The Cook Islands designated a million square kilometer marine park in August. The marine park will set aside the area for sustainable management of fisheries and development of mineral resources.
The Cook Islands consists of fifteen islands with a total land area of 240 square kilometers (92.7 square miles) and a population of nearly 20,000 people. The marine area included in the Cook Island Exclusive Economic Zone is roughly 1.8 million square kilometers (690,000 square miles) of ocean.
Cook Islanders have traditionally relied on a “raui” system to protect their fisheries. For centuries, when fish stocks grew low, chiefs would gather together and declare a raui on an area, meaning no fishing was allowed until the stocks recovered. The marine park will expand on this system, with areas set aside for no fishing and other areas with limited fishing, depending on the stocks.
Several Pacific island nations are looking to create their own managed marine parks. With climate change and ocean acidification threatening corals and other marine life, the island nations are looking for ways to protect the parts of their economies that depend on fishing and tourism. Setting aside marine parks to be sustainably managed is one step toward maintaining a healthy ocean and economies.
Potentially, a network of marine parks could reach forty million square kilometers, stretching from the Marshall Islands to just north of New Zealand. This network has been dubbed the Pacific Oceanscape. Much of the ocean area under consideration for the marine parks is still in pristine condition.
Cook Islands photo via Shutterstock