significant portions of this area will be located around islands and seamounts. Steering committee members also widely support co-management of marine resources among traditional leaders, civil society and government.
The Prime Minister’s proposal presently only includes the southern portion of the Cook Islands. However, this project also will support outreach and consultation with communities in the Northern Islands. Many Northern residents have expressed support for including their region in the planning process for the park. The Northern Cook Islands includes significantly more commercial fishing, as well as potential seabed mineral mining interests. As such, it may be more difficult to secure large fully protected areas in that region.
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