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Cook Islands

Voice of the Sacred Ocean


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

Community benefit: Youth ambassador program to advocate for Cook Islands marine conservation


Date Approved: 06.2024


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

Since 2020, Seacology has been working to help make Marae Moana, the world’s largest multi-use marine park, a success. Our project partners in the Cook Islands have disseminated information about the park through podcasts, social and traditional media, and have brought stakeholders from all of the country’s inhabited islands to share information and strategies about protecting their vast oceanic resources. Activities with school kids have been wildly popular, and the South Pacific’s largest mural, a depiction of the natural wonders of the Cooks, now adorns a seawall in the capital. Kevin Iro, a native of the Cook Islands who was awarded the 2022 Seacology Prize for his advocacy for Marae Moan, has been a leader in this effort. 

Now, the team is launching Te Reo o te Marae Moana (The Voice of the Sacred Ocean), a program for young Cook Islanders who want to embrace traditional knowledge and defend the ocean. The word Reo, or voice, refers to the oral tradition of passing down sacred ancestral knowledge, and is a word that resonates throughout Polynesia. 

Youth aged 12 to 14 will be eligible for the eight-week program, spread out over a year. It will include:

History: Tradition, language, and strengths of the Cook Islands

Culture: Music, art, community, and fellowship

Environment: Weather, ecology, climate change, and other factors, including how subsistence living has preserved the ocean

Future: Research projects on challenges to ocean health and how Cook Island traditional practices may help solve them, and exploration of how the skills learned during ambassadorships can transfer to careers

Community leaders will nominate young Cook Islanders to be Mana Tiaki (Guardians) of Marae Moana. Each year, two from each of the 12 inhabited islands will be chosen, and six from the global diaspora of Cook Islanders. The project will begin in 2025 and run for five years.

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