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Cook Islands

Marae Moana


Conservation benefit: Community support for Marae Moana, the world’s largest marine park

Date Approved: 06.2020


This project protects ocean ecosystems, making coastal communities more economically and physically secure in the face of climate change.

This project’s goal is to help make the biggest multi-use marine park in the world a success. The park is Marae Moana, or Sacred Ocean, which was created in 2017. Marae Moana is huge, roughly the size of Mexico. Different rules apply to different parts of this reserve, of course. Commercial fishing and seabed mining are forbidden in a 50-mile radius around each of the 15 major Cook Islands—an area that covers about 100,000 square miles.

When the Cook Islands created the marine reserve, they knew that passing a law was only the beginning. They would need to acquire scientific knowledge about fisheries and conservation. They would need to develop reasonable, enforceable plans for managing this enormous marine area.

Most of all, they knew that if this historic initiative were to succeed, it would need the support of the people. Cook Islanders have been intimately connected to the sea for a thousand years, and their culture and livelihoods are tied to it. They are likely to be skeptical of big changes in how they are allowed to use the sea. But Seacology’s long experience shows, and many studies confirm, that conservation doesn’t work without the genuine support of local people.

Many Cook Islanders make their living by fishing or tourism, both of which are under threat. Fishing has been hurt by climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic severely affected international tourism.

The government took the enforced lull in international travel as an opportunity to reevaluate the country’s reliance on tourism, which has changed traditional ways of life. They hope to develop more diversified economy.

To overcome resistance and solidify support for the marine reserve, the Marae Moana team put together a proposal for reaching out to the public through traditional and social media, special efforts for schoolchildren, and participation by traditional leaders in the outer islands.

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