COOK ISLES LEADER DECLARES HUGE ‘MARINE PARK’

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Tong sets aside 39 million square kilometers as "Oceanscape"

By Nigel Moffiet WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Pacific Scoop, Sept. 9, 2011) – Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna has declared almost half of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as a marine park to demonstrate his country’s commitment to the Pacific Oceanscape project. The Pacific Oceanscape, a collaborative initiative between 15 Pacific Island nations within a 38.5 million square kilometer area, was first proposed by Kiribati President Anote Tong in 2009.

It began last year with great support from Pacific leaders. President Tong said the initiative – which covers issues such as ocean health and security, sustainability, governance, scientific research and investment – is a much needed step to protect the region. "The time has come to ensure our ocean recovers and survives so that in turn we may do so," said Tong. "Our lives are intrinsically linked to the health of our oceans."

[PIR editor’s note: In 2010, the delegates invited to the Kiribati Climate Chagne Conference held in Tarawa signed the Ambo Declaration, which officially states delegate countries' concerns for addressing the immediate effects of climate change and finding funding quickly.]

Puna said Pacific people "do not need convincing that the ocean impacts every aspect of our lives. Ocean conservation is not a new concept to us in the Pacific. We have been born with an inbred sense of understanding that we are the guardians of our natural environment." Puna said it was with a sense of duty and identity as Pacific people, and with the intention to preserve the ocean for future generations, that he declared half of his country’s 2.2 million square kilometer EEZ as a marine park.

"We have conducted initial public consultations with our communities to gauge their opinions on the proposed marine park and I am very pleased that there has been overwhelming support," he said. He added that the Cook Islands government was in the process of establishing a committee to work through the finer details of the marine park and carry out further public consultations with the community. The Cook Islands was also grateful for the support of environmental groups like Conservation International, he says. He also acknowledged the help of former Kiwi rugby league star Kevin Iro who was instrumental in lobbying for the marine park.

[PIR editor's note: Iro's hope is related to sustainability over time: "We don't want to shut [tourism] out but at the same time, we want to be sure that future generations of Cook Islanders can enjoy the sea as much as our forefathers have."]

Conservation International chief scientist for oceans Dr. Greg Stone said his organization was committed to the Pacific Oceanscape initiative and environmental work in the Pacific. In cooperation with Dutch NGO A-Spark Good Ventures, Conservation International acknowledged their commitment with a US$100,000 grant to Pacific Oceanscape. Private US organization MacArthur Foundation also offered support through a $500,000 grant towards the initiative. Countries supporting the initiative include Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

Pacific Scoop All editorial and news content produced under the principles of Creative Commons. Permission to republish with attribution may be obtained from the Pacific Media Centre - pmc@aut.ac.nz

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