Video stills from a March 2012 trip to the Cook Islands. 

Marae Moana, the sacred ocean

Cook Islands Marine Park


Open ocean dominates Marae Moana, one of the world’s largest multi-use marine parks. It encompasses the entire Cook Islands’ exclusive economic zone, 1.9 million square kilometers (733,500 square miles), including 15 tiny tropical islands fringed with coral reefs. With a holistic management approach, from ridge to reef and reef to ocean, Marae Moana has created a framework for sustainable development and conservation — establishing marine protected areas around each of the islands to prohibit large-scale commercial fishing and seabed mining activities within 50 nautical miles.

Cook Islands’ culture is rooted in a respect for and reliance on nature. Livelihoods here are closely entwined with the health of the land and sea. Supported by traditional leaders, the Cook Islands’ government first announced its commitment to the Marae Moana marine park in 2012, acknowledging community concerns over their ocean and the bounty it provides. Five years later, Marae Moana was legally designated. Its purpose: to promote sustainable development and balance economic growth with conserving the ocean’s natural resources.

Fisheries management and marine spatial planning efforts are underway to analyze and allocate the distribution of human activities within the Cook Islands exclusive economic zone to achieve the ecological, economic and social objectives of the 2017 Marae Moana Act. Once the act is fully implemented, the marine park will ensure long-term protection and sustainable production in almost 2 million square kilometers of ocean.


Our role

At the invitation of the Cook Islands’ government, Conservation International is providing counsel and support for the marine park’s development, and working with local agencies to improve management of the country’s tuna fisheries.

The marine park’s steering committee is experimenting with innovative outreach efforts to value and foster public participation in the park’s design. Along with our partners, Conservation International is supporting the Cook Islands with essential financing, research, knowledge sharing and technologies to bring the marine park to life. We have also supported the park’s inclusion in the Big Ocean Network, a professional network of the world’s largest marine protected areas represented by on-the-ground managers and their partner organizations. The aim is to improve the effectiveness of large-scale marine management globally by sharing information, expertise and resources.


Our plan

Increasing ocean protection

Conservation International draws on its expertise designing large-scale marine managed area initiatives in other areas of the Pacific Islands and around the world. We have shared resources to profile the marine park’s wildlife and supported traditional Maori leadership in all phases of the park’s development.

Creating a large-scale marine protected area is a complex endeavor and networking with other nations that are undertaking similar initiatives is beneficial to all parties. To this end, Conservation International has supported the Government of the Cook Islands and the Government of New Caledonia (an archipelago nation 3,500 kilometers to the west in the Coral Sea) to establish a sister-site agreement between their large-scale marine protected areas so they can coordinate their sustainable management efforts. New Caledonia will share its experience in the field of cross-cutting scientific exploration and the Cook Islands will share its expertise in integrated governance to facilitate engagement at all levels.


Improving sustainable tuna management

Conservation International is also supporting the development of a new Cook Islands tuna fisheries policy and standard for Marae Moana. Working with government agencies, industry leaders and local stakeholders, we helped develop a Cook Islands jurisdictional tuna standard that sets the highest fishing industry standards and establishes best-practices across environmental, economic and social dimensions. The standard was designed to reflect Cook Islands values and culture, and includes implementing measures and monitoring requirements to ensure verification and compliance with the standards.

In October 2020, Prime Minister Puna’s administration publicly presented a draft of the ‘Mana Tiaki o te Moana’ fisheries policy framework, a first step in the implementation of the tuna policy and standard. Following the event, Peter Seligmann, Chairman of Conservation International interviewed outgoing Prime Minister Henry Puna and current Prime Minister Mark Brown about the initiative.


Committing to the Pacific Oceanscape

The Cook Islands Marine Park is one of the largest national commitments to the Pacific Oceanscape - itself one of the the largest conservation initiatives on Earth, encompassing 10 percent of the ocean’s surface, 23 Pacific Island countries and territories, and a wide range of natural resources essential for human well-being. Conservation International is the founding partner of the Pacific Oceanscape, an initiative of the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders for sustainable ocean management, stewardship and governance.


By the numbers

Over 1.9 million square kilometers sustainably managed.

The Cook Islands Marine Park will ensure the sustainable management of ocean resources and provide protection of rich marine biodiversity across the almost 2 million square kilometers (735,000 square miles) that comprise of the country’s exclusive economic zone.