Gland, Switzerland, 15 November 2012 – IUCN has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Government of the Cook Islands to support the establishment of the world’s largest marine protected area – the Cook Islands Marine Park.
The park will contribute to conserving the region’s marine biodiversity, boosting local economic growth and preserving the health of the ocean globally.
“This is a landmark decision and should be treated as an example to follow by countries around the world,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “With just over 2% of the world’s ocean currently protected, this is a major step towards safeguarding our planet’s marine realm and the priceless services it provides us, including oxygen, food and water.”
The agreement follows the Cook Islands’ announcement of the creation of the park in August 2012.
The Cook Islands Marine Park covers 1.065 million square kilometres (411,000 square miles) - an area more than twice the size of Papua New Guinea. It is the largest marine park ever declared by a single country for integrated ocean conservation and management. The area includes remote atolls, high volcanic islands surrounded by fringing reefs and unspoilt fauna associated with underwater mountains. It also hosts rich Pacific marine biodiversity, including rare seabirds, blue whales, manta rays and several shark species, a number of which are listed as threatened on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
“Protecting the Pacific, one of the last pristine marine ecosystems, is the Cooks’ major contribution to the well-being of not only our peoples but of humanity in general,” says Henry Puna, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands. “The marine park will provide the necessary framework to promote sustainable development by balancing economic growth interests such as tourism, fishing and deep sea mining with conserving biodiversity in the ocean.”
Similarly to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati, the Cook Islands Marine Park will contain a variety of zones with different levels of protection, including areas where all fishing will be banned, and buffer areas where tourism and carefully monitored fishing will be allowed.
The creation of the park will involve identifying where and how the area is being used, what natural resources and habitats it hosts and how they can be used sustainably. The IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas will also provide assistance to link the rights that local people have traditionally enjoyed in relation to the park’s natural resources with existing legislation, integrating the traditional methods of managing the area into innovative large-scale marine conservation initiatives. This should foster community ownership of marine conservation areas and support scientific and policy research by national and regional institutions, according to IUCN.
“Thanks to initiatives like this one, small island nations such as the Cook Islands and Kiribati are beginning to confidently act as ‘large ocean developing states’, leading the way to conserve large areas of national Exclusive Economic Zones in the Pacific Ocean – places where the state has special rights over the exploration and use of marine resources,” says Jan Steffen, IUCN Oceania Regional Marine Programme Coordinator.
IUCN’s involvement in the establishment of the Cook Islands Marine Park will be financially supported by Global Blue – a traveller service-related company headquartered in Switzerland. Other conservation partners that signed the memorandum of understanding with the Government of the Cook Islands include the South Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Conservation International and the Marine Science Institute of the University of California Santa Barbara.
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