COOK ISLANDS TO SEEK ‘WORLD HERITAGE’ STATUS

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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (The Cook Islands Herald, April 14) – The Solomon Islands is the only Pacific nation listed as a "World Heritage Site" by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

The listing is for the Polynesian island of Rennell, the world’s largest raised coral atoll.

However, that could all be about to change as a Cook Islands group meets for three days in Atiu this week to consider a submission to get the Cook Islands onto the list.

George H. de Berdt Romilly, an Environmental Consultant from Canada, is working with the Cook Islands branch of the international conservation group WWF to prepare the submission.

Romilly explained that the WWF has been contracted under the "Regional Heritage Programme." Funded by the Australian Government, this programme supports developing countries in various "hot spots" to develop conservation measures.

Romilly explained that non-government organisations are contracted under the programme but must show collaboration by their government.

The meeting in Atiu follows an earlier meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, in February. Mona Matepi, of Cook Islands WWF, and Cook Islands Natural Heritage Project Director Gerald McCormack attended that meeting along with other Pacific nations representatives.

The Atiu meeting will include representatives from the Ministries of Culture and Environment, along with Mona Matepi, Marjorie Crocombe and four representatives from Mangaia.

DECIDE

This meeting is to decide if the Cook Islands should make a formal submission for listing as a Central Pacific World Heritage Site. If there is support for a listing, Romilly says the Cook Islands will work closely with Kiribati and Tahiti Nui.

Three possible themes will be discussed as the basis for seeking listing, said Romilly. These are; Natural features, Cultural features, a combination of both. Romilly said the Cook Islands Cultural element was unique due to the strong Raui. Consensus would be sought.

TOURISTS

Romilly said listing as a World Heritage Site gives recognition to the efforts of local people and it also attracts tourists. However, sites must be sensibly managed.

Visitors need to be limited where there are sensitive ecosystems. There must be careful management and guidelines. There must also be an effective management plan.

Romilly said the Pacific was the most under represented region in terms of listing as a World Heritage Site. The Caribbean by comparison had 14 sites listed. Romilly said it was likely a number of Cook Islands sites would be discussed for possible listing, including Suwarrow.

The world governing body for World Heritage Sites is based in Switzerland. There is a regional office in Samoa.

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