Cook Islands to create world's largest marine conservation park

Cook Islands declares conservation of ocean area that's roughly twice France's size


The Cook Islands declared the creation of the world's largest marine park at the opening of the Pacific Islands Forum, a vast swathe of ocean almost twice the size of France.

Prime Minister Henry Puna announced on Tuesday that the 1.065 million square kilometre reserve "[is] the largest area in history by a single country for integrated ocean conservation and management".

Puna said protecting the Pacific, one of the last pristine marine ecosystems, was the Cooks' major contribution "to the wellbeing of not only our peoples, but also of humanity".

"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 in the ocean," he said.

Australia said in June that it was creating a network of marine parks covering 3.1 million square kilometres, more than a third of its territorial waters. However, they are dotted around its huge coastline. The new Cook Islands protected zone will be the largest single marine park in the world, taking in the entire southern half of the nation's waters.

The nation's 15 islands have a combined land mass less than a quarter that of Hong Kong, but its waters include environmentally valuable coral reefs, seagrass beds and fisheries.

Puna called on other Pacific island nations to follow the Cooks' lead and create an enormous protected zone in the ocean.

Kiribati and Tokelau have already created large reserves, while the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia this week declared plans to set up a 1.4 million square kilometre park in the next two to three years.

Marea Hatziolos, the World Bank's senior coastal and marine specialist, said the Cook Islands' initiative was a win for both the environment and the nation's economy.

She said the park would include a core area where all fishing was banned, as well as special zones where tourism and carefully monitored fishing were permitted.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Biggest marine park yet created