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Pacific people are born conservationists: Cook Islands PM

“Conservation is in our blood. By protecting our ecosystems we conserve our cultural heritage and ensure that we can pass that heritage to future generations”

Those were the words of Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna while opening the 11th  Pacific Community (SPC)  Conference of Ministers in Noumea today.

Prime Minister Puna said the  people of the Cook Islands, like Pacific people throughout the region, are born conservationists. 

“As you all know, the Cook Islands have declared our entire EEZ - close to 2 million square kilometres - as the Marae Moana or ‘Sacred Ocean’. This marine protected area is just one example of how we in the Cook Islands are putting the Blue Pacific narrative into action.

“Sustainable Development Goal 14.5 is to conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020. And so with Marae Moana, we have exceeded the expectations of the SDGs.

Cook Islanders, like Pacific people everywhere, take our ocean stewardship role seriously by balancing commercial interests against our conservation ambitions,” Puna told fellow Ministers and delegates.

He explained the the pearl farms of the Cook Islands are a great example of this dedication to balance.

“An enormous effort is made to conserving the natural environment, not only because it is part of our Blue Pacific identity, but because the farmers know that a healthy lagoon leads to a healthy harvest.

“We monitor the health of the lagoon, collecting scientific data on the physical, chemical and microbiological properties of the water, as detailed in the The Manihiki Pearl Farming Management Plan, which the Manihiki community and Cook Islands Government developed with the assistance of SPC,” he said.

He said the Marae Moana takes this concept to the national scale. 

“Marae Moana legislation provides the framework to make resourcing decisions on integrated management through adopting a precautionary approach to the marine environment in sustaining fishery stocks, and environmental impact assessments for seabed mining.

“Forty years of ocean survey work suggests as much as 10 billion tonnes of mineral rich manganese nodules are spread over the Cook Islands Continental Shelf. This seabed mineral resource offers a significant opportunity for the long term sustainable economic and social development of the Cook Islands.

“But any decisions on whether the recovery of seabed minerals will take place must start by gathering technical data, and using scientific analysis. This includes detailed mapping of the bathymetry of the seabed, mapping and evaluating the distribution of the nodules and their elements, a complete understanding of the ecology where the recovery of the nodules will take place, economic analyses and mining feasibility plans and the development of suitable recovery technology.

At the local scale, as a veteran pearl farmer, and at the national scale, as the Prime Minister, I rely on scientific and technical data to make evidence based decisions for the good of my community and our people today and long into the future. And this is where SPC has proven invaluable in availing, over many years, scientific and technical data to all our members to ensure evidence-based decisions,” he explained.

He emphasised the changes in global climate now occurring have dramatically increased the risk.

“Just four days after I completed my very first pearl seeding, Cyclone Martin struck. Virtually the entire island population of Manihiki had to be evacuated and many people lost their lives.

Manihiki today, as with all our atoll communities across the Pacific, remains highly vulnerable to the increased frequency and intensity of cyclones, sea surges, and coral degradation as a result of climate change. Many communities in the Cook Islands and across the region, remain one cyclone away from utter devastation. 

The failure of the developed world to adapt and adopt stronger mitigation measures, including reducing global carbon emissions, threatens the Blue Pacific’s very existence,” PM Puna emphasised.

Puna stressed the Pacific are not standing by idly waiting on others to offer solutions.

“Our Blue Pacific future requires moving beyond an understanding of climate change as an existential threat, to understanding the extent, nature and severity of that threat through scientific and technical studies, data and interpretation. Empowering our people to formulate strategies, policies and actions to adapt and protect our way of life.

“In the Pacific we have the tools we need to become leaders in developing cutting edge resilience and adaption measures, thanks to SPC and its sister CROP agencies. But just having the tools is not enough.

Just as the pearl farmers of Manihiki share knowledge on improved farming methods and help each other out whenever possible so we as Pacific Islanders need to harness our common history and connection to the region to champion collaboration,” said the Cook Islands PM.


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