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Cook Islands Cabinet has approved a proposal to pursue the establishment of a national marine park.
Last month cabinet decided to give the go ahead to local authorities to progress work on the concept. “The Cook Islands has the opportunity to designate a significant part of our waters as a protected marine area and to have the largest marine park in the world,” the proposal to cabinet said.
The potential marine park would cover all the territorial waters of the southern group islands.
According to the proposal the park would not mean a ban on fishing, seabed mining and other activities but would mean they would have to be conducted in a sustainable manner.
Under the proposal a charitable trust would be set up as part of the management of the park. The trust would develop a strategy to attract donors to have sponsorship rights to selected areas of the park.
It is understood that the proposal is the brainchild of local businessman Kevin Iro and that cabinet minister Wilkie Rasmussen has been instrumental in supporting it.
Mr Rasmussen’s office told CI News that while the minister did not mind if the proposal was made public, he was not ready to comment yet on the marine park concept.
According to the proposal, the establishment of the Cook Islands Marine Park will not only serve as a means of protecting a part of our waters, but also as a way of attracting funding to implement environmental protection projects and programmes.
The economic potential for marketing the ‘world’s largest marine park’ is also being considered as a way to target environment conscious visitors to a destination that is clean and green.
The set up of the marine park is not expected to cost government because special assistance to develop the management or legal framework for it will be carried out through donor partners.
Many stakeholders have already been consulted including the House of Ariki/Koutu Nui, National Environment Service, Ministry of Marine Resources, CI Tourism, political parties, marine biologist Teina Rongo, Commonwealth Secretariat lawyer Joshua Brien, and whale researcher Nan Hauser.
The Cook Islands was declared a whale sanctuary in 2001. Ten countries across the South Pacific have marine sanctuaries covering more than 18 million kilometres of ocean from Australia to French Polynesia. There is now a call by international conservation bodies for more marine environments to be protected.
If government can achieve the set up of a marine park here it could well beat Australia’s claim to the largest marine park in the world — the 350,000 sq km Great Barrier Reef Marine Park
SOURCE: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/PACNEWS
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