Marine conservation in essence is the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas, by limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems.
So what does the world’s largest 1.9 million square kilometre multi-use Marine Park mean for the Cook Islands and our communities?
There is now a 50 nautical mile exclusion zone around each of the 15 Cook Islands, comprising 15 individual marine protected areas, from the islands beaches extending out.
The marine protected areas totalling 324,000sqm of ocean are now fully protected from large scale commercial fishing and seabed mineral mining activity.
Now that the Marine Park legislation is in place it allows the Marae Moana Council, a new body established under the legislation and supported by a technical advisory group to implement the research, design and planning of zoned areas for specific activities.
This will be done in consultation with communities, government agencies, traditional leaders and NGOs.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park of Australia has a similar zoning arrangement.
Jacque Evans Marae Moana Project Manager outlined that there will be specific zoning for the protection of species and habitats.
Each zone may have different rules for example, areas where boats have to go slower than usual to protect turtles, “no-anchoring” areas to protect sensitive reefs, as well as sanctuaries to allow animals to breed, and habitat protection areas to protect the homes of fish or to protect sea turtle nesting beaches.
As far as fishing is concerned, although the marine protected areas around islands prohibit fishing by longline and purse seine fishing boats, subsistence and artisanal fishing boats can continue to fish within these zones.
Evans also explained that Marae Moana legislation also allows for zoning of areas for ecotourism as well as other areas for no tourism activities.
And, at a local level, any island government may request the Marae Moana Council to assist with the development of an Island Marine Spatial Plan for their island - to show what activities may be done where.
The Marine Park was created to conserve biodiversity and natural assets in the oceans, reefs and islands while ensuring sustainable development of economic growth interests.Staggeringly, more than 40 per cent of the ocean has been severely affected by over fishing and over half of the world’s coral reefs have been destroyed. And alarmingly, less than 2 per cent of the oceans are protected.
But thanks to Marae Moana, Cook Islands waters are now in safe hands for future generations to enjoy. - CT/ Release