The Cook Islands open Pacific Island Forum with announcement of world’s largest marine park

By Tierney Smith

Two of the world’s smallest countries have announced two of the largest marine parks to date, at the Pacific Islands’ Forum being held on the Cook Islands.

The host nation, made up of 15 islands, announced the creation of a marine park covering nearly 1.1 million square kilometres – an area bigger than France and Germany.

Speaking at the opening of the Forum, Henry Puna, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands said: “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 core biodiversity and natural assets, in the ocean, reefs and islands.”

Coral reefs

2.5 million square kilometers would make it the largest protected area in the world (Source: USFWS Pacific/Creative Commons)

“The Cook Islands is proud, and especially honoured to join Kiribati and Tokelau, in our commitment to the Pacific Oceanscape. In this regard, we also note the steps by Australia to establish a significant network of marine reserves,” he added.

The Pacific Oceanscape, launched in 2008 by island nation Kiribati, with their own 400,000 square kilometre protected area on the Phoenix Island, commits them to a new integrated approach to ocean management including adaptation to climate change.

It covers the 40 million square kilometres inside the Pacific Islands’ exclusive economic zones.

So far Kiribati has been joined by Palau and Tokelau in creating vast whale, dolphin and shark sanctuaries, and Australia which in June announced the expansion of the country’s marine protection reserves.

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Neighbouring country New Caledonia also pledged to create a marine protected area in its exclusive economic zone.

The areas will cover 1.4 million square kilometres – an area half the size of India– in the next two to three years.

The two pledges combined will mean 2.5 million square kilometres of ocean are protected.

To date, the world’s largest marine reserve is 545,000 square kilometres and was established by the UK around the Chagos Islands in the India Ocean.

Ocean conservation was seen as one of the major wins of the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development held in Brazil this June. Many believe the oceans were given unprecedented focus throughout the two week summit, resulting in significant attention given to it in the conference’s “Future We Want” document.

RTCC Video: Wendy Watson-Wright at the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission at UNESCO talks about her optimism in seeing so much focus on oceans at Rio…

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