Two of the world’s smallest countries are to place nearly 2.5 million square kilometres of south Pacific Ocean in newly created marine protected areas.
The first one of these, the Cook Islands, a nation of 20,000 people on 15 islands, formally announced on Tuesday the creation of the world’s largest marine park covering nearly 1.1m square kilometers, an area almost twice the size of France.
“It is a major contribution to the well-being of humanity,” said Prime Minister Henry Puna. “This is the Pacific challenge we face. Do we take this challenge on with a name and identity that makes us small and not linked with the ocean in our own eyes and the eyes of the world? Or do we stand together with renewed pride and commitment as the world’s largest ocean-island states?”
“The Pacific Ocean is source of life for us. We are not small Pacific island states. We are large ocean island states,” Puna said at the opening of the 43rd Pacific Islands forum, where leaders of 16 Pacific countries including New Zealand and Australia are meeting in Rarotonga.
The reserve, which covers more than 600,000 square miles, is the largest area in history by a single country for integrated ocean conservation and management. This is pretty amazing for a country whose combined landmass is 93 square miles, barely larger than that of Washington DC, but whose waters include environmentally valuable coral reefs, seagrass beds and fisheries.
The new Cook Island marine park will be zoned for multiple uses including tourism, fishing, and potentially deep-sea mineral extraction but only if these activities can be carried out sustainably.
The second country to announce a new marine park is New Caledonia, the Cook Islands’ Pacific island neighbor, which announced it will create a new marine protected area roughly half the size of India, covering 1.4m square kilometers.
The Pacific Islands Forum, founded in 1971, brings together 16 independent and self-governing states in the Pacific Ocean to work for a common cause. While they are often thought of as small island nations, their lands are mostly ocean, and their territories are some of the largest on earth, covering 8 percent of the planet.
These 16 members of the secretariat have been at the forefront of mitigating the effects of climate change, and the plan for the Cook Islands, to be legally established by 2013, is only the start: they plan to protect some 25 million square miles of ocean, an area larger than the surface of the moon.
Previously the world’s largest marine reserve was the 545,000 square kilometer area established by the UK around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the summit later this week, in a move seen as sending a message to China that Washington intends to re-engage with the South Pacific to counter Beijing’s influence in the region.
Hooray for the Cook Islands and New Caledonia! It’s good to know that at least some nations recognize the importance of conservation and protection.
Photo Credit: luthor522
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