IUCN Member Te Ipukarea Society is firmly behind the proposal by the Cook Islands Government to turn just over 50% of the country's EEZ into a marine park.
This would make the area the largest marine park in the world, at around 1 million square km, or approximately 2.5% of the entire Pacific Ocean.
The concept includes the establishment of a trust fund, to be capitalised through an intensive fund raising effort.
The newest IUCN NGO member in the Pacific Islands, Te Ipukarea Society (TIS), a Cook Islands environmental organisation, sees this proposal as a way to generate much needed funds for conservation work throughout the country.
“We hope that this would include a better resourced monitoring, control, and surveillance capability to stamp out illegal fishing by large foreign fishing vessels,” says Kelvin Passfield of Te Ipukarea Society.
The proposal is for a zoned park, which will have areas set aside for different activities. These may include different types of fishing, seabed mining, recreational tourist areas and no take zones.
The details will be worked out over an extended consultation period with the various interest groups in the Cook Islands, including the Ministry of Marine Resources, the National Environment Service, traditional leaders, and the island communities.
Representatives from Conservation International, the Secretariat for the Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), and IUCN have been in the country in recent weeks to assist the Government to explain the reasons why a large marine park is a good idea for the Cook Islands.
They have all emphasized that, while important lessons can be gained from large marine parks established in other parts of the world, it is important that the Cook Islands park is based on what best suits the needs for the country.
The overall response from members of the community that attended the evening information sessions was one of support and pride that such a large park would be established within the country's waters.
It is likely to be a number of years before the park is officially declared, as there are many facets to consider, not the least of which will be the legislative requirements, as well as the composition of the trust fund committee and the governance of the trust fund itself.