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Vibrant mural celebrates Marae Moana

May 23, 2022

Landing on Rarotonga, the largest and most populous of the Cook Islands, visitors are treated to an overwhelming array of sights. The shallow turquoise water of the South Pacific gently laps at the shore, jagged mountain peaks covered with lush forest shoot skyward, and palm trees sway in the breeze. 

Now, thanks to a partnership with Seacology, there’s a striking new feature in the landscape: a brilliantly painted mural, celebrating the country’s commitment to keeping its ocean healthy.

The sprawling mural, which stretches along the main road that circles the island, will be 1,760 feet (a third of a mile) long when completed. It is being funded as part of our support for Marae Moana, an enormous marine reserve established by the Cook Islands’ government in 2017. 

Thanks to the generosity of Maja Kristin, Seacology is funding a major initiative to promote the Marae Moana conservation plan across the country. Marae Moana is huge—it covers an expanse of ocean roughly the size of Mexico—and local support in the sparsely populated country is crucial to its success. So far, there have been events with traditional leaders, contests and presentations for local schools, discussions through local media, and more. The mural is just the latest step in this outreach.

“The Marae Moana mural will be a great reminder to the people of the Cook Islands of how our forefathers first sailed the Pacific Ocean and settled the islands we now call home,” explained Kevin Iro, a retired rugby star from the Cook Islands who now serves as ambassador for the reserve.

The mural is located just outside Rarotonga's airport, meaning it's one of the first things visitors to the island will see.

Rarotonga-based artist Gonzalo Aldana is one of the lead painters of what will be the longest mural in the South Pacific when completed.

Artists Gonzalo Aldana and Katu Teiti, with assistance from other local painters, have transformed a drab gray seawall into a brilliantly colored collage depicting coral reefs, whales, and traditional Polynesian imagery. Over several months, the talented team has added to the mural piece by piece, with a 121-foot section dedicated to the unique identity and environment of each of the country’s 15 islands. Rarotonga’s section was recently finished and features the endemic Puaneinei flower.

“It’s hard not to find inspiration in the Cook Islands and the beauty of the ocean,” said Aldana, a painter from Mexico who has lived in the Cook Islands for four years. The mural shows Marae Moana’s “roots, culture and community spirit,” he added, ”which makes it even more beautiful.”

We find it fitting that this beautiful piece of art celebrating the Cook Islands is being added to a seawall—a very functional piece of infrastructure. Like many island countries, the Cook Islands face rising sea levels and intensifying storms that result from the changing climate. The Nikao Seawall, upon which the mural is being painted, is key to shielding the island’s northern coast from these growing threats. 

Read more coverage of the mural at the Cook Islands News.